Summary:

Amazon.com (NSDQ: AMZN) has taken its most aggressive step yet toward competing head-on with traditional publishers: It’s hired Larry Kirshb…

Larry Kirshbaum

Amazon.com (NSDQ: AMZN) has taken its most aggressive step yet toward competing head-on with traditional publishers: It’s hired Larry Kirshbaum, a literary agent and the former CEO of Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) Publishing Group (now Hachette Book Group), to start a general trade imprint.

Until now, Amazon’s imprints have focused on genre fiction like mystery and romance. By hiring a high-profile industry veteran to focus on “quality books in literary and commercial fiction, business and general nonfiction”–and by releasing those books in both print and digital formats–Amazon is announcing itself as a serious competitor against the “big six” traditional trade publishing houses. Kirshbaum will be VP, Publisher of Amazon Publishing’s New York office.

Kirshbaum tells Publishers Marketplace that Amazon “is going to back [the imprint] significantly” and that he will run it “in the vein of a major publishing house.” The news has repercussions not just for traditional publishers but also for retail competitors–namely, Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS), where “they are probably reconsidering their title-acquisition strategy,” writes industry analyst Mike Shatzkin. “If their biggest retail competitor is going after the biggest authors directly, can they afford not to?”

Kirshbaum officially starts in his new role on July 5. No details yet on the name of the imprint, how many titles it will publish, or its formal launch date. Amazon has also not yet explained how the print side of the imprint will work. One thing’s for sure, though: Add this to the top of the list of things that people are going to be buzzing about at BEA this week.

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