Amazon’s imprints are bad for publishers, but good for readers

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Thomas & Mercer

Thomas & Mercer | Amazon

A role of the publisher is to turn a book from being known to almost nobody to being known to almost everybody.

When the editor receives a book proposal from an unpublished author, she asks herself a question “will this book sell?”. Selecting such books for publications was half about guessing and half about trying to find the proof the book will sell.

Now, as content distributors enter the game, it’s less about guessing and in the end it’s good for the readers. In this post I’ll summarize the benefits.

Amazon has entered the game with imprints like Thomas & Mercer or Montlake Romance. They are highly competitive and it’s not only about prices of the books or a high exposure those books can enjoy on Amazon’s website (naming only Kindle Daily Deals).

It’s all about information. Editors from Amazon imprints don’t guess. They know more and know faster. They are not stuck with query letters. Their source of knowledge: sales of books published via Amazon’s own self-publishing platform.

In fact, any book self-published via KDP is a book proposal for Amazon imprints. The essential difference to traditional methods is that such a “submission” is accompanied with its own sales chart – sales the book enjoys as a result of author’s own promotional activities.

Timing

Amazon editors spot good books much quicker.

Sure, anyone can check the sales of books in Kindle Store using tools like Novel Rank. But tracking hundreds of thousands of books doesn’t make sense and is not doable. Amazon imprints know much faster which book is enjoying stable increase in sales over the longer period. Or they notice that another book kept selling very well after a launch hype. It’s happening at the level invisible to ordinary visitors (=other publishers) of the Kindle Store – and this is the most important weapon Amazon could have.

Editors from Thomas & Mercer don’t have to ask the author a question: “how many books have you sold so far?”. They know it in the first place. And actually they contact the author only if the answer would be “a lot”.

This data is not visible for other publishers, when the book is in the middle of the list. Other publishers can spot a self-published book when it’s already a bestseller – which means: too late.

Price

Offering a book deal to an established author means a lot of money. Now “established” doesn’t only mean an established author published the traditional way. It also means a highly successful self-publisher.

St Martin’s offered Amanda Hocking two million dollars for a new, four-book series, Watersong. Apparently, a part of the contract was republishing of the Trylle Trilogy. Now, the series is renamed to Trylle Novels, and Switched, published as Kindle edition at the beginning of January costs $8.99, instead of $1.99 (price from January 2011). The book is not four times better. The book is more expensive because the traditional publisher is using their right to be slow and (that’s why) expensive.

Amazon imprints, as well as indie publishers, are going to change that. Because they want to be quick and cheap. Being quick and cheap is closer to what reader wants.

Conditions of the publisher-author deal are not the only factors, which shape the price. The other important thing is the chance of becoming a bestseller. Amazon imprints may pick up books which already sell well. Their task is to amplify sales, not create sales. The chance of failure is much smaller. The waste of money doesn’t happen that often, the general level of prices is not cost-generated.

Genres

There is also one more thing, which gives a highly competitive edge to editors from Amazon imprints. They may be more eager to pick up titles in less popular genres. They don’t risk, because they know the sales.

Publishing should evolve. Sticking to old rules doesn’t help. Preferences of readers evolve and it’s good to follow them. Sticking to a proven genre is keeping readers in the same seat, even if the readers want to be offered a change.

Amazon imprints are more probable to discover new genres and authors who publish in those genres.

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Obviously, this article is based on an assumption that Amazon are using their sales data in a highly advanced way. There is no proof they are doing it. If you ask them, they’ll be as specific as with the info about sales of Kindles – “thousands” might be the most specific word.

But, on the other hand, if I had access to such data, I would use it. As I track top self-published books in Kindle Store since January 2011, I can easier notice, which self-published authors signed the deal with Amazon imprints. David Lender did that. Julie Ortolon did that. Scott Nicholson did that.

Amazon’s imprints are not about selling books readers will love. They sell books readers already love.