I don’t really like giving him props, but New Age author Deepak Chopra is making waves with the announcement that he has signed to write a memoir with Amazon Publishing.

His publisher, Crown, issued a statement reassuring everyone (read: Crown) that Chopra is still in the stable. How comical; an author is riding across the frontier of new publishing, and the establishment back east is nervous. And still uppity.

There is much news lately about Amazon’s python-like squeeze on the publishing world. The Seattle-based company – offering “Earth’s Biggest Selection” – is changing the way authors and publishers interact with the buying public. Amazon doesn’t have any of those high-maintenance brick-and-mortar stores to worry over, and while the company seems like a greedy, corporate titan (Occupy Amazon? Not likely), it is also bringing new-found freedom for writers.

First of all, I love the marketing copy on the Amazon Publishing website: “From international bestsellers, debut fiction and new business classics, to sigh-worthy romances, high-velocity thrillers and stunning sci-fi, Amazon Publishing helps connect readers with outstanding new books.”

“Sigh-worthy romances.” Well, I like it.

The truth is, Amazon’s success, and push into traditional publishing channels, is still a work-in-progress. In other words, there are legitimate reasons for publishers to be worried, but Amazon hasn’t cornered the market yet, either.

According to a fascinating story by Laura Hazard Owen, Amazon has advantages, sure, but also boundaries. The company’s e-book business is surely the wave of the future, but print books still are 80 percent of the market. Also, rival Barnes & Noble will not carry Amazon Publishing’s modest selection of print books, because the famous chain can’t obtain digital rights (for the Nook).

And Amazon’s dip into the print publishing business is cautious, as it should be. However – sales numbers are tough to pull out of Amazon, too – “The Hangman’s Daughter” has sold more than 25,000 copies (although most of that seems to have come from the distribution channels of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which secured its own edition). Seth Godin’s “Poke the Box” has sold 23,000. Interestingly, Godin points to a real boost in his book sales … his blog, which has 50,000 subscribers. It’s still all about marketing, kids.

Amazon Publishing also makes available, via email, submission guidelines for aspiring authors. They are fairly typical, except one who inquires is “warned” that with the volume of queries, Amazon editors cannot respond to each one. This is standard for every publisher, but just imagine the volume of submissions Amazon might receive. It’s mind-boggling.

Interestingly, of the six imprints launched so far, there appear to be few opportunities for new non-fiction. Encore does seek to acquire “previously self-published and out of print books,” but the rest is primarily fiction. One would expect that as Amazon advances with this publishing experiment, an imprint or two will feature non-fiction.

Navigating this winding, lengthy stream of new opportunities in book publishing requires one to think through several realities. For example, an excellent piece (“Uncovering Amazon Publishing”) by David Streitfeld in the New York Times also references Owen’s investigation into Amazon Publishing, but with a twist:

“Ms. Owen concludes that ‘Amazon Publishing hasn’t killed print yet.’ But is anyone saying it has?” Streitfeld asks. “The real question is whether it will reshape publishing by dissolving old rules and creating new expectations, the way it has reconfigured bookselling. Will a physical edition become the reward for a successful electronic publication? Will authors enlarge their share of e-book revenues at the expense of traditional publishers? Will independent bookstores carry Amazon books? How will readers on Amazon itself discover these new titles? What sort of cottage industries will grow up to help writers promote their books online?”

Good questions, all, and they bring a bit of balance into the equation. Yes, traditional publishers who have A-list authors (Chopra) get nervous about Amazon, but it’s doubtful the online giant will kill everything for everyone else. It’s just that Amazon has made publishing fun again, in my view.

So if authors like Deepak Chopra strike out into uncharted territory, well, that’s good for the author. As Crown assured everyone that Chopra “publishes the majority of his books with Crown’s Harmony Books imprint,” the company also announced the launch of Deepak Chopra Books, which of course gives the author a bit more prestige, influence and reach.

All this means, of course, that as Amazon continues to scare the living daylights out of many booksellers, including now-rival publishers, it is the writer who benefits.
To that I say, good show!

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