Monday, October 17, 2011

Opinion — The Amazon Factor, E-Book & Self Publishing Revisited

Having my own publishing company, Life Death and Fog Books, came about because of a confluence of needs and events. Ebook technology, in particular, provided both a threat to and an opportunity for many of us who have been writing for a while. The threats were that we could no longer rest on our knowledge of publishing as only a print medium because that was no longer true, and we could not depend upon others to carry us along into the new world. The opportunity we had was to engage the medium as best we could.

So, it is a thrilling, but uneasy time. Many of the best-selling crime writers have the luxury of simply staying with what some are now calling “legacy” publishers — Houghton Mifflin, Random House, etc. They are moving, some might say at glacial speed into the new publishing mediums, but bring with them the traditional attitudes. Other writers are opting to publish their own work. Some are mixing and matching. Some writers are publishing their own but forming collectives or working with others in various ways to tackle the difficult task of marketing. There is something else now that is happening — and it is open to immense speculation.

Amazon, a giant buster when it came to the bookstore business and a boon to many of us who want to publish our own books as well as work with traditional publishers, has again “frightened the horses.” The company, an online rival for every business imaginable, has formed its own publishing subsidiaries. One of them is Thomas Mercer, an Amazon imprint that will publish mysteries and thrillers in all formats. They will sign the writers, allow them a great voice in the creation of the book, give them higher royalties and will promote them with all the resources of Amazon has at hand. This is good. Probably.

However, it may not all be good. What this reminds me of is Safeway or Whole Foods, or Costco. They buy and brand products, sell them for less and soon Safeway Select or Whole Foods 365 or Costco’s Kirkland begins to appear prominently on these mass merchandiser shelves with the predictable impact of nudging others off. Several writers have already signed up, even some who have previously made a big deal about standing up to the traditional publishers, promising to publish their own books. And I have to admit that at this point in my life, given the opportunity, I might sign on as well. I’m not sitting in moral judgment just in practical observation. However, practically speaking, this new twist in the game might not be great news for those of us who are trying to get on or stay the shelf while the horses are snorting and raring.

Let me end with a small bit of blatant promotion and a suggestion for further reading on the subject.

Life Death and Fog Books published Mascara, Death in the Tenderloin a few months ago. It is available with irony here. In November, the first four books in the “Deets” Shanahan series, published to great reviews in the early ‘90s, will be released in trade paperback and in various e-book formats.

If you want to understand more about the Amazon factor, there is a great, honest explanation and discussion between self-publisher extraordinaire Joe Konrath and new Thomas Mercer author Barry Eisler here (Scroll down to interview with Joe Konrath). The New York Times has today's story here.

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