Monday, May 23, 2011

Amazon are serious

Yesterday, Richard Curtis broke the news that Amazon have hired Larry Kirshbaum, ex-CEO of Time Warner Publishing, and now (soon to be ex-, I assume) literary agent and manager, to run their New York general interest publishing operation.

Kirshbaum has tried digital publishing before: he started iPublish in 2000*. It was a smart move. Shutting it down again when it didn't get instant traction was not so smart (though I'm guessing he had corporate bean counters yelling at him).

I'm trying to work out who this move is aimed at. Amazon always, always has a game plan. And it's always, always based on the numbers. They're smart, they're ruthless, they have the customer data. My guess (yep, I'm just making stuff up--why not?) is that this is either a) part of a long-term tighten the headlock on publishers strategy: put the fear of Sauron in 'em for future negotiation purposes, or, b) a serious attempt to go vertical, to own the entire publishing ecology and cut out the Big Six with their anti-digital agency pricing.

Right now, honestly, there's no way to tell. No doubt all our favourite book pundits will weigh in this week. I'll do my best to keep up.

But right now I'm thinking: Oooh, this is interesting. I have a novel that I'm finishing (about Hild of Whitby). I have a contract for it, kind of, sort of (it's complicated). It's a good contract. It's a fine publisher. It's an editor I like and respect. But the publisher might not be able to sell this book to their usual customers. It doesn't have an easy and obvious hook. It's a huge novel, set in the 7th Century, about a woman most people have never heard of. Actually, it's part one of a novel about the girl who becomes the woman most people have never heard of. There's no magic. No monsters (except the human kind). No gender-bending (she doesn't pick up a sword and fight her way into a fabulous new life). It's one of those novels that have gone out of style: a huge, good old-fashioned literary read. Think Kristin Lavransdatter, but better. Think Wolf Hall, but with a more reader-friendly point-of-view. (It has to be: the culture is more alien, and it's about a young girl in a very difficult position.)

Anyway, if it turns out my publisher isn't convinced they can do a good job for Hild, then I'm guessing no traditional publisher could, and Amazon might be where I'd turn next.

So, yes, this move has my attention.

*Edited to reflect Tim Pratt's comment--thanks, Tim.

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