With the news that Amazon is expanding its publishing arm, launching in the fall Montlake Romance (with plans to deepen its category publishing to mystery, science fiction, and thrillers), many in the publishing business have been talking about the company’s hiring strategies. And agents have been eyeing the unfolding process closely, trying to gauge whether the retailer will become as viable a place for their books as traditional houses.
For weeks job openings at Amazon, in both editorial and publicity, have been posted online, offering positions in Seattle and New York. Rumors have surfaced that the company is recruiting a New York publishing staff and is on the hunt for a high-level executive to be the publisher of its expanded publishing wing. Amazon confirmed that it will be handling its own distribution, and that Victoria Griffith is publisher of the new Montlake imprint. A rep for the company, who noted that Amazon "has had a New York office for some time," said that "some" of the publishing jobs with the company will be based in New York. While the rep would not comment on when Amazon will launch the other planned genre imprints, rumors have been floating that the company has already closed a deal with an author, for a sizable sum, for either its thriller or mystery imprint.
A number of sources inside New York publishing houses said there was a sour feeling about the way Amazon has, to this point, gone about its employee search. The company sent a form letter to a number of senior executives, some within the same publisher, inquiring if they would be interested in working for Amazon. While some sources scoffed that a suite of Amazon imprints could establish respect in the industry—one insider said Amazon's publishing efforts would likely be seen as a “proprietary bookseller-publisher pretty far down the food chain of quality publishers”—agents were less damning.
One agent noted that Amazon is uniqeuly positioned to promote authors and books in a way traditional houses are not—through content on its Web site as well as by tapping into information about its customers' book-buying habits. For this reason, this agent said, there is a certain appeal to selling a book to them. He noted, though, that “when any new publishing company or imprint is created, I generally like to wait and see how they’re going to do before placing my authors’ intellectual property there.”
Regarding distribution, questions linger about whether print books from Amazon could find their way into Barnes & Noble or the independents, since both see the company as their most significant competition. One source said it would be presumptuous to assume that B&N would not stock a book simply because Amazon published it, while others added that, for the right title, having no distribution in B&N or the independents would not seriously damage sales anyway.
B&N did not respond to e-mails about whether it will carry Montlake titles. Some independent booksellers are already saying they will never carry a book published by Amazon. "Nobody that sells books needs to do business with Amazon. We don't carry titles by our competitors. We don't carry Barnes & Noble titles. Why would we carry Amazon?" said Geoffrey Jennings of the Fairway. Kans., Rainy Day Books. He added: "It doesn't matter how big you make the press, a vanity press is still a vanity press." Steve Bercu, of Austin's BookPeople, said it is unlikely he would carry an Amazon title. "They haven't exactly endeared themselves to retailers. Maybe they're looking forward to a happy future collecting sales tax when 100% of retailers aren't mad at them."
Another insider said he thinks Amazon will likely start to “acquire big names in the editorial ranks as well as make runs at big authors.” He added: “And I think agents would sell to them, especially since they’ll probably spend big money.” Amazon has proven recently that, for the right author, it is willing to pay a lot. After St. Martin’s Press closed a reported $4 million four-book deal with self-publishing sensation Amanda Hocking, word leaked that Amazon had put in a competitive bid in an attempt to land the author.
“They probably know enough about the book business by now to do as well as, or better, than the old-school houses,” said another agent, acknowledging that he would probably sell a book to Amazon. Of course, as the previous insider guessed, it may come down to money on the table. Yet another agent said: “The big question is whether Amazon will pay advances, and at what level. And, of course, what will their tolerance of risk be as a publisher.”