The Amazon Publishing ‘Premium’: $100,000?

Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) Publishing’s general trade imprint, headed by publishing industry vet Larry Kirshbaum, reportedly paid $850,000 for Laverne and Shirley star Penny Marshall’s memoir at auction–about $100,000 more than the next highest bid, according to Crain’s. Marshall’s agent, Dan Strone, CEO of Trident Media Group, called the $100,000 figure “absolutely false.”

Crain’s attributes Amazon’s willingness to pay such a high price to the fact that its imprint is still an untested entity and that some bookstores may refuse to carry Amazon Publishing titles. Strone said the idea that Amazon offered a lot more than other publishers is untrue: “Why would they pay $100,000 more? It was an auction and they won it,” he said to me. He told the Associated Press that Amazon offered a much higher e-book royalty rate than the traditional publishers’ standard 25 percent and said, “It was a decision whether to go with old school or new school.”

Amazon’s entry into trade book publishing, and its high profile hire of Kirshbaum, sent waves through the publishing industry this spring. So far, though, Amazon’s New York imprint (which still does not have a name) has not made any deals that have traditional publishers crying “OH MY GOD I CAN’T BELIEVE THEY GOT [THAT PERSON].” There’s no Oprah memoir, for example. Amazon New York’s first acquisition was Timothy Ferriss’s 4-Hour Chef; in that instance, Ferriss approached Amazon directly and didn’t shop around a proposal. More recently, Amazon New York bought a memoir by exiled Chinese poet Liao Yiwu and a narrative nonfiction title about hacker-activists by Gregg Housh and Barrett Brown.

Now there is Penny Marshall, whose My Mother Was Nuts will be published in Fall 2012. Marshall may be a low-profile celebrity, but in a way, Amazon’s acquisition of her memoir makes a lot of sense: The people most likely to be familiar with Marshall (or to care about her) happen to be the people who are the most avid e-readers. The middle-aged women who buy the most e-books and are most likely to own e-readers. Thirty percent of e-reader owners are over the age of 55. Penny Marshall is 70.

There were “lots of factors” for why Amazon bought the book, Strone said. “That’s certainly one of them, one of many.”