Amazon’s Kirshbaum Move Could Reduce Competition
by Gayle Feldman (TheBookseller.com)
Responses to Amazon.com’s hire of Laurence Kirshbaum as publisher have varied from worried to fear of a “dampening” effect on competition among delegates at the BEA conference.
Word that started to spread Sunday night was confirmed first thing Monday morning with the announcement that Kirshbaum, former TimeWarner c.e.o.-turned-agent, would be heading up Amazon’s publishing operation in New York.
Everybody knew that an Amazon push into frontlist publishing was coming: the move into original genre books and the cooperation with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt was not enough to satisfy the giant’s ever-hungry maw. Highly-placed executives from New York houses have been migrating to Amazon for a while, and the company ratcheted up expectations after circulating a recruiting letter for various personnel a few weeks back. The question was only when.
The news spread swiftly around the Javits Center even though the exhibition floor was not yet open, the first day of BEA being devoted to conference sessions. For Kirshbaum, it seemed a natural: as Workman’s Bob Miller put it, “Larry missed running the whole show. Being an agent just wasn’t the same.”
Independent booksellers took the news in their stride: “it didn’t surprise” outgoing ABA president Michael Tucker, whose store is in San Francisco. Another major indie bookseller, Elliott Bay’s Rick Simonsen (on Amazon’s home turf of Seattle), saw it being “of more concern to publishers than to booksellers at this point. Remember, most booksellers have to deal with B&N’s Sterling [publishing subsidiary] already. And Amazon will now get trapped in the real world!”
The proprietor of a store much closer to New York, who preferred to talk on background, said that given the state of Borders, and the likely difficulties Amazon may encounter with B&N, indies might actually get higher discounts on the books Amazon publishes since they will need a bricks and mortar storefront.
What people on the publishing side are feeling—again, off the record for the most part—is worried. Publishers, already feeling squeezed, have been feeling even more so since Monday morning.