Amazon as publisher

Amazon as publisher

Amidst all the news about Apple's iPad and its impressive debut, 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 AmazonEncore announced 10 fall titles (click here for announcement) including JA Konrath's, Shaken. When all the titles are released, the imprint will have 27 in print in the space of just three seasons.

That doesn't seem like much except that AmazonEncore launched with just one book in its first season. Amazon has slowly but surely expanded its Encore program and while the numbers are small, the % increase from those small bases has been impressive.

What's more, it represents a much more direct challenge to publishing, going after the still dominant print 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.

When you think about it, Apple's model for ebooks 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).

Apple values quality and seems keen to enforce some kind of threshold for content on its devices. Apple has a massive database of customers credit card accounts and knows what they like to but, they seem happy to work with partners to supply that because they prefer to profit by selling high priced devices for consuming that content. 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.

Amazon on the other hand has always been about changing the model. It tends to be a slow burning process that erases small chunks of the model at a time but over time (and Amazon has had time) those chunks add up. It is a direct and fierce competitor of physical bookstores and ideally would probably like to see them all disappear. But it is the physical bookstore that has supported the current model of book publishing and without it, trade publishing at least, will be severely damaged, even if the numbers drop below a certain level.

To dismiss AmazonEncore, and the latest imprint 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.

But it further underestimates the huge value that 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.

Right now, there is nothing to prevent Amazon ramping their publishing schedule up until they are publishing hundreds of books a year either within Encore or by launching new imprints. All the need to do to attract bigger, more high profile authors than those already on board is show solid rewards for their current crop and with JA Konrath happy to talk about how much he makes from just ebooks, I'd expect that part to be just around the corner.

For authors, that may well be great news, it might even be great news for readers. I'd warrant that in the long run, it is somewhat unavoidable. But for publishers, the sad truth is that, that if this continues, Amazon will have eaten their lunch.