Earlier this month, the world’s bestselling living poet, Rupi Kaur, announced the November 17 publication of her third collection, Home Body. Within days, hefty preorders made it the #1 title in Amazon’s poetry category, knocking Dr. Seuss’s Beginner Book Collection—yes, that Dr. Seuss—to #2. (Kaur’s other two books, Milk and Honey and The Sun and Her Flowers, were #5 and #8 on the Amazon list at that time.) For Kaur’s publisher, Andrews McMeel Publishing, this kind of immediate market impact has become customary. And it’s a sign that the Kansas City, Mo.–based press is coping despite disruptions caused by the ongoing pandemic.
“Our poetry is selling incredibly well,” AMP publisher Kirsty Melville said during a September 10 Zoom networking event hosted by the American Book Producers Association. “Many of our books are sold by Target, so when Amazon was selling disinfectant, we were still selling books at Target.”
Now that Amazon is back to selling books, it’s again a big seller of AMP’s poetry—but it’s not, Melville noted, as dominant as one might expect. She explained that Barnes & Noble customers’ early interest in the poetry of Lang Leav and independent booksellers’ support for AMP’s other poetry offerings “played an incredibly important role” in getting the category launched for the press. “So when the pandemic hit and most of Barnes & Noble’s stores were closed, and independents were only shipping curbside or through Bookshop, I was very concerned,” she said. “But Target had been selling Rupi and began picking up some of our other titles.”
Because of its emphasis on the design of its books, AMP—like Chronicle Books, whose president, Tyrell Mahoney, gave a similar talk to the ABPA over Zoom in August—relies heavily on bricks-and-mortar stores for sales. As a result, Amazon’s share of AMP’s sales is “not as much as you’d think,” Melville said. “In the breakdown of the marketplace, B&N and Target combined are bigger than Amazon.”
Despite some retailer distruptions, AMP has seen sales spikes across a number of its categories during the pandemic—categories that, as Melville put it, “perform many roles of solace.” Poetry is selling because “it’s a place of reflection,” while humor is selling because “people want to have a laugh and not think about the noise.” Puzzles and games have done well, and the publisher’s children’s list has been “really strong,” she added. Self-care and reflective journaling books are also solid for the publisher. And though AMP has curtailed its cookbook program over the years, some backlist barbecue books have been doing popular, Melville noted. “The type of books that we publish seem to be fitting with what people need right now,” she said.
There are other bright spots for AMP as well. Nickelodeon is adapting Dana Simpson’s comic strip Phoebe and the Unicorn, which AMP publishes, into a TV show, and the press’s partnership with the California-based digital children’s book library Epic! continues to pay off. (Melville noted that AMP has “carved a niche for ourselves” in the middle grade space, specifically middle grade graphic novels.) And AMP remains the country’s largest publisher of calendars, which it sells directly to the market.
That said, the pandemic has forced AMP to adapt, like nearly every other publisher. Gift book sales are down, especially in the specialty retail markets, because many of those outlets are still closed. Melville noted that AMP, which has never had a broad e-book program, has begun to grow it beyond the 5% of the list it once represented. In addition, the company does not plan to bring anyone back to the office until January at the earliest.
And though Melville said AMP has “done remarkably well considering how difficult it is,” she admitted that “the people in our production departments have found it tough,” adding, “There’s been a lot of change in how we do things.”