Weekly Update

The Amazon genre fiction roll up rolls on

This week Amazon announced its latest imprint, Jet City Comics, which will publish graphic novels and comic books. This newest imprint is Amazon’s 10th, standing alongside others such as mystery imprint Thomas & Mercer, science fiction/horror imprint 47 North, and the romance imprint, Montlake Romance.

With 10 total imprints, it’s safe to say Amazon sees a real business in going after niches when it comes to books, in large part because that’s where the readers are. So as traditional publishing struggles in the era of the e-book, the company continues to capitalize by rolling up the various genres — and the authors within them —  through backlist acquisition and multibook deals.

Mining its own bestseller lists for the next book deal

So how does Amazon know which authors to scoop up with book and backlist deals? An examination of some of its book deals show the typical author profile is one doing well through self-publishing on the Amazon platform itself, which means the company is likely using its own rankings as the starting point for its acquisition team.

Take the recent deal the company did with Scott Meyer for the 47 North imprint. Meyer, the artist behind the webcomic Basic Instructions, had recently self-published his first book, a science fiction title called Off to Be The Wizard. The book had performed well on Amazon, climbing quickly into the top 100 in the science fiction category, which was good enough for the data-crunchers at Amazon to notice. Within a couple months Meyer announced he had signed a three book deal with Amazon.

This story has been repeated over and over the past few years, from the high-profile pickups of self-publishing loudmouths like Joe Konrath to the quieter acquisitions like Simon Wood’s backlist in an 8-book deal. And it’s not just authors: The company has been aggressive in rolling up backlists from dying publishers like Dorchester and Avalon.

Is Jet City just a first step into comics and graphic novels?

With Jet City, Amazon continues its pursuits of niches riches, this time going after what’s perhaps one of the fastest-growing categories of all, comics and graphic novels. The company is launching with a slate of mega-authors such as George R. R. Martin, Neal Stephenson, and Hugh Howey.

Of all the authors, Howey best fits the Amazon mold. He is an author who catapulted himself to the best seller lists by first self-publishing on Amazon’s platform and gaining a huge following with hits debut, Wool.

One potentially interesting thing to watch with Amazon’s newest imprint is whether it’s the first move into a broader push into comics. Both Comixology and Narr8 have shown that comics and rich-media publishing is growing like gangbusters, and my guess is it probably won’t be long before Amazon looks to expand its self-publishing platform on Kindle with a more evolved comics publishing platform.

Why? Because Amazon has largely used its own self-publishing platform as a “minor league” to source genre content for its own imprints, but right now it doesn’t have a platform to foster comics content. Unless it acquires a company like Comixology, chances are most comics artists are publishing through — and getting entrenched in — alternative platforms. And as we all know, Amazon is a company that likes to exert as much control, from beginning to end,  over the publishing value chain.

Given that, my guess is that Jet City might just be Amazon’s first of more moves into this attractive niche.