Amazon scales back on plans to become a book publisher

This month Amazon announced that their chief of publishing Larry Kirshbaum would be resigning. The move is a further indication that Amazon is toning down its plans to become a full scale publisher. The retreat from publishing appears to be a result of black listing of author’s signed with Amazon by brick and mortar book retailers. Kirshbaum’s own resignation is clouded by recent allegations of sexual assault.

Larry Kirshbaum first joined Amazon’s publishing arm in 2011 as a vice president, and shortly there after moved up to editorial director for imprints on both the West and East coast. Before coming to Amazon he was CEO for Time Warner’s Publishing Group, and his acquisition was seen as a sign of the seriousness that Amazon was taking its publishing business.

Amazon has struggled to gain traction for its publishing division. It appears that Amazon underestimated the amount of opposition that it would experience from the traditional publishing and book retailing world. Major book retailer Barnes & Noble refused to carry any of the titles published by Amazon. Amazon has also had trouble attracting major authors to its division.

Authors that have signed with Amazon have experienced disappointing results. Amazon’s first big title, Penny Marshall’s My Mother Was Nuts, performed poorly in print sales. This was largely due to the fact that brick and mortar books refused to carry the Amazon title. Even the eBook edition was effectively blocked outside of the Amazon marketplace as Google, Barnes & Noble Nook Store and Apple iBookstore all refused to distribute the digital version.

Signing generation X guru Tim Ferris was seen as another big coup for Amazon. Again Barnes & Noble refused to carry his latest release The 4 Hour Chef. Ferris recognized the effect this could have on his marketing plans and ability to become featured in the New York Times best seller list. A List that he has featured prominently in the past. As he notes this time “I’m not pinning all of my hopes on the NYT list”.

The black listing of Amazon by the traditional publishing and retailing world is not the only problems the division has experienced. Earlier this year three independent book stores sued Amazon, claiming that the company along with the “Big Six” on the use of Digital Rights Management (DRM) to create what is essentially a monopoly on digital sales. The book stores case was based on the fact that DRM restricted customers a purchased digital book from one device to another.

Scandal has also tarnished the image of Amazon’s chief of publishing. Last month allegations of sexual assault were levelled at Kirshbaum. The claims of sexual assault came from Teresa McCoy an old girl friend of the executive. McCoy approached Kirshbaum about the possibility of a job working at the publisher. When the met to discuss the potential job McCoy claims that Kirshbaum sexually assaulted her. The executives lawyers claim that the claims are baseless, but are almost certain related to the sudden resignation of the vice president.

The resignation of Kirshbaum and the retreat from traditional publishing are likely to have little impact on Amazon overall. The company is still a giant in the world of book retailing and far outweighs any of the other “big six”. Given its dominance in online distribution Amazon can easily afford to be patient and contest the world of traditional publishing again in the future.