Amazon as publisher

<p>Amid all the news about Apple's iPad and its impressive d&eacute;but, people have been wondering how Amazon will react. Most eyes have turned to news of a Kindle III or at least some kind of refresh in the coming month, but I think we saw one of those reactions this week when Amazon&shy;Encore&mdash;the e-tailer's publishing imprint&mdash;announced its next 10 titles. When all the titles are released, the imprint will have 27 in print in the space of just three seasons.</p>
<p>Amazon has slowly but surely expanded its Encore program and while the numbers are small, the percentage increase from those small bases has been impressive.</p>
<p>What's more, it represents a much more direct challenge to publishing, going after the still dominant print &shy;element of the book industry at a time when there is already so much change and threat from digital publishing, a space that Amazon has, to date, dominated.</p>
<p>Apple's model for e-books represents a very traditional model for how the industry operates. It has created a channel through which publishers can sell books, much like a bookstore (they have even called it iBookstore). The price for those getting on board is that Apple retains the customer relationship. That suits publishers who have always worked with partners and have always surrendered relations with their readers to those partners.<br />
Amazon on the other hand has always been about changing the model. It tends to be a &shy;<br />
slow-burning&shy; process that erases small chunks at a time but over time (and Amazon has had time) those chunks add up.</p>
<p>To dismiss AmazonEncore, and the latest imprint &shy;AmazonCrossing which will translate foreign language titles into English and sell them on the same basis as Encore, is to underestimate the change that can be wrought to a model over time by patient and gradual action, such as that engaged in by Amazon.</p>
<p>But it further underestimates the huge value that &shy;Amazon has built up in customer and reader feedback. I guess that is natural enough for trade publishers who have never valued that relationship, having always gifted it to others.</p>
<p>Right now, there is nothing to prevent Amazon ramping its publishing schedule up until it is publishing hundreds of books a year either within Encore or by launching new imprints. All it needs to do to attract bigger, more high-profile authors than those already on board is show solid rewards for their current crop.</p>
<p>For authors, that may well be great news, it might even be great news for readers. But for publishers, the sad truth is that, if this continues, Amazon will have eaten their lunch.<br />