henry copeland:

The failure of Amazon Publishing (in NY)

The goal, says one former employee with knowledge of Amazon Publishing strategy and its execution, was to bid for "big books. We were going to compete with major publishers.” That seemed obvious from the man Amazon picked to run the New York office: Larry Kirshbaum, a former CEO of the Time Warner Book Group and discoverer of such literary luminaries as James Patterson and Nicholas Sparks. His defection to Amazon, as it was seen, was big news in the literary world—as were the six-figure advances he started handing out. Kirshbaum signed a few well-known names—self-help guru Timothy Ferriss, actress Penny Marshall, singer Billy Ray Cyrus. But the books did far worse than expected. Although Amazon had partnered with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to release print versions of these and other titles, many bookstores simply wouldn’t sell them. Barnes & Noble announced its boycott in January 2012, casting the move as a retaliatory strike against Amazon’s actions in the e-book market. Amazon was pushing publishers, agents, and authors into making their titles available only on the Kindle, thereby undermining Barnes & Noble’s rival e-reader, the Nook. Other booksellers followed suit, angered in particular by a price-check app Amazon developed for the 2011 Christmas season that encouraged consumers to use stores as showrooms before buying online. “He was really fighting with one hand behind his back,” consultant Shatzkin says of Kirshbaum. The big names he signed—Marshall, Cyrus, and Ferriss—all wrote nonfiction books, and those were hard to sell in the e-book market alone. As the former staffer explains, “The nonfiction buyer is more studious, more reluctant to take a chance”—the kind of person who wants to see a book before buying it.
- www.seattleweekly.com