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Summary:

In a letter to literary agents, Amazon Publishing VP Jeff Belle shares sales numbers for some of the company’s titles and says that authors who previously worked with other publishers — like Barry Eisler — are doing better under Amazon.

Amazon Kindle Touch
photo: Amazon

In an email to literary agents, Amazon Publishing VP Jeff Belle shares some sales numbers from the company’s list.

“We’ve been energized by the early results across all of our imprints,” Belle writes:

Since December, our Thomas & Mercer imprint has sold over 250,000 copies of Ed McBain’s classic 87th Precinct series (available for the first time in digital). In December, 47North published The Book of Sith by Daniel Wallace, which has been called “one of the coolest Star Wars products ever made.” This summer, with the success of The Dark Monk (A Hangman’s Daughter Tale), AmazonCrossing author Oliver Pötzsch has now crossed the half-million copy mark in life-to-date sales. Also joining the half-million club as of last month is Karen McQuestion, author of the Kindle bestsellers A Scattered Life, Easily Amused and The Long Way Home.

At the end of July, we released The Trinity Game by Sean Chercover. It quickly rose to the #5 spot on our Kindle bestseller list, and is already well on its way to surpassing 100,000 copies. War Brides by Helen Bryan occupied the Kindle Top 10 for most of July and August, and has now sold over 300,000 Kindle copies.

Not surprisingly, Belle does not break down how many copies the books have sold in print versus Kindle books. A little under a year ago, I took a closer look at Amazon Publishing and discovered mediocre print sales on most titles.

I love that the Book of Sith hyperlink above leads to…a review on Barnes & Noble’s sci-fi blog.

Belle claims that authors who’d previously worked with other publishers are doing better with Amazon:

The Detachment, by Barry Eisler, published last September by Thomas & Mercer, has sold over three times the copies of any of Barry’s previous New York Times bestselling books. New York Times bestselling author Connie Brockway joined Montlake Romance as our launch author, and The Other Guy’s Bride has also gone on to sell more than three times the copies of her other recent titles.

“We are as determined as ever to make sure that Amazon Publishing authors reach a huge audience,” Belle writes. “In particular, we will continue to heavily market and promote them to our 180 million customers around the world, through online and offline advertising, our websites, through email, and on millions of Kindle and non-Kindle devices.”

Full letter below.

Dear Friends,

The last year has been one of exciting growth for Amazon Publishing: We published the first titles from our Montlake, Thomas & Mercer, and 47North imprints based in Seattle, and opened our New York office, which is focused on non-fiction and children’s books. In January we completed the acquisition of Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books; in June the acquisition of Avalon Books; and in August, we closed on the acquisition of over 1,000 backlist titles from Dorchester Publishing. And just last week, we announced a new initiative that we’re very excited about — Kindle Serials.

We’ve been energized by the early results across all of our imprints. Since December, our Thomas & Mercer imprint has sold over 250,000 copies of Ed McBain’s classic 87th Precinct series (available for the first time in digital). In December, 47North published The Book of Sith by Daniel Wallace, which has been called “one of the coolest Star Wars products ever made.” This summer, with the success of The Dark Monk (A Hangman’s Daughter Tale), AmazonCrossing author Oliver Pötzsch has now crossed the half-million copy mark in life-to-date sales. Also joining the half-million club as of last month is Karen McQuestion, author of the Kindle bestsellers A Scattered Life, Easily Amused and The Long Way Home.

At the end of July, we released The Trinity Game by Sean Chercover. It quickly rose to the #5 spot on our Kindle bestseller list, and is already well on its way to surpassing 100,000 copies. War Brides by Helen Bryan occupied the Kindle Top 10 for most of July and August, and has now sold over 300,000 Kindle copies. We’re thrilled about our list for the rest of 2012, which includes Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels (all 14 books), as well as inaugural titles from our New York imprint, such as My Mother Was Nuts by Penny Marshall, and The 4-Hour Chef by Timothy Ferriss.

We are especially focused on increasing the audience for our authors. The Detachment, by Barry Eisler, published last September by Thomas & Mercer, has sold over three times the copies of any of Barry’s previous New York Times bestselling books. New York Times bestselling author Connie Brockway joined Montlake Romance as our launch author, and The Other Guy’s Bride has also gone on to sell more than three times the copies of her other recent titles. These authors, along with Amazon Publishing, are helping to redefine what it means to be a bestseller. We’re extremely proud of the results so far.

We are as determined as ever to make sure that Amazon Publishing authors reach a huge audience. In particular, we will continue to heavily market and promote them to our 180 million customers around the world, through online and offline advertising, our websites, through email, and on millions of Kindle and non-Kindle devices. Based in large part on our long experience as a bookseller, we are confident that this expansive marketing and promotional support will continue to yield strong sales results for our authors.

Our goal remains to invent new and better ways to connect authors with readers. I know you feel the same. So much of the work we are doing would not be possible without your support and we appreciate every submission and opportunity to do business with you and your clients. We also know that we’re new — we have more ahead of us than behind us (both opportunities and challenges) — yet we remain relentlessly focused on what we can do to provide the best possible publishing experience to you and your authors.

Thank you again for your support. If you have any questions about Amazon Publishing, as always, please feel free to reach out to me directly. — Jeff

Jeff Belle
Vice President
Amazon Publishing

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  1. Karen McQuestion Friday, September 14, 2012

    Hi Laura,
    While I enjoyed reading your commentary on Jeff Belle’s letter, I’m wondering about your emphasis on print books versus ebooks. I suspect a breakdown wasn’t given because it’s not relevant.
    As an author, all I’ve ever wanted was readers for my books, and to be able to make a good living from my writing. With Amazon Publishing I’ve gotten that and much more. The publishing team at Amazon genuinely welcomes my input on everything from marketing ideas to cover art to flap copy. They’re a joy to work with and they value authors, period. I would hope that agents would want that kind of experience for their clients.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Karen! The reason I mention print sales is that they still make up the majority of book sales. According to the most recent figures available, ebooks made up 30 percent of adult fiction sales in 2011 (http://paidcontent.org/2012/07/18/ebooks-are-now-the-most-popular-format-for-adult-fiction/) That leaves 70 percent for print and other formats.

      70 percent is a lot. Amazon Publishing may be more clearly focused on ebook sales but physical bookstores are still a key source of discovery for books. If bookstores refuse to carry Amazon titles, as most have done so far, then Amazon has to make up those sales in another way. And it’s a choice authors who work with Amazon have to make: Are they okay with missing out on a certain number of print sales?

      I’m not saying this is good or bad — it’s a choice for the authors to make; many, clearly, see more advantages in working with Amazon — and I am glad that you’ve had a great experience publishing with them; congratulations on that success! But it’s my job as a journalist to point out what is not mentioned in that letter.

      1. I actually agree with you that it’s relevant to bring it up, certainly for another year or two at least. That said, those 2011 fiction numbers you are citing need to be taken with a bit of a grain of salt. They don’t include the millions of books sold not through trade publishers. I remember diving into those numbers last year and concluding that they underestimated ebook sales substantially. How much? No one knows. Maybe the real number is 35% of fiction, maybe it’s 50%, we just don’t know. It does seem likely that in some genres like thrillers, the number was already over 50% last year.

        Again, I do think it is relevant to point out that Amazon did not break down print sales. But don’t let those numbers – which come from trade publishers, who are engaged in a pitched battle with Amazon and could be expected to understate ebook sales -skew your view of the marketplace.

  2. “Not surprisingly, Belle does not break down how many copies the books have sold in print versus Kindle books. A little under a year ago, I took a closer look at Amazon Publishing and discovered mediocre print sales on most titles.”

    Does that matter?

    I’m not sure I understand the attachment to print sales when it’s obvious the future is in digital books. Do people look at the top selling bands on iTunes and say, “Yes, but how many physical CD’s do they sell?”

    Amazon and ebooks are the future. Amazon publishing is the only big publisher out there right now who seems to understand this.

    1. Exactly!

  3. I think that the publishing industry and the media should disclose the number of units sold per book on the various best sellers list. Also, I think it would be nice if the publishing industry took a cue from the music industry and certified books as gold or platinum by the numbers of units sold, not ordered by the stores (internet and brick & mortar).

    1. The actual number sold on a bestseller list right now isn’t possible — a Nielsen service called BookScan reports on a fairly high percentage of POS data from a variety of sources, but it is by no means complete. It is possible to create betas and get a reasonably close estimate, of course. The numbers are quite revealing — most often there is a sharp drop from the top three titles to numbers four and lower. Great idea for heralding the sales volume with shiny seal though…

    2. Fat chance they’ll say how low some of the sales are of some of the supposed best sellers on some of the lists such as the NYT BS list.

  4. This is not Amazon trying to woo agents. This is a serious FU to B&N and all the other stores who won’t carry their books. I think it might be time to reevaluate exactly who needs who in the publishing biz.

  5. I believe you are committing an ecological fallacy when you bring up the point about ebooks vs. print. There is no reason to believe that an author “missing out on a certain number of print sales” by going with Amazon. Just because revenue from adult fiction as a whole is only 30% ebook, it doesn’t mean that any one book will follow that pattern. Or that Amazon imprint books suffer from not being in brick and mortar stores. On the contrary, all the available evidence suggests that authors who go with Amazon have higher potential sales.

    The real question for an author considering going with Amazon is who will sell your book more effectively, Amazon or a publisher who access to brick and mortar stores as well as other online stores. About 40% of U.S. households have active Amazon accounts. That means Amazon has a valid email address and permission to email them. Not mention the fact that Amazon knows what kind of books, if any, their customers buy. Unless you are a James Patterson, Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, this shouldn’t even be close. If Amazon calls, you should answer.

    1. Exactly. When people don’t find books in b&m stores, do you really think that means they don’t buy them? Or that they then buy them from Amazon? I’ll tell you which it is. By not carrying Amazon imprints, all bookstores are doing is saying, “We won’t carry what you want, so please go elsewhere to buy!” Stupid. Absolutely stupid.

    2. I have no print version at all of my latest book and have sold close to 40K copies in the last four months. I’ve made more money on my ebooks than I ever did on my traditionally published print books. I also have friends doing ebooks only that are making high five and low six figures every month.

      Who cares about print books?

      1. I imagine the readers who only read print aren’t too happy they can’t read your book in their preferred format. I buy print only – and with 70% of revenues coming from print, that means there are still a lot of people buying a lot of print books. When a book I wanted was only available as an e-book, i didn’t buy the e-book – I downloaded it illegally. I won’t spend money to support a format I hate.

      2. Rebecca,

        “When a book I wanted was only available as an e-book, i didn’t buy the e-book – I downloaded it illegally. I won’t spend money to support a format I hate.”

        So by this logic it is ok to walk into a B&N and steal a book someone wants because they only read eBooks and the book is not available in eBook format because the publisher chose not to publish that way?

      3. Well, the main moral difference is if you steal a physical book, you are costing them something they could have sold to someone else – that’s not true of e-books. A better comparison would be downloading a scanned e-book someone made.

      4. Rebecca,

        Interesting justification for shitty behavior. Do you not see that you’re stealing money from the author who spent months, if not years, writing that book. Is that okay with you too?

        You should be ashamed of yourself.

  6. I signed with Amazon Publishing in the first days of the operation taking off, and I knew then what most people are figuring out now. Amazon Publishing is the future, and putting authors in tighter control of their own destiny is clearly better for the author, better for the reader and better for the long term overall. I’ve never once regretted my decision.

    I have no issues getting paid, getting paid accurately and I have an open and healthy dialogue with my publisher and everyone involved. It’s a healthy environment to be partnered with, and anyone trying to sift out the negative aspects are looking at the situation inappropriately. Amazon deserves much wider positive press than it receives and I suspect more authors will slowly begin to show their solidarity with the endeavor as time passes.

    Either the other publishers will adapt or they’ll continue to chalk up huge losses and shrinking returns. It’s that simple.

  7. Nor does the letter reveal the consumer price of the Kindle editoin cited in the letter. Many of them were probably available for under $3.00 during promotional periods.

    1. Good point, and yet another reason why Amazon is far superior to other big publishers.

      Here is a publisher willing (and able) to experiment with price in order to get their books in front of huge number of readers. There isn’t a writer out there that wouldn’t kill for that kind of exposure, not to mention the $$$.

  8. For a while now, the editors at New York publishing companies have been warning authors who are thinking of jumping ship to one of Amazon Publishing’s imprints that not only won’t their books be in brick-and-mortar stores, but they also won’t make nearly as much money.

    “You’ll disappear,” they say. “Your career will be over. Nobody will be able to find your books anymore. Look what happened to Barry Eisler.”

    While it’s true that you won’t see many Amazon-imprint books at your local Barnes & Noble or at airport bookstores….so what? Ebooks are vastly outselling prints books today. And while your ego may take a hit not seeing your book on a store shelf, your wallet won’t. Unless you’re an A-lister like Lee Child, Janet Evanovich, James Patterson, or Michael Connelly, etc., you will sell a lot more books and make a lot more money with Amazon than with a “legacy” publisher.

    I know many authors, formerly with NY publishers, who are now with one of Amazon’s imprints…and earning more than they ever did before. I’m one of them. KING CITY has already made me more money in the last 90 days than my last two MONK novels combined.

    But I am not alone, as Jeff Belle’s letter shows. Moreover, he punctures the big lie, which I have heard repeated many times, that Barry Eisler made a costly mistake walking away from a $500,000, two-book St. Martin’s contract in favor of working with Amazon. He’s done astonishingly well. It was the best decision he ever made.

    But it’s not just the sales that are attractive to authors… it’s the talented, friendly and enthusiastic editors, who give authors an enormous say in how their books are packaged and marketed…it’s the astonishing effectiveness of their promotional campaigns…and its the far more generous royalties, paid swiftly, and accompanied by clear, easy to understand royalty reports. Amazon Publishing treats authors like partners, and I can’t overstate how important that is to authors or how wonderful it feels.

    Oh, and they also publish great books.

    Is it any wonder Amazon Publishing and their authors are doing so well?

    Lee Goldberg

    1. Here, here, Lee. I’m not with an Amazon imprint, but I publish on Amazon, and after years with traditional publishers, I can say that I’ve had more exposure and am making more money with Amazon than I ever did with the Big 6.

      I valued my time with those traditional publishers, but being in control of my own destiny, and reaping the rewards for my hard work, is a much better place to be.

    2. I might be able to make my point better if I spelled right. I, of course, meant “hear hear.” Sigh.

  9. laura “hazard to understanding” owen said:
    > it’s my job as a journalist to point out
    > what is not mentioned in that letter.

    then you shoulda mentioned that
    selling e-books through amazon
    instead of using a legacy publisher
    gives today’s authors more money,
    not to mention _creative_freedom_,
    more readers, enhanced exposure,
    a better mutual working relationship,
    transparent bookkeeping, _and_ an
    opportunity to release more material.

    oh, and did i mention _more_money_?

    heck, even lee goldberg, who whined
    like a baby after 1 month of trying that
    “e-books don’t work” is now a believer.
    and he’s worked both sides of the fence.

    yes, the legacy guys do sell print books
    in bookstores, a lot of them, _but_ they
    keep most of the proceeds themselves!

    so we can see why they are paying you
    good money to keep reminding us that
    they sell a lot of p-books in bookstores.
    they wanna keep those registers singing.

    but as the ratio gradually changes from
    70/30 to 30/70, they will pay you _less_
    to do their propaganda work for them…

    but don’t worry. you can always start
    writing books, to sell through amazon.

    -bowerbird

  10. How did this conversation become about self publishing?

    Anytime Amazon Publishing is mentioned it seems like these self published authors come out of the woodwork and start spouting off about ebooks. This isn’t about self publishing, guys. This is about Amazon Publishing, a new traditional publisher, which has nothing to do with any of you or self publishing. I know you all live for attention, but stop trying to steer an interesting conversation toward a tired, and very minor corner of the book industry.

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