Opinion Brief

Will Amazon replace book publishers?

Increasingly, the e-retailing giant isn't just selling books. It's publishing them — and signing six-figure deals with big names like Penny Marshall

First, Amazon killed the bookstore. (Well, at least some of them.) Now, the online retail giant might be coming for book publishers and agents. This fall, Amazon is planning to publish 122 books, in both electronic and print forms, in what's being called a "striking acceleration of the retailer's fledging publishing program." The e-retailer has set up its own imprint and hired publishing vet Lauren Kirshbaum to run it. Amazon has made deals with popular self-help author Tim Ferriss (The 4-Hour Workweek) and director/actress Penny Marshall. (Amazon reportedly paid $800,000 for her memoir.) And Jeff Bezos and Co. are said to be trying to steal away top talent from traditional publishers. Will Amazon take over the publishing industry — and would that be a good thing?

This is worrisome for the entire industry: An Amazon takeover is problematic for all of us, not just publishing houses, says Rebecca J. Rosen at The Atlantic. The publishing industry produces a great number of titles from a diverse variety of authors. "Can Amazon do the same?" In theory, it should be able to. But "when one company holds the keys to the kingdom for what content consumers can see on its device, it has a lot of power as to what kind of information reaches people." Competition is needed to keep diversity alive. 
"What would happen if Amazon ruled publishing?"

It could be great for authors: "Now, anyone with a good story can have a bestseller even without the support of the traditional publishing industry," says J. Angelo Racoma at TFTS. The industry is notoriously difficult to break into, and Amazon's direct publishing deals can help all writers "get their shot at success." At the same time, though, Amazon is " alienating big-name publishers that have been the bread and butter of their book retail business."
"Amazon cutting off publishers & agents in eBook deals"

Well, book publishers need to adapt: Traditional publishers are already getting into a tizzy over their authors working with Amazon on side projects, says Mathew Ingram at Bloomberg Businessweek. Instead, they should consider how the "business is changing, and then try to adapt to that." Right now, "Amazon is giving authors what they want, and as long as it continues to do so, [traditional publishers] will be at a disadvantage. Wake up and smell the disruption."
"Publishers, what are you doing while Amazon eats your lunch?"

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