Probably the single most unforeseen consequence of the digital revolution in publishing was that mainstream publishers would soon be competing not just with countless “indie authors” successfully self-publishing their works, but that mainstream publishers would be directly competing with their biggest retailer.
It all seemed so improbable when Amazon started its first imprint back in May 2009.
Amazon Encore, which launched with titles from, among others, Cavla Kluver, Robert Kroese, Karen McQuestion and Joe Konrath, focused on reviving out of print titles and latching on to trending indie authors.
Amazon Crossing came next, offering English-language translations of successful books in French and German,starting 2010.
Not until 2011 did Amazon start to take its publishing venture seriously, with the genre-orientated imprints Thomas & Mercer & Montlake Romance.
Since then A-Pub, as Amazon publishing is known, has expanded rapidly, not just with new imprints and new titles, where it has been able to cherry-picking top-selling indie authors from its data, but also by buying up smaller publishers or publishers’ imprints, and making exclusive deals with traditionally published authors or their estates.
As long ago as 2011 Amazon became the sole distributor of the Catherine Cookson Estate’s catalogue. Cookson sold over 120 million books and some 100 titles, now republished by Peach (via KDP, not as imprint titles) and they are now exclusive with Amazon and therefore in the Kindle Unlimited ebook subscription service. Last year two new Cookson titles were discovered and released as Amazon imprints.
In 2012, Amazon purchased Avalon Books, a specialist romance and mystery publisher, acquiring 3,000 titles, having previously picked up 450 titles from the Marshall Cavendish US children’s trade range.
Thereafter new imprints, deals and acquisitions came in thick and fast, with the latest imprint, Amazon Original Stories, launching in November 2017.
Today Apub has offices in Seattle, New York, Grand Haven, London, Luxembourg, Paris, Madrid, Milan, and Munich.
Amazon’s current imprints are 47North, Amazon Crossing, Amazon Encore, Amazon Original Stories, Amazon Publishing (an imprint in its own right dealing in general fiction and non-fiction), Grand Harbor Press, Jet City Comics, Lake Union Publishing, Little A, Montlake Romance, Skyscape, Thomas & Mercer, Two Lions, and Waterfall Press. All that quite aside from the Brilliance Audio, Kindle Press and Kindle Singles operations.
Can Amazon imprints compete with traditional publishers?
First, let’s clarify that question. Amazon is, by any reasonable measure, a “traditional publisher.”
Many would argue the deals it offers authors are better than the Big 5 offer (although those benefits need to be tempered by the limited reach of Amazon’s distribution), but A-Pub generally adheres to the traditional publishing model, paying advances, royalties and declining to look at unsolicited manuscripts.
If an author wants in with A-Pub they need an agent, or they need to come to Amazon’s attention in some way, usually by serious sales both in the Amazon store and elsewhere. That’s something to bear in mind when we hear claims that Amazon removed the gatekeepers from publishing. As a publisher Amazon is just as much a gatekeeper as any of the Big 5.
But to return to the question, can Amazon compete, the answer is right there in the Amazon charts.
As of 0800 GMT on February 25 2018 Amazon’s own titles held eight of the top ten chart positions in the Kindle US store, while twelve of the top twenty were Amazon imprint titles.
In the top ten the first six were all Amazon imprints, with further A-Pub titles at #8, #9, while in the #11 to -#20 chart Amazon imprints are at #14, #17, #18 and #19.
Given Amazon is by far the biggest ebook retailer in the country, this means that eight of the ten bestselling ebooks in the USA and twelve of the top twenty bestseling ebooks in the USA are Amazon’s.
Perhaps most significantly, the top four bestselling ebooks in the USA haven’t even been released yet.
They are Kindle First titles, Amazon imprint titles that are made available in the month prior to release at 0.99 to Kindle First subscribers or free to Prime members. This not only sends the titles racing up the charts but also ratchets up reviews so that when the titles are formally released on March 1 they will have some review history.
Between them the four Kindle First titles already have over 2,000 reviews, and control the top spots on Amazon, several days before becoming available to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.
As well as ebooks the titles are also variously available as hardcovers, paperbacks and audiobooks.
At the time of writing this the Kindle First title at #2 in the US is also at #1 on Amazon UK. Two of the Kindle First titles make the UK top ten.
All Amazon imprint titles go straight into Kindle Unlimited ebook subscription service upon official release, and while imprint titles don’t eat into the pot payout (which is only for indie authors), they do grab a lot of KU reader eyeballs and time that might otherwise be going to regular indie authors’ titles.
But it’s not only Amazon imprints that compete with indie titles in Kindle Unlimited. Two of the top twenty titles in the Amazon store are titles by JK Rowling and JRR Tolkein. Unlike indie-authors’ books, these titles of course do not have to be exclusive to Amazon, and unlike indie authors, these titles will be paid regular royalties, not by page read.
Today’s review is of course a snapshot, and there may be more or fewer Amazon imprint titles in the top twenty at another time as ther charts are updated hourly.
But what should be absolutely clear here is the power of Amazon, using its consumer data, its on-site marketing and its email marketing shots (my attention was drawn to today’s charts by an Amazon email touting the six Kindle First titles) to brush bigger name authors aside and, for ebooks at least, to rule the bestseller lists.
What follows is the full top twenty bestselling ebooks on Amazon.com (and therefore by definition the bestselling ebooks in the USA) as at 0800 GMT February 25 2018.
#1 White Rose, Black Forest Eoin Dempsey. Lake Union (Amazon)
#2 Silent Victim by Caroline Mitchel. Thomas & Mercer (Amazon)
#3 Bone Music (The Burning Girl Series Book 1) by Christopher Rice. Thomas & Mercer (Amazon)
#4 Neighborly: A Novel by Ellie Monago. Lake Union (Amazon)
#5 Ricochet Joe [Kindle in Motion] (Kindle Single) by Dean Koontz. Amazon Original Stories (Amazon)
#6 Say You’re Sorry (Morgan Dane Book 1) by Melinda Leigh. Montlake Romance (Amazon)
#7 Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom by Rick Hanson. New Harbinger Publications
#8 Go: A Coming of Age Novel by Kazuki Kaneshiro. Amazon Crossing (Amazon)
#9 The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen. Lake Union (Amazon)
#10 The Great Alone: A Novel by Kristin Hannah. St. Martin’s Press
#11 Fifty Things You Need to Know About World History by Hugh Williams. HarperCollins
#12 Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur. Andrews McMeel Publishing
#13 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. Pottermore by J.K.Rowling
#14 The Dead Key by D. M. Pulley. Thomas & Mercer (Amazon)
#15 Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams & Danny Penman. Rodale
#16 The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
#17 Tier One (Tier One Thrillers Book 1) by Brian Andrews & Jeffrey Wilson. Thomas & Mercer (Amazon)
#18 A Criminal Defense (Philadelphia Legal) by William L. Myers Jr. Thomas & Mercer (Amazon)
#19 Beneath a Scarlet Sky: A Novel by Mark Sullivan. Lake Union (Amazon)
#20 The Worst Best Man by Lucy Score.That’s What She Said Publishing