Daphne Durham, who is stepping into the role of publisher for Amazon’s adult trade and children’s imprints as Larry Kirshbaum departs, said the company is “delighted” with the sales performance of the unit’s titles to date. The first full adult print list, sold through a deal with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt under the New Harvest imprint, was released in fall 2012; it immediately met with resistance from physical retailers, including Barnes & Noble and the vast majority of independent booksellers, who would do no more than special order the titles for customers.

That decision by retailers resulted in some low print sales for titles on the first list—at least as measured by Nielsen BookScan, which estimates it captures 75%-80% of print sales. My Mother Was Nuts, by Penny Marshall, the first high-profile book released by New Harvest, has so far sold a little over 12,000 copies since its publication at outlets that report to BookScan. In numbers supplied to PW, Amazon reported that total sales of Nuts to date, including e-books, are approximately 120,000. Durham said that while Amazon wants to make its books available to anyone who wants to carry them, “our business model doesn’t depend on distribution outside of Amazon.” She acknowledged that limited sales through retailers mean Amazon needs to provide authors with “a great publishing experience,” noting, “If we were not able to do that, then we’re not going to be the best publisher fit for them.”

The Amazon ecosystem certainly can sell a fair number of copies. Coming Clean, a memoir by writer and actress Kimberly Rae Miller, was released by New Harvest in July 2013 and has sold just over 4,200 copies at BookScan outlets, while Amazon reports the book has sold a total of 56,800 copies (the title was an Amazon Best Book of the Month selection for July). Two literary fiction titles acquired by Amazon’s Little A imprint have also seen solid numbers for that genre, with The Blue Book by A.L. Kennedy selling 8,100 copies, according to Amazon, and The House of Rumour selling 6,500 copies. Both books were released in March and each has sold less than 1,000 copies according to BookScan.

Amazon also pointed to strong sales for titles outside of what had been Kirshbaum’s domain, including the Hangman’s Daughter series by Oliver Potzsch, which has sold over one million copies in e-book and Amazon Crossing print editions (Amazon sold trade paperback rights to HMH). An Amazon Publishing spokesperson said that across all of its imprints, over 10% of the company’s frontlist titles, in a variety of categories and genres, have sold more than 100,000 copies each, and that many have sales over 200,000 copies each, including The Long Way Home by Karen McQuestion, When I Found You by Catherine Ryan Hyde, The Detachment by Barry Eisler, and The Misremembered Man by Christina McKenna.

It is the very success of titles published by Amazon’s genre and specialized imprints that have agents and others in the industry questioning whether the company really wants to continue to try to build the type of publishing business that would compete with the big five trade houses for major authors. Despite the success of sales through Amazon’s own outlets, agents said that some authors will remain reluctant to sign with the company because of the belief that they could do better if their books were sold through physical stores, as well as through online retailers such as Amazon. Durham said Amazon remains committed to publishing, and that anyone who suggests the company is scaling back is incorrect. “We’re a global company with thriving publishing offices in Seattle, New York, Grand Haven [Michigan, home of Brilliance Audio], London, and Munich,” Durham said. She noted that across all 14 Amazon publishing imprints, the company plans to release about 700 frontlist books in 2014.

Sales of Selected Amazon Adult Trade Titles

Title Author Bookscan SALES* Total Sales**
The 4-Hour Chef Timothy Ferriss 96,813 >250,000
My Mother Was Nuts Penny Marshall 12,439 120,000
Coming Clean Kimberly Rae Miller 4,266 56,800
The Power of Negative Thinking Bob Knight, Bob Hammel 15,469 36,000
Brotherhood Deepak Chopra, Sanjiv Chopra 2,560 33,500
Walden on Wheels Ken Ilgunas 4,131 16,800
Too Good to Be True Benjamin Anastas 1,559 15,000
The Exiles Allison Lynn 598 12,400
Care of Wooden Floors Will Wiles 988 11,000
Godforsaken Idaho Shawn Vestal 1,421 6,500
The Blue Book A.L. Kennedy 831 8,100
The House of Rumour Jake Arnott 164 6,500

*Sales taken from Nielsen Bookscan for the week ended Nov. 4

**Sales supplied by Amazon