Amazon has confirmed to PW a story in Friday’s Shelf Awareness that Larry Kirshbaum will step down as head of Amazon Publishing’s general publishing program early next year. Amazon said Kirshbaum's last day will be January 17 and that he plans to return to agenting. An Amazon spokesperson credited Kirshbaum with being instrumental in launching its New York office, including its New Harvest partnership and establishing its children's book business. "We're sorry to see him go, and wish him the best of luck as he returns to life as a literary agent," the spokesperson said.
Kirshbaum was hired in spring of 2011 to run the New York City-based unit and his contract was up next spring. Under his direction, Amazon Publishing has had a difficult time gaining traction in the marketplace and failed to deliver any major bestsellers. In addition to the lackluster performance of the group, Kirshbaum drew unwanted attention this summer when a lawsuit was filed against him for sexual assault.
Amazon’s genre publishing program will not be affected by Kirshbaum’s departure although the future of the trade operation is uncertain. Among the issues confronting the publishing program has been poor distribution into bookstores. Aware that bricks-and-mortar stores were unlikely to carry titles from a major competitor, Amazon struck a deal with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to distribute Amazon Publishing’s titles through a newly created New Harvest imprint. Nevertheless, Barnes & Noble and most independent booksellers do not carry New Harvest titles, limiting the sale of print titles. Amazon Publishing has distributed all the e-book editions of books it has signed.
While Amazon Publishing has performed poorly, the company has become a major presence in the self-publishing market, a development that may have cooled its interest in spending the resources to build a major trade operation. The most notable development at Amazon Publishing was the acquisition of the Marshall Cavendish trade line in December 2011 that moved Amazon into the children’s publishing market. Last November, Kirshbaum was put in charge of both the adult and children’s trade operations in New York and Seattle. The genre division continued to operate on its own. The last significant event for the trade group was the launch of Little A in March, Amazon's literary fiction imprint.