Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The Book Report: Amazon Expands Into Mystery

Internet bookseller Amazon is expanding their nascent publishing operation with the launch of new mystery imprint Thomas & Mercer. I'm assuming that they've named the company after Canadian comedians Dave Thomas and Rick Mercer, but I could be wrong.

Anyhoo... This new imprint with join their other publishing Montlake, which specializes in romance fiction, an imprint specializing in translating international books, and one for new authors.

What does this tell you?

Take a moment to think about it, while I tell you what this news tells me.

It tells me that the mainstream publishing industry isn't pumping out the product that Amazon needs to stock its virtual shelves in either quantity or quality.

For Amazon to be a profitable bookseller they need to a variety of product, and lots of it. Like the movie studios, many publishing companies are reducing their output because, like the studios, they have a bad business model. The biggest trend in publishing lately has been to invest most of their resources in a handful of "star" related projects. Basically tossing book deals to anyone with the slightest modicum of fame who isn't a writer.

Now this broad generalization includes people in the news whose memoirs might be of interest to the public, but it also includes almost every second rate basic cable reality TV star whether they have anything of interest to say or not. Basically books by people who don't write, for people who don't read, by people who don't care.

The publishing industry's usual defense is to point at the New York Times Best-Seller, and go "See! See!" at the names of those same reality TV stars peppered on the list like the spice on a shit sandwich.

To them I would ask:
How long do these books by celebrity authors usually stay on the New York Times Best Seller list?

Does their usually short stint on the best-seller list mean that the publisher made a profit on the often hundreds of thousands, and sometimes millions, spent on advances to those authors, manufacturing, shipping, and marketing their books?

How many of these same "celebrity authors" fail to make it onto the best-seller list after spending hundreds of thousands, and sometimes millions spent
on advances to those authors, manufacturing, shipping, and marketing their books?

How many more traditional books of fiction and non-fiction could have been published and marketed properly if the money hadn't been wasted pursuing the snake-oil panacea of celebrity authors?
If anyone has the answers to those questions, let me know in the comments.

But that's not the only problem affecting the industry. The New York centered industry is becoming increasingly New York centric, mimicking the movie studios/TV networks that enveloped them during the leveraged takeover era of the 1980s and 1990s. Either chasing the aforementioned cash expensive but creatively cheap "celebrity" projects, self-important "literary" fiction that get them awards and pats on the back from their colleagues for their "courage" and "daring," while mostly ignoring the genre fiction that is the backbone of the industry, or chasing every fleeting trend that comes their way in the vain hope that it will become the next Harry Potter or Twilight blockbuster.

So you see, Amazon doesn't really have much of a choice, it's publish or eventually perish. In conclusion, if Amazon treats authors right, and not like that boondoggle screenplay contest they recently held, I wish them all the luck in the world.

1 comment:

  1. Dirty McDingus Sezs:

    The death of books is quite self evident no? I know Borders went chp 11 because of lousy management, but still! The most disturbing part I've bore witness too though is the explosion of digital books. Sure it's convenient to have hundreds if not thousands of books on an electrical clipboard, but since its digital. That also means it's easier to edit in the future.. maybe correct typos I've always seen, but more insidious like what disney did for p.c. joys to the oringinal fantasia or what was recently done to Tom Sawyer! p.c. running rampant as I write!

    This is not even a slippery slope but almost a vertical fall from now on and I cling to my dusty yellowed books even closer for it~