Update 5/18/11: Amazon continues to launch imprints at an impressive clip. Its fifth imprint, Thomas & Mercer, launched today — exactly two weeks after launching Montlake Romance (see that story, below).
Amazon has launched is fourth imprint, Montlake Romance, to compete in the romance publishing sector. It’s Amazon’s first foray into genre-specific publishing, and it looks like that might just be the tip of the iceberg. In a post for the Wall Street Journal, Jeffrey Trachtenberg interviewed Jeff Belle, vice president of Amazon Publishing, who said “the online retailer will eventually publish books in other genres, including thrillers, mysteries and science fiction.”
In a post for the Guardian, Alison Flood noted a growing wariness in the publishing industry:
Publishers, however, will be eying the retailer’s [Amazon's] increased publishing presence uneasily. “Publishers will be concerned Amazon is increasingly encroaching on what they see as ‘their’ business,” said [Graeme Neill, editor at The Bookseller].
AmazonEncore is a new program whereby Amazon will use information such as customer reviews on Amazon.com to identify exceptional, overlooked books and authors with more potential than their sales may indicate. Amazon will then partner with the authors to re-introduce their books to readers through marketing support and distribution into multiple channels and formats, such as the Amazon.com Books Store, Amazon Kindle Store, Audible.com, and national and independent bookstores via third-party wholesalers.
This is like an indie handselling program on steroids. It gives self-published authors who garner good reviews an opportunity to be represented by a publishing house with millions of customers worldwide.
The AmazonCrossing imprint was launched a year later on May 18, 2010, to take foreign titles and translate them into English. The program uses a similar acquisition and marketing approach as the Encore imprint. From the press release:
AmazonCrossing uses customer feedback and other data from Amazon sites around the world to identify exceptional books deserving of a wider, global audience. AmazonCrossing will acquire the rights and translate the books and then introduce them to the English-speaking market through multiple channels and formats, such as the Amazon Books Store, Amazon Kindle Store, and national and independent booksellers via third-party wholesalers.
Some of the traditional publishing issues with foreign translation were highlighted by Emily Williams in a post for Publishing Perspectives. She first noted the “unforgiving economic calculations that publishers face in taking a translation to market,” but she also touched on what might be the larger issue:
Apart from economics, the often cited reason for the difficulty of placing translations with American publishers is the limited number of US editors who speak a foreign language. This is indeed an obstacle. Rachel Kahan, a senior editor at the Putnam, says, “There doesn’t seem to me to be as concerted an effort to bring [foreign language] authors to the US as there is to bring UK authors to the US, but I think a lot of that is just the language barrier.”
Williams mentioned several independent presses that translate foreign titles — Open Letter, New Directions, Other Press, Melville House, Europa Editions, Archipelago, and Graywolf — but said their business models generally depend on outside sources for financing. Amazon seems to have overcome these obstacles in a way no one else has yet figured out, establishing itself as the first major player to fill this niche.
Last December, Amazon also teemed up with Seth Godin to launch The Domino Project. The imprint was created to publish a series of manifestos. The press release describes the project:
Godin will serve as the lead writer, creative director and instigator for a series of “Idea Manifestos” under his new imprint, The Domino Project, which will include books by other bestselling authors, entrepreneurs and thought leaders. These books will be made available for sale in print editions via Amazon.com and as audiobooks via Amazon.com and Audible.com, at bookstores nationwide and as e-books exclusively in the Kindle Store.
Steven Pressfield, who recently released a manifesto through The Domino Project interviewed Godin about how the project came about. This particular imprint is published through the Powered by Amazon publishing program (the first in the program, actually), so it’s not really Amazon’s imprint, but it’s a noteworthy step in Amazon’s journey to infiltrate the publishing industry in unique ways.
Some of Amazon’s publishing projects.
In addition to publishing titles in these ventures, Amazon also sells rights to some titles to traditional publishing houses. It recently sold rights to 10 titles from the Encore and Crossing imprints to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Combine the imprints with Amazon’s hiring spree (search the “publishing” section here), its partnership with OverDrive, and the launch of its German Kindle store, and perhaps it’s time for publishers to stop uneasily eying Amazon and instead get down to competing on what is rapidly becoming a large new playing field.