Easily the most speculated about issue at BEA last week was just how fast and how far Amazon will push into publishing now that it has named Larry Kirshbaum to head its New York publishing arm. Amazon's official position is that it will continue to open new imprints in more genres as it already has in romance (Montlake Romance) and mysteries and thrillers (Thomas & Mercer). Publishers were puzzling over why Amazon, typically a risk-averse company, is stepping up its presence in a business known for its unpredictability. The most benign explanation is that Amazon is simply looking to improve margins by being both supplier and retailer. Another possibility is that Amazon is looking to protect its access to content as publishers up their direct-to-consumer sale efforts (i.e., Bookish).
A more Machiavellian scenario put forth by one publisher is that Amazon is trying to return to the pre-agency model era when it routinely priced e-books at $9.99 or less. As a publisher, Amazon is free to set the price at whatever it wants and if, a few years from now, it has a signed a significant number of bestselling authors, it could put a big dent in publishers' business by pricing top authors at low prices, while still making a profit.