[LINK] Amazon to publish also

stephen at melbpc.org.au stephen at melbpc.org.au
Tue Oct 18 19:35:47 AEDT 2011

Amazon Signs Up Authors, Writing Publishers Out of Deal

By DAVID STREITFELD Published: October 16, 2011

SEATTLE — Amazon.com has taught readers that they do not need bookstores. 

Now it is encouraging writers to cast aside their  publishers. 

Amazon will publish 122 books this fall in an array of genres, in both 
physical and e-book form. It is a striking acceleration of the retailer’s 
fledging publishing program that will place Amazon squarely in 
competition with the New York houses that are also its most prominent 

It has set up a flagship line run by a publishing veteran, Laurence 
Kirshbaum, to bring out brand-name fiction and nonfiction. It signed its 
first deal with the self-help author Tim Ferriss. Last week it announced 
a memoir by the actress and director Penny Marshall, for which it paid 
$800,000, a person with direct knowledge of the deal said. 

Publishers say Amazon is aggressively wooing some of their top authors. 
And the company is gnawing away at the services that publishers, critics 
and agents used to provide. 

Several large publishers declined to speak on the record about Amazon’s 
efforts. “Publishers are terrified and don’t know what to do,” said 
Dennis Loy Johnson of Melville House, who is known for speaking his mind. 

“Everyone’s afraid of Amazon,” said Richard Curtis, a longtime agent who 
is also an e-book publisher. “If you’re a bookstore, Amazon has been in 
competition with you for some time. If you’re a publisher, one day you 
wake up and Amazon is competing with you too. And if you’re an agent, 
Amazon may be stealing your lunch because it is offering authors the 
opportunity to publish directly and cut you out. 

“It’s an old strategy: divide and conquer,” Mr. Curtis said. 

Amazon executives, interviewed at the company’s headquarters here, 
declined to say how many editors the company employed, or how many books 
it had under contract. But they played down Amazon’s power and said 
publishers were in love with their own demise. 

“It’s always the end of the world,” said Russell Grandinetti, one of 
Amazon’s top executives. “You could set your watch on it arriving.” 

He pointed out, though, that the landscape was in some ways changing for 
the first time since Gutenberg invented the modern book nearly 600 years 
ago. “The only really necessary people in the publishing process now are 
the writer and reader,” he said. “Everyone who stands between those two 
has both risk and opportunity.” 

Amazon has started giving all authors, whether it publishes them or not, 
direct access to highly coveted Nielsen BookScan sales data, which 
records how many physical books they are selling in individual markets 
like Milwaukee or New Orleans. It is introducing the sort of one-on-one 
communication between authors and their fans that used to happen only on 
book tours. It made an obscure German historical novel a runaway best 
seller without a single professional reviewer weighing in. 

Publishers caught a glimpse of a future they fear has no role for them 
late last month when Amazon introduced the Kindle Fire, a tablet for 
books and other media sold by Amazon. Jeffrey P. Bezos, the company’s 
chief executive, referred several times to Kindle as “an end-to-end 
service,” conjuring up a world in which Amazon develops, promotes and 
delivers the product. 

For a sense of how rattled publishers are by Amazon’s foray into their 
business, consider the case of Kiana Davenport, a Hawaiian writer whose 
career abruptly derailed last month. 

In 2010 Ms. Davenport signed with Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin, 
for “The Chinese Soldier’s Daughter,” a Civil War love story. She 
received a $20,000 advance for the book, which was supposed to come out 
next summer. 

If writers have one message drilled into them these days, it is this: 
hustle yourself. So Ms. Davenport took off the shelf several award-
winning short stories she had written 20 years ago and packaged them in 
an e-book, “Cannibal Nights,” available on Amazon. 

When Penguin found out, it went “ballistic,” Ms. Davenport wrote on her 
blog, accusing her of breaking her contractual promise to avoid competing 
with it. It wanted “Cannibal Nights” removed from sale and all mentions 
of it deleted from the Internet. 

Ms. Davenport refused, so Penguin canceled her novel and has said it will 
pursue legal action if she does not return the advance. 

They’re trying to set an example: If you self-publish and distribute with 
Amazon, you do so at your own risk,” said Jan Constantine, a lawyer with 
the Authors Guild who has represented Ms. Davenport. 

The writer knows her crime: “Sleeping with the enemy.” Penguin declined 
to comment. 

If some writers are suffering collateral damage, others are benefiting 
from this new setup. Laurel Saville was locked out by the old system, 
when New York publishers were the gatekeepers. “I got lots and lots of 
praise but no takers,” said Ms. Saville, 48, a business writer who lives 
in Little Falls, N.Y. 

Two years ago she decided to pay for the publication of her memoir about 
her mother’s descent from California beauty queen to street person to 
murder victim. She spent about $2,200, which yielded sales of 600 copies. 
Not horrible but far from earth-shaking. 

Last fall, Ms. Saville paid $100 to be included in a Publishers Weekly 
list of self-published writers. The magazine ended up reviewing her 
memoir, giving it a mixed notice that nevertheless caught the attention 
of Amazon editors. They sent Ms. Saville an e-mail offering to republish 
the book. It got an editorial once-over, a new cover and a new 
title: “Unraveling Anne.” It will be published next month. 

Ms. Saville did not get any money upfront, as she would have if a 
traditional publisher had picked up her memoir. In essence, Amazon has 
become her partner. 

“I assume they want to make a lot of money off the book, which is 
encouraging to me,” said Ms. Saville, who negotiated her deal without an 

Her contract has a clause that forbids her from discussing the details, 
which is not traditional in publishing. The publicity plans for the book 
are also secret. 

Can Amazon secretly create its own best sellers? “The Hangman’s Daughter” 
was an e-book hit. Amazon bought the rights to the historical novel by a 
first-time writer, Oliver Pötzsch, and had it translated from German. It 
has now sold 250,000 digital copies. 

“The great and fascinating thing about Amazon’s publishing program is 
that there can be these grass-roots phenomena,” said Bruce Nichols of 
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which republished the novel this summer. 

Ms. Saville no longer even contemplates a career with a traditional 
publisher. “They had their shot,” she said. She is now writing a 
novel. “My hope is Amazon will think it’s wonderful and we’ll go happily 
off into the publishing sunset,” she said. 



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