The Face Of The Company’s Publishing Platforms To Thousands
After almost nine years at Amazon, I am sorry to announce that Jon Fine has decided to leave the company at the end of the year.
When he wrote the internal memo that told the Amazon workforce of Jon Fine’s impending departure, Charles Kronbach, may have had the same difficulty many of us are having in trying to capture adequately just what it is that Jon Fine has been doing — and meaning — to so many in his important tenure with Seattle.
Tireless on the conference and trade-show circuit, unfailingly generous with his time, Fine has built a reputation as being the ranking Amazonian you can talk to. That’s by no means meant as an unkind comment about any of his very able colleagues. Many of them, in fact, are terrific conversationalists and fun to be around. But Fine — a First Amendment attorney by background — simply has a gift for making you feel that he’s being fully forthcoming with you, holding nothing back, eager to share what he knows to make things work for all.
Technically, this kind of skill couldn’t have been vested in a better choice: Fine is — until the end of the year — Amazon’s Director of Author and Publisher Relations. And those can be exceedingly tricky relations, just say “Amazon,” “Hachette,” “Doug Preston,” and “Hugh Howey” around publishing people — and stand well back.
Informally? — Fine has become the friendly face in a frequently unfriendly scenario. He’s the talkative executive among many who seem always muted. Unfailingly personable, his wry sense of humor has helped him be able to understand what we — on the outside — might see when we look at this rising superpower in retail and books.
He’s always been the company’s man. But he’s never been a company man.
For example? Fine can bring precision Borscht Belt timing to his delivery of a pet joke in panel discussions about Jeff Bezos’ delight in the mobile promise of Whispersync.
He sets up the crowd like a pro, talking about Bezos’ pleasure in how you can use apps on any device, not just a Kindle, to buy, download, and start reading a new book — “all while standing in a supermarket line.”
Beat, beat, beat, Fine: “Of course, what I find even more amazing than that technology, is the idea of Jeff Bezos standing in a supermarket line.” Never fails to get a burst of loud laughter from his audience — which often is a tense crowd of needy, worried, would-be writers.
Fine’s secret lies in his ability to appear to demystify the fortress. And his cleverness has always been appreciated by the crowd.
A conference attendee at Boston’s 2013 The Muse and the Marketplace session on “Amazon for Authors” innocently asked Fine how many ebooks were sold last year. This is a huge point of contention in the industry, which can’t get Amazon to share such sales data and thus is badly crippled in its ability to assess the size of the self-publishing market. Nobody has been more insistent on the need for this data than I have.
And Fine didn’t miss a beat: “Porter?” he called me out. “Why don’t you tell us just how many ebooks were sold last year? I can’t remember the number. Don’t you have that?”
Fine is the guy who has always told writers’ conference audiences both what they wanted to hear, and what they needed to hear. Time after time, I’ve live-texted him saying:
The good news is that today, thanks to digital, everybody can publish a book.
The bad news is that today, thanks to digital, everybody can publish a book.
That candor — turning to dewy-eyed aspiring authors, throwing up his hands and saying, “You’re up against a tsunami of content!” — has earned him abiding, adamant respect from writers, publishers, editors, agents, and maybe particularly from journalists. We’re the ones who know what he won’t say, know it’s impossible to trip him up, and yet love the fact that he’ll actually say, “You know I’m not going to say that, try again.”
There’s a way to be honest about difficult circumstances without a trace of arrogance or evasion. Fine has it down.
And one more thing: it’s Fine who founded and has administered Amazon’s Author Grant Program. With minimal fanfare, he has facilitated significant grants — totaling more than $5 million — for more than 100 non-profit and author organizations from the PEN American Center and Words Without Borders to the 92nd Street Y, Write Girl, Children’s Book Week, the NaNoWriMo program, Lambda Literary Foundation, Girls Write Now, the Harlem-based Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education, and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs.
By Porter Anderson | @Porter_Anderson
Writing on the Ether: Seattle’s Finest: Jon Fine Is Leaving Amazon
Originally published by Thought Catalog at www.ThoughtCatalog.com
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