Amazon has said it wants to build “the world’s most author-centric publishing house”, and it is stepping up its publishing activities in the UK as it seeks to demonstrate that it can run a successful publishing operation based on the traditional model.
The company is recruiting for UK publishing staff, including a publisher and acquisitions editor. It has told prospective employees that it is hopeful of having more success in the UK, where it believes it will face less resistance from bookshops over stocking its print editions than it did in the US.
The publisher job description calls for candidates to “lead a small local team as we build the world’s most author-centric publishing house”, with a duty to acquire, produce and sell “exceptional genre fiction”, and to optimise sales for Amazon Publishing books in print, digital and audio formats, “on and off the Amazon platform.” Another of the role’s key responsibilities is “obsessing over all aspects of the author experience” for both UK-based and international writers, thought to include the potential to make their books available in bricks-and-mortar stores.
The editor role specifies a focus on “general fiction”, with previous publishing experience “a plus but not required”.
Acquisitions from UK authors began in early 2013. Jane Gunter, director of international publishing for Amazon Publishing, told The Bookseller: “As interest in our programme grows we are excited to acquire and publish more great works of fiction by UK authors.”
Recently reported deals have included a five-figure deal at auction for Cath Quinn’s thriller The Thief Taker, through Sheil Land Associates agent Piers Blofeld, and a deal for Mark Edwards and Louise Voss’ From the Cradle, through Sam Copeland at Rogers, Coleridge & White.
Copeland said the advantage of publishing books through Amazon was “plain to see”. He said: “There is nobody to match the digital reach of Amazon, and it can create huge successes for authors without even breaking sweat.” He added: “We are all aware that Amazon offers excellent digital royalties.”
Madeleine Milburn, who has sold works from two authors (Mel Sherratt and Talli Rowland) to Amazon Publishing, agreed that digital royalty rates were a key benefit. “I do feel that traditional publishers need to improve their e-book royalty rates, and include escalating royalty payments, to make them a competitive option for authors who sell mostly in this format,” she said.
But Milburn added that there were other advantages to publishing with Amazon. “It’s a good option when you know you can go from pitch to publication in six months. This is especially important when an author has been used to self-publishing each book in quick succession with Kindle Direct Publishing,” she said. “E-book sales figures are transparent, and payments are made regularly. If it gets behind an author, its mass mailing reaches millions, and the online promotional opportunities are excellent.”
Asked if she expected to see her clients’ books in the shops, Milburn said: “This is a concern my clients have—a lot of authors dream of seeing their copies in bookshops—but I believe it is only time before popular demand for a major hit makes copies available in shops.”
Blofeld said that Amazon Publishing’s model was “entirely different from what traditional publishers are doing”, saying: “It seems to be only interested in self-published authors with a track record where it feels it can add a significant amount of value to what they’re doing.”
He added: “It’sgoing to make successful authors start thinking about Amazon. I don’t think Amazon will poach people. What worries me is that publishers will be powerless to prevent it from happening. The centre of gravity is shifting so much in its favour.”
However one UK publisher who preferred to speak anonymously commented: ”Amazon Publishing is something they have tried without success a number of times for physical books in the US, and while it is having some success with digital self-publishing, it is only taking the former vanity publishing business model and making it digital.
“For publishers, our main purpose is to give our editors the freedom and confidence to find, publish and champion books that readers will love. It’s still a people business and we all have to kiss a lot of frogs before we find our prince. Does that fit with Amazon’s quest for consumer data and algorithms? I’m not sure.”
Indies refuse to stock 'ruthless' Amazon's titles
Most UK booksellers have said they won’t stock Amazon Publishing titles, except in exceptional circumstances.
Blackwell’s, Foyles and independent booksellers gave a range of reasons for their reluctance, with one indie saying Amazon did not “have a hope in hell” of being stocked in his shop. However, Waterstones’ managing director James Daunt said the company would “judge the books on their individual merits”, as it did with other publishers.
Amazon Publishing has confirmed that its UK titles will be available for bricks-and-mortar booksellers to sell, rather than published as Amazon exclusives. However, its acquisition campaign could be blighted if UK booksellers are as loath to stock Amazon-published titles as shops were in the US, including chains such as Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million.
David Prescott, c.e.o. of Blackwell’s bookshops, said: “It would seem an unusual decision for us to stock Amazon Publishing’s titles because they are a direct competitor to us. If it became a significant player in academic publishing we might have to review that.”
Jasper Sutcliffe, head of buying at Foyles, said the company would be unlikely to stock titles from Amazon’s publishing imprint Thomas & Mercer “as it currently stands” because “the titles they are currently publishing, or looking to publish, are at the more commercial end of the crime and romance genres, which are not key areas for Foyles”.
As most of the imprint’s authors had found success through Kindle’s self-publishing platform, “it would be difficult to compete in any meaningful way with Amazon, which already has the total market share for these titles,” said Sutcliffe. “All this being said, should a major author be signed to the imprint, or should there be a hit like Fifty Shades of Grey, we would consider stocking the relevant title.”
Ron Johns, who owns three independents including The Falmouth Bookseller, was vehement in his opposition. “There isn’t a hope in hell I would stock Amazon Publishing titles if I could help it, and I’d be surprised if you could find an independent bookseller who would say they will,” he said. “We absolutely hate Amazon and what it has done to the high street and the book trade.”
Rosamund de la Hey from the Main Street Trading Company in St Boswells, agreed. “One of the best things about running your own shop is that you can choose what you stock and I don’t think I would stock those titles because Amazon has been ruthless in its domination of the book market,” she said.
Patrick Neale, Booksellers Association president and owner of Jaffé & Neale Bookshop & Café, also refused to stock the titles. “Having stopped buying anything from Amazon and having banned my household from doing the same, I would feel I could not stock its titles either,” he said.