Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Agent in the Amazon Jungle

A book agent friend lamented about how much his business is being disrupted by Amazon. He has a penchant for understatement. A better description can be found in Richard Russo's NYT article today, titled "Amazon's Jungle Logic." He is referring to Amazon encouraging customers to go into physical stores and use their price-check app to see if they can get a better deal online. Russo sees this as capitalism gone wild and Amazon as an example of this year's bully.

He has a point. Amazon indeed sells everything. I have family members with two year-olds who buy literally everything on Amazon, including diapers by the truck load. Given the free shipping and the time saved, this seems like a very good deal for young professionals with toddlers. I suspect allegiance to the brand with remain even when the children are potty trained.

Obviously, Russo is not really talking about diapers or the generator I purchased from Amazon before the recent Hurricane Irene. He is more concerned with the independent bookstore and the long term effect on literature. I share those concerns.

This is where I say I have a PhD in Literature, have published extensively with small presses and journals, and from time-to-time provide financial support. It's heartbreaking to see what has happened to the Sewanee Review and The Partisan Review where I published my first work.

Over the last twenty years I have published books with Warner, Dell, Rodale and the Lightning Tree Press, a small publisher that went out of business. The game began to change about fifteen years ago. For my first book I went on a national tour and had some muscular marketing support.  For subsequent books I was largely responsible for marketing and promotion. Since that time more of the burden has shifted to the author.

At the same time it has become increasingly difficult to find a home for mid-list books that sell 25-30,000. Publishers are less likely to use the revenue from blockbuster books to help fund other titles.

For these and other reasons I decided to test Amazon's CreateSpace, its self-publishing platform. To date I have published two novels, Limey Down and the Sirens of Vulture Creek, as well as a volume of poetry, Set Pieces of the Feminine. I am in the process of submitting another poetry book, In the Shadow of the DMZ, about my war experiences and 9/11. I'm on the Kindle for the first three books and also getting exposure in France, Italy and Spain. I plan to take advantage of the option to  be a part of Kindle's Owners Lending Library.

Amazon makes money on these ventures by providing editorial, marketing and promotional services. The CreateSpace UI leaves a lot to be desired and, as I have mentioned to my associates there, I should not have to be a tenured production director to follow their prompts. But this is just the beginning. Titles will languish without a social media campaign.

Amazon just announced that two titles in the 10 top best-selling books of 2011 (The Mill River Recluse and The Abbey) ranked #4 and #6 solely on Kindle sales and were independently published using Kindle Direct Publishiing.

Amazon also announced KDP Select, a $6 million dollar fund for the Kindle Direct Publishing authors and publishers. A week ago Amazon said it plans to acquire Marshall Cavendish US children's book titles. Earlier the company announced a video licensing deal with Disney-ABC television, a UK movie partnership with Warner brothers, and the fifth annual breakthrough novel partnership with Penguin (US).

No wonder Amazon can sell the Kindle and Kindle Fire at a small loss. Content is king but only if you have tons of it.  

No comments:

Post a Comment