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Amazon Will Sell Some E-Books Beyond The Kindle Store

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Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) hasn’t made many friends in the traditional publishing world. Until now it’s sold Amazon Publishing e-books exclusively in the Kindle Store, and Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS) and other chains have said they’ll refuse to carry the company’s print titles in their stores. Now the company is taking a new step toward openness by announcing that a new line of books it’s launching will be available on all platforms in all formats. So how will B&N react?

James Atlas, who previously ran the independent publishing company Atlas & Co., is going to edit a series of short biographies for Amazon. The most interesting thing about the announcement is that the e-books won’t be exclusive to Amazon — they’ll be sold at etailers beyond the Kindle Store.

The series is called “Amazon Lives.” The New York Times (NYSE: NYT) reports that the biographies in the series will be 25,000 to 40,000 words long and Atlas will acquire and edit at least 12 of them. The first title will be published in June 2013. (Publishers Weekly broke the news about Atlas but didn’t have more details.)

Unlike all of the other e-books that Amazon has published so far, the “Amazon Lives” series will not be exclusive to the Kindle Store. The NYT first reported this and Amazon confirmed it, telling me, “The books will be available to be sold everywhere in all formats.” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will publish the print versions, as it is with other Amazon Publishing titles.)

Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and Canadian chain Indigo said they won’t carry print versions of Amazon Publishing titles in their stores, in part because they can’t sell the e-books versions. Now that’s changing.

The real question, still unanswered (including by Amazon; I asked them) is whether ALL Amazon Publishing titles will now be available to other booksellers in all formats. Making 12 e-single-length biographies available is fine — but will the splashier upcoming e-books from Larry Kirshbaum’s new imprint, including titles by Tim Ferriss and Deepak Chopra, be available across etailers as well? Will you be able to read Penny Marshall’s memoir on your Nook? Judging by today’s news, the answer will probably be yes.

Which brings us to “real question #2” — how will Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and independent booksellers react? Until now they’ve been able to say Amazon’s a predator, it doesn’t give them access to its e-books, so of course they won’t carry the print titles in their stores. If the e-book reason is gone, they’re left with “Amazon is ruining our business” as their main reason not to carry its titles — and that’s not as sympathetic a justification from a consumer standpoint. But they can change their narrative to “Amazon capitulated,” and while that might not exactly be true, I wouldn’t blame them for mentioning it.