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Jim Milliot’s article, Amazon As Publisher, Publishers As E-tailers, opened with the key point that in the rapidly changing publishing industry, the once clear lines between the various parts of the business have become blurred. Last week’s announcements from Amazon and from Bookish–the soon-to-be launched online book platform backed by Simon & Schuster, Penguin, and Hachette Book Group–is the start of a major transformation. Amazon’s launch of Montlake Romance brought the company deeper into the publishing business than ever before, while the launch of Bookish gives publishers their first destination site where titles from all publishers will be available for sale.
The tip of the emerging iceberg may be Amazon’s announcement that it had acquired 47 Books from Award-Winning Mystery Author Ed McBain. Amazon Publishing has acquired the publication rights of 35 titles in the 87th Precinct Series–including “The Con Man” and “The Mugger”–by author Ed McBain. Amazon’s approach is the publish once, and make available for reading in multiple formats — the McBain books will be published by another of Amazon’s genre imprints, the Thomas & Mercer, and will be available in print, digital and audio formats this Fall. A significant element of Amazon’s move is that this is the first time any of these books have been available in digital format.  I have to admit I am not familiar with Ed McBain or his books, but my nephew is. “McBain is a master of the mystery genre and we are thrilled to be able to repackage, publish and promote his unrivalled body of work,” said Philip Patrick, Head of Rights & Licensing, Amazon Publishing. Patrick said that one of the things Amazon Publishing can do is offer signature authors a “new life for great backlist titles.”
I am no expert in publishing by any means, but one thing I am quite certain of is that Amazon’s approach of giving customers the choice of where, when, and how they want to consume content is the right one. Many major companies act as though they control their customers; that they can decide what customers want and what they will pay. Amazon continues to gain market share in e-tailing because they have built their entire business around the concept of walking in the customer’s shoes. Ever hear of someone complaining about Amazon’s web site or customer service? This same philosophy will surely change the game of publishing. The gauntlet has been thrown down.