Amazon Publishing head quits, leaves Jurassic Park to the dinosaurs

In welcome news for some that Amazon isn’t having everything its own way, Laurence J. Kirshbaum has left Amazon Publishing after just over two years in the saddle, having failed to crack the New York publishing world on behalf of the Bezos Behemoth. Along with him, a number of other more junior staffers will leave Amazon Publishing too, as the whole operation is scaled down. Hard copy printing just hasn’t worked so well for the Seattle titan, it seems.

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Shelf Awareness, a platform not always noted for a 100-percent positive reception of Amazon, first broke the news, and pointed to the decision by Barnes & Noble, later copied by other book and supermarket chains, not to carry Amazon Publishing titles as a main failure factor. That piece of sour grapes doesn’t strike me as an especially sensible response to Amazon’s move. Amazon Publishing didn’t exactly manage to bring any mold-breaking titles to market since 2011, but all the same, if they had done, B&N would basically have been depriving its customers of some key reading choices, and driving them to shop online with Amazon instead. I’m sure that in a few cases, that is what actually happened. Yeah, sounds like a really bright move to me.

And of course, you can see the harm it all did in Amazon’s latest numbers. Sales escalating, and Amazon hovering at the break-even level only in order to fund further growth rather than deliver commensurate profit, and carry on eating B&N and the other refuseniks’ lunch, dinner and supper. Really speaks volumes (no pun intended) for the relative merits of their respective business models, doesn’t it? All Amazon will have to digest is a little lost face, fine, but I don’t see this outcome harming its growth at all, merely closing off an avenue with little to give it, while driving it back down the highway to the future. What well-established blue-blooded New York publishing house wouldn’t give its swank offices and brownstone milieu to see quarter-on-quarter sales growth figures like Amazon has seen?

And I’m sure there are a few Jonathan Franzen-esque types who will be glad that Amazon won’t get to trample its dirty feet around the Manhattan citadels of high culture. I’d have more respect for that if I wasn’t already persuaded that the best literature of the coming decades is liable to come out of the self-publishing or digital community, not the increasingly fossilized New York publishing establishment. Their values weren’t ever that high-minded or their doors that open anyway. Jennifer Weiner characterized their system as “the Times as an institution and Sam Tanenhaus as a gatekeeper.” Amazon is better off without them..

2 Comments on Amazon Publishing head quits, leaves Jurassic Park to the dinosaurs

  1. I think B&N and other bookstore’s refusal to carry the Amazon-published titles was a smart move and was a key factor in why Amazon has not been able to break into the top-tier of publishing. Whether Amazon will eventually do so, remains to be seen. I don’t see Chevy dealerships selling new Fords side-by-side with the Chevys, nor do I see IBM sales people touting the virtues of HP servers. I doubt many B&N customers would have cared about “mold-breaking” Amazon titles enough to abandon B&N for Amazon, except, perhaps, for the one title. But even then, B&N said it would special order the title; its refusal was to carry it on shelves or in its primary catalog.

    As for Amazon’s continued success, it is hard to tell where exactly Amazon is being successful. Amazon’s overall figures for an entire company are high (yet still not enough to bring a profit, not even a profit of $1). I may be old-fashioned but I calculate success not in market share that continues to lose money but in profits that are made. I realize that Wall Street continues to give Amazon a pass on the need to make a profit, but the grumbling keeps getting louder and I expect that the pressure to produce profits and dividends will reach the point of a change in Amazon strategy in the next 2-3 years.

    Note that Amazon has already made one move in that regard by upping the amount one has to buy to get free shipping. I realize that the move is designed to drive more people toward Amazon Prime, but that may succeed only in the short run.

    What will happen when Amazon has to produce profits and find that to do so, it needs to increase prices. If you own 50% of a market and still can’t generate profit, increasing that market share to 60% won’t do the trick either. You still need to increase prices. Will Amazon’s luster fade when that happens? Time will tell.

  2. From Richard Adin: ” I think B&N and other bookstore’s refusal to carry the Amazon-published titles was a smart move and was a key factor in why Amazon has not been able to break into the top-tier of publishing.”

    True. While my Inkling Books is hardly the ‘top-tier of publishing,’ the boycott by B&N and others does negatively impact my thinking about using CreateSpace to reach bookstores. I already use Lightning Source to do reach almost every bookstore in the country, I think. so why should I pay Amazon to reach a relatively few stores? If CreateSpace bookstore distribution were free and just meant clicking on a box, I might be inclined to go along.

    Then again, maybe not. The idea of a giant book retailer such as Amazon also distributing books wholesale to neighborhood bookstores is a bit too weird. Like Richard suggests, it’s like a Chevy dealer also selling new Fords. I like competition to be clean.

    I’m not even sure Amazon is that strongly behind wholesaling to bookstores. It may have been added simply to encourage authors to give Amazon/CreateSpace exclusive rights to their books.

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