Well, Here’s How Amazon Publishing Will Get Its Books Into Barnes & Noble

Booksellers should not expect to be visited by a friendly Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) Publishing sales rep anytime soon. Rather, in an agreement announced today, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will publish the print versions of all of the adult titles from Amazon Publishing’s New York-based division (run by publishing industry vet Larry Kirshbaum), and will distribute them everywhere in North America outside of Amazon.com.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Mariner trade paperback imprint already publishes the print editions of around a dozen Amazon Publishing titles, such as The Hangman’s Daughter. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is creating a new imprint, called New Harvest, for the print versions of the Amazon Publishing East Coast titles — by authors like Tim Ferriss, Penny Marshall, Deepak Chopra and, most recently, James Franco.

“Our goal has been, and remains, to introduce authors to as many readers as possible,” said Larry Kirshbaum, VP and Publisher of Amazon Publishing’s East Coast Group. “This new agreement with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt enables us to broaden our distribution and get our books into more readers’ hands.”

Amazon recently acquired the rights to about 400 children’s books published by Marshall Cavendish, but although those titles will be part of Larry Kirshbaum’s East Coast division, they are not included in the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt deal.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which is headquartered in Boston and also has offices in New York, is not a big six publisher but it is well-known (it is the publisher of Curious George, JRR Tolkien and the “Best American…” series) and publishes a few hundred adults and children’s trade titles per year, plus educational titles. The company averted possible bankruptcy in 2010 by restructuring its debts. In November 2011 it announced it would lay off about 10 percent of its staff, the Financial Times reported.

Larry Kirshbaum’s East Coast division, which seriously needs a better name than “Amazon Publishing’s East Coast Group,” is aiming at a general audience and bookstores remain a major place of discovery of new titles. Amazon’s agreement with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt appears to be a workaround to Amazon’s Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS) problem: Barnes & Noble has said it will not carry any titles in its bricks-and-mortar stores that it cannot also sell as e-books. If Amazon were distributing its own print titles and did not capitulate to Barnes & Noble’s requirement, Penny Marshall’s memoir would likely not be appearing in your local Barnes & Noble anytime soon even though a print-book-buying audience is likely to contribute to a large portion of her sales. (For every Laverne & Shirley fan who owns an e-reader, there’s surely another who doesn’t, or who would like to give this print book to their grandma for Mother’s Day.

Since Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will hold the print rights to the East Coast titles — and Amazon’s official announcement clearly calls this a “print licensing agreement” — it should be able to get them into Barnes & Noble without Amazon and B&N having to strike any new agreement (though Barnes & Noble can still decline to carry these titles, or any other titles from any other publisher). And Amazon will continue to sell its e-books exclusively through Amazon.com, keeping all its digital sales for itself. (Update 1/25/12: In the light of day, and after reading this on Publishers Marketplace, I realize that Amazon might still let Barnes & Noble sell some titles as e-books. The licensing agreement with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt certainly doesn’t rule out that possibility.)

A possible wrinkle: Barnes & Noble could still refuse to carry Amazon Publishing titles if it is not allowed to sell them as e-books — as could any anti-Amazon independent bookstore. Barnes & Noble does carry the print version of The Hangman’s Daughter and other HMH-licensed Amazon titles, however. (It is available for pickup in my local Barnes & Noble now.) And the line from independent bookstores has tended to be that if their customers request Amazon Publishing titles, they will stock them, though they might be reluctant to do so otherwise.

Overall the move is unlikely to generate Amazon and Houghton Mifflin any goodwill from wary publishers and booksellers (though they may envy Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for nabbing the licensing deal), but the company probably doesn’t care. This workaround appears to solve Amazon’s Barnes & Noble problem while simultaneously maximizing Amazon’s company’s e-book revenue and allowing it to sidestep the costs of training its own sales reps and sending them into bookstores around the country.

Official announcement on the next page.

Amazon Publishing’s East Coast Group and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Announce New Print Licensing Agreement

NEW YORK and SEATTLE-January 24, 2011-Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) today announced a new licensing agreement between Amazon Publishing’s East Coast Group and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s newly named New Harvest imprint. New Harvest will now publish all of Amazon Publishing’s New York-based imprint’s adult titles in print and distribute them in North America outside of the Amazon.com platform.

Amazon Publishing’s East Coast Group, headed by Larry Kirshbaum, will publish narrative nonfiction, select literary fiction, business books and children’s/YA. Among the authors on the launch list are Tim Ferriss, Penny Marshall, Deepak Chopra, and James Franco, as well as the works of debut novelists, thought leaders in the cultural, business and academic world, and distinguished journalists. Its first list will debut in Fall 2012.

“We have had great success with previous Amazon titles, including ‘The Hangman’s Daughter,’ and we are thrilled to add New Harvest titles to the HMH list,” said Bruce Nichols, Senior Vice President and Publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s adult trade division.

“Our goal has been, and remains, to introduce authors to as many readers as possible,” said Larry Kirshbaum, Vice President and Publisher, Amazon Publishing, East Coast Group. “This new agreement with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt enables us to broaden our distribution and get our books into more readers’ hands.”

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will also continue to work with Amazon Publishing’s West Coast Group, headed by Victoria Griffith, under the Mariner banner. Under this relationship, which has been in place since April 2011, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will continue to sub-license a number of books from Amazon’s Seattle-based imprints, which include AmazonEncore, AmazonCrossing, Thomas & Mercer, Montlake Romance and 47North.