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Don’t read too much into Amazon’s publishing changes

November 9, 2013

The headline for the article was interesting, if not amazingly long: Amazon might lose interest in total hegemony over the book business before they achieve it. A link to it sailed across my Facebook page and I thought it was an attention grabber. Unfortunately, if you’re looking for something that says Amazon’s flight toward dominating our world is going to be abated, this isn’t it.

The wishful thinking started when Amazon announced the Laurence Kirshbaum was stepping down as the head of its publishing unit, and being replaced by Daphne Durham. While Kirshbaum was the publisher, Durham was the editor-in-chief for the company’s publishing unit, and she’s based in Seattle. The hope, from some, was that Kirshbaum’s leaving meant that Amazon was less interested in trade paperback publishing. In fact, Durham herself said that wasn’t so, indicating that Amazon would soon be launching new imprints and expanding its New York operation.

The article in question posed two possibilities: first, Amazon’s share of the market is still increasing and that they might eventually create their own self-contained version of the industry, outside the rest. They already use their own version of an ISBN and have their own separate e-book format. This would force Amazon to choose between them and everyplace else. Everyplace else might offer more exposure–for now–but Amazon would offer more money. (Some are using Amazon exclusively for a 90-day exclusivity period, then branching out.)

There will be some, according to the first take, who decide not to be part of the Amazon. They may decide to be part of the new Penguin Random House. And if they don’t decide to use Random House, everyone else will fight over who’s left.

The alternate idea is that Amazon has decided that New York publishing isn’t worth competing with and they’re content to move the process to Seattle. But the second hypothesis talks more about the future of book stores than about the future or Amazon. (And the future of book stores isn’t bright, starting with the eventual doom of Barnes and Noble. Many cities will go without book stores.)

What it means to you: Amazon is the wave of the future, moreso than now. There’s no possible way for the industry to continue without Amazon’s domination. Penguin Random House is intended to compete with Amazon, and future mergers are likely to occur. The Big Six Five may become the Big Four or even the Big Three.

What does this mean to you? It means that Amazon will always be there, and may keep the same writer-friendly terms. But it may not need to, if there aren’t a lot of other options available.

No matter what, you need to understand the business. And pay attention to the people who are expert on how to use the unfolding changes in the industry to make their footprint a little bigger.

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