Amazon reveals frontlist deal for Eisler at BEA

Amazon reveals frontlist deal for Eisler at BEA

Thriller writer Barry Eisler, who turned his back on a two-book deal for half a million dollars from St Martin’s Press, has decided to accept six figures from Amazon and become one of its first frontlist authors.

Eisler made the announcement at Publishers Launch's Book Expo America conference. The Eisler development is really only a micro piece of the macro Amazon/Larry Kirshbaum tale that continues to dominate BEA alongside another major development—the bid from Liberty Media’s John Malone to buy B&N.

More information is beginning to surface, providing a fuller picture of Amazon’s latest venture. It is expected that Kirshbaum will make 10-15 hires for the office that he will set up somewhere in Manhattan, as real estate has to be found as well as people. It is also expected that he will be publishing in digital format while Houghton Mifflin Harcourt takes care of the print versions of his books.

However, what was confirmed by several publishers, who would only speak on condition of anonymity, is that Philip Patrick, who recently joined Amazon from Random House’s Crown subsidiary, was trawling the exhibition hall looking for publishers other than HMH who would be willing to license print versions of Amazon-originated digital works.

In other words, it seems to be travelling back to the future, seeing itself in the role of the traditional hardcover house looking to find a paperback reprinter, only the hardcovers have morphed into e-books and the paperbacks have morphed into hardcovers. What was crystal clear was the reaction of one publisher whom Patrick had approached: “Think of how hard it would be for our sales force to sell that to B&N!”

Some publishing people are, if anything, even more worried about Malone’s bid than they are about Amazon. To founder Len Riggio, the stores have been the heart and soul of B&N, and to Riggio, William Lynch, and the B&N team’s great credit, with the Nook they seemed to have found a way to meld digital and print, to keep a number of bricks-and-mortar stores going, so that publishers and authors and readers would still have that essential means of discovery available to them—at least for a while and maybe even longer.

But as the Wall Street Journal has reported, it is the Nook that has attracted Malone, not the retail stores. Malone is no Mamut tapping James Daunt. And here, shades of the late 1960s in America rise up to haunt us. For example, when RCA bought Random House in 1966, RCA was a giant corporation and did not care for the book business. Its corporate amour-propre wasn’t even particularly flattered to have snagged the greatest American publishing house of that period. Instead, it was interested in getting content for the “teaching machines” it envisaged manufacturing, machines that would revolutionise education.

Malone’s $17 per share bid is high, and hostile shareholder Ron Burkle, B&N’s second largest shareholder after Riggio, has just bought another big chunk of stock. What will happen? Who knows? But along the corridors of BEA, no head of house I spoke with hoped for anything other than that Len Riggio will remain at the top of B&N and prevail.