Bloomberg Businessweek‘s January 30 cover story, “Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) Wants to Burn the Book Business,” includes rare interviews with Larry Kirshbaum, head of Amazon Publishing’s New York-based division and a publishing industry veteran who “has gone from one of the most well-liked people in publishing to the one of the most reviled,” in the words of industry consultant Mike Shatzkin.
The story, written by Businessweek technology writer Brad Stone (who will publish a book on the same subject next year), follows the history of Amazon’s entry into the book publishing world and doesn’t contain too many new nuggets for those who’ve been tracking the story already. Nor does the rancor that traditional publishers — none of whom were willing to speak on the record for this piece — feel toward Amazon come as a surprise.
The piece provides some insight into the ways Amazon perceives its own publishing business, though. A few choice quotations:
» Jeff Bezos to Businessweek in 1999 (he declined to comment for this piece): “We’re really, really good at exactly one thing, which is helping customers discover things that they might want to buy online. And that’s enough.”
» Jeff Belle, VP of Amazon Publishing and Larry Kirshbaum’s boss: “What we’re building is more like an in-house laboratory where authors and editors and marketers can test new ideas. Success to us means working with authors who want to find new ways to connect with more readers.” Traditional publishers would likely define success in the same way.
» Larry Kirshbaum, who basically says not one thing of substance in the whole piece: “I have a message I really believe in. Which is that we’re trying to innovate in ways that can help everybody. We are trying to create a tide that will lift all boats.”
» Amazon’s problems with Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS) over whether Barnes & Noble will carry Amazon Publishing print books in its stores if it can’t also sell them as e-books: “Amazon executives say they’re ready to compromise on this issue but that Barnes & Noble is not.” I am dying to know what “compromise” means here, especially in light of the deal Amazon and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt struck this week under which HMH is the print publisher of Amazon New York titles. Does compromise just mean Barnes & Noble agreeing that it will stock the print books without being able to sell them in the Nook Store, since they are technically published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt? Or will B&N actually get a cut of e-book revenues?
» Lines from the e-mail an Amazon recruiter sent to “several editors at big publishing houses” in April 2011, “looking for someone to launch a new New York-based publishing imprint”: “The imprint will be supported with a large budget, and its success will directly impact the success of Amazon’s overall business.” This suggests Amazon sees book publishing as a key contributor to its bottom line.
» Nancy Pearl, the beloved librarian who recently signed a deal with Amazon: “I suspected people would not be happy with this. But I didn’t expect the vitriol.”