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Amazon and the five-book slap in the face

by | Jul 30, 2019 | Blog

By Roger Tagholm

 

Amazon continues its role as Disrupter-in-Chief with its multi-book deal with US thriller writer Dean Koontz announced earlier this month (July).  The deal, with Amazon Publishing’s Thomas & Mercer imprint, will see the first novel, Devoted, published next spring, along with a collection of short thrillers entitled Nameless available from Amazon Original Stories for free to Prime and Kindle Unlimited customers on 12 November.

The announcement amounts to a five-book slap in the face to his exiting English language publishers Bantam, part of Penguin Random House (PRH), in the US, and HarperCollins in the UK.  It is precisely the move that traditional publishers fear.  If they lose too many of their top authors like this, how will they fund the building of authors in the future?

For brand name writers like Koontz, one can see why it makes sense.  Once you are an established name why do you necessarily need to be with a traditional publisher?  What are they offering that you need?  One could so easily imagine a John Grisham or a James Patterson following suit.  After all, everyone knows your name already.  Do you need the Big Five’s marketing machines?

And it is slowly happening.  Last year, Patricia Cornwell signed a deal to release a new series exclusively with Amazon Publishing.  Once again it was the Thomas & Mercer imprint which signed world English rights in a two-book deal for print and e-book, with the first, Quantum, due for release this year and a second planned for 2020.

It happened with mind body spirit author Deepak Chopra too.  He chose the Amazon route for his memoirs Brotherhood: A Tale of Faith, Big Dreams and the Power of Persistence that he co-wrote with his brother Dr Sanjiv Chopra back in 2011, eschewing his long-time publisher PRH.

Koontz said: “For many years, I have enjoyed a wonderful relationship with Brilliance Audio, an Amazon company, and later with Amazon Original Stories.  Although there were numerous options for the future, it was most natural to sign with the team at Amazon Publishing, which presented a marketing and publicity plan smarter and more ambitious than anything I’d ever seen before. This new arrangement is so exciting, I’ve been creatively rejuvenated.  The times are changing, and it’s invigorating to be where change is understood and embraced.”

Amazon Publishing Editorial Director Grace Doyle acquired North American rights in the five-book deal for the mystery, thriller, and true crime imprint, Thomas & Mercer, and Editorial Director Julia Sommerfeld acquired World English in the collection deal for the digital- and audio-only imprint, Amazon Original Stories. Koontz is represented by Richard Pine and Kimberly Witherspoon of InkWell Management and Richard Heller of Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz.

“Even when an author’s books have sold over 500 million copies, there are new horizons to explore and readers who haven’t yet discovered his work,” said Richard Pine and Kimberly Witherspoon of InkWell Management in a joint statement.  “Dean is at the peak of his storytelling powers and Amazon has committed to a highly ambitious and creative publishing plan that’s certain to delight his existing fans and create millions of new ones.”

One can certainly imagine some bitter words within PRH and HarperCollins.  Staffers may feel that having worked so hard to build Koontz’s profile this is how he thanks them.  Meanwhile, it is unclear whether high street bookstores will stock these new titles given that they are published by their chief retail rival.  And that is the key point here: Amazon is both publisher and retailer, a monopsonist that controls buying and selling.  How all this plays out in future will be fascinating to watch.

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