Amazon's acquisition of Brilliance Audio is being met with relative calm in publishing circles, compared to the furor that arose when Barnes & Noble implemented its own vertical integration strategy with the purchase of Sterling Publishing in 2003. Both B&N and Borders said they will continue to buy audiobooks from Brilliance despite its new ownership, although independent booksellers were more conflicted. Russ Lawrence, owner of Chapter One Book Store in Hamilton, Mont., said he will keep “our audiobook shelves well-stocked, but Brilliance will no longer be represented unless it's a title with particular relevance to our customers.” Lawrence added that he will fill special orders of Brilliance titles. Tattered Cover book buyer Cathy Langer said the store will continue to carry Brilliance titles at about the same level it always has, although she added that she may “wince a little” when placing an order.
While the acquisition of Brilliance drew the most notice from booksellers, Amazon's announcement that it is adding a print-on-demand option for the production of audiobooks in either the standard CD or MP3-CD formats caught the attention of some industry members. Seth Gershel, former head of S&S Audio and now an industry consultant, said he thinks an on-demand component for audio has been long overdue. Since most audiobooks have a limited demand, the format “plays right into the long-tail strategy,” Gershel said. Amazon will use its CustomFlix disc-on-demand service to maintain electronic files of audiobooks and will manufacture them when an order is placed. “An audiobook never has to go out of print,” said Greg Greeley, v-p of books at Amazon.
Greeley said the purchase of Brilliance and the addition of an on-demand option are aimed at increasing the breadth of selection of audiobook titles, which Amazon believes will lead to more sales. The moves, however, also raise a host of questions. Gershel wondered if Amazon might soon open an audiobook store, rather than just leaving audio in its bookstore. By adding more content, Amazon is also moving closer to offering digital downloads of audio titles, a market it has so far ceded to Audible. And although Greeley said the purchase of Brilliance was a move tailored to expand audio offerings, it raises the possibility that Amazon could acquire a book publisher in the future.