As at DBW, the Many Faces of Amazon

Image - iStockphoto: ThePrint
Image – iStockphoto: ThePrint

By Porter Ander­son | @Porter_Anderson

As at #DBW14, the Many Faces of Amazon

[su_dropcap size=”4″]N[/su_dropcap]EW YORK—Even a year ago, it might have seemed unthinkable that organizers of F+W Media’s Digital Book World Conference + Expo would devote the better part of a morning to Amazon.

Main confab panel, largeBut on Wednesday, that’s what will happen at #DBW14, as we’re hashtagging the fifth doing of this major publishing conference in New York.

DBW’s three days of programs has drawn an aggregate audience of some 1,500 attendees, according to organizers. None of them will have seen “our friends in Seattle,” as the retail behemoth is at times called, given this level of direct, interpretive attention at this iconic event in the heart of the US publishing industry.

  • The program will be led on Wednesday with Brad Stone, author of The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, starts the day with a talk titled, “Amazon’s ‘Everything Strategy.”
  • “Amazon’s Growing Share of the Institutional Market” is next, from consultant Joseph J. Esposito.
  • And conference chair and programmer Mike Shatzkin then joins them all for a discussion, “The Future of Amazon and the Publishing Business.”
  • In a breakout session, GigaOM publishing reporter Laura Hazard Owen then conducts an “Amazon Q&A” with Stone, and Esposito.

AmazonAnd for a clue to why such unprecedented focus is in place now, look at Shatzkin’s recent post, one of his most clearly parsed and widely discussed in months: Nine places to look in 2014 to predict the future of publishing.

In an incisive explication of “the Seattle issue,” Shatzkin lays things out very clearly:

It has been happening quietly but it has been happening: we increasingly have two separately-operating book businesses: Amazon’s and everybody else’s. This starts with the numbering system: Amazon uses its own ASINs, rather than depending on everybody else’s ISBNs. It extends to the titles available: Amazon has an untold number, but certainly hundreds of thousands, that it either publishes exclusively or which authors or small presses publish exclusively through them. And it has service offerings from Kindle Owners Lending Library to its recent Matchbook offer to pair ebook and print sales, which range from “extremely difficult” to “impossible” for any other publisher-retailer combination to match. How far can this go? Can Amazon create a closed world which is more profitable for an author or publisher than the whole world that includes everybody else? Or have they already?

In an interesting sidelight, one area in which a publisher is working with Amazon has come to light just as DBW started.

Milan-based RCS Libri’s Rizzoli has announced a new contest program in cooperation with Amazon. From the press release:

Rizzoli, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and the Italian startup 20lines today launched BigJump, the first literary contest devoted to thrillers, romance and historical novels where readers will contribute to award a prize to participating novels. Authors can take part in the contest for free with an unpublished or self-published novel. Registration …ends on February 14, 2014. To learn more about the rules, visit

Mind you, Rizzoli is fond of competitions. Late last year saw the “You Crime” competition in which authors of noir stories were pitted against each other, competing for a publishing contract based on how strongly they could generate social-media support. You can learn more about that interesting contest project here at Publishing Perspectives.

In the case of the “BigJump” promotion, Amazon will give a “BigJump KDP” award to the novel with the most customer support. And the entire process begins, Rizzoli’s announcement tells us, with authors uploading their novel to the KDP network.”

In a sense, then, what Shatzkin’s concept of “Amazon’s and everybody else’s business” represents is a still-active sorting-out, a shakedown in which even some of Amazon’s loudest critics in publishing continue to sell their books with the online retailer because they simply can’t afford to miss such a vast potential marketplace.

For publishing-industry folks, it can be hard to remember, in fact, that Amazon is so much broader a company than a view through the lens of the books business would indicate. At the same time, such a blinkered view is perfectly understandable, considering the force with which the company continues to move in the world of books.

The holiday-season press release from Amazon, for example, included a series of jaw-dropping announcements relative to the publishing industry. Quoting that release:

  • Selection in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library in 2013 grew from 250,000 books to more than 475,000 books—books that Kindle owners with a Prime membership can borrow for free with no due dates.

  • More than 200,000 exclusive books were added to the Kindle store in 2013.

  • The most gifted Kindle book during the holiday season was Sycamore Row by John Grisham.

  • 150 Kindle Direct Publishing authors each sold more than 100,000 copies of their books in 2013. Top sellers this year include Hopeless by Colleen Hoover and Wait for Me by Elisabeth Naughton.

  • The best-selling Kindle Direct Publishing author during the holiday season was H.M. Ward.

  • Kindle Direct Publishing authors sold hundreds of thousands of books in November through the new Kindle Countdown Deals

Of genuine material importance here, of course, is the fact that the Amazonian apparatus is what has finally made not only ebooks but also self-publishing truly viable on a scalable level. Which may mean that it’s no wonder many members of the traditional book business see Amazon as an invading force, an opportunistic creature of crippling commerce.

But such pictures of the company as an unthinking, ham-handed, and ruthless enemy of the realm sit uneasily behind the kind of things we hear Jeff Bezos say in Vivienne Roumani’s film Out of Print, seen Monday evening in #DBW14′s opening reception. Bezos:

“The book has probably changed us more than any other tool…I think I’ve learned more from reading novels than I have from reading nonfiction books.”

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