Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
Since launching its flagship publishing venture earlier this year, Amazon has shown it will stop at nothing to rewrite the rules of publishing. It managed to nab legendary literary agent and publisher Laurence Kirshbaum as the head of Amazon Publishing and has signed book deals with such big names Tim Ferriss (of the 4-hour variety) and actress and director Penny Marshall (word on the street is the Marshall memoir went for a whopping $800,000). Considering the e-tailer’s bottomless pockets and ability to sell almost anything, the popularity of the Kindle (and presumably the Kindle Fire when it begins shipping next week), and the company’s cavalier attitude toward risk, Amazon Publishing could successfully position itself as direct competition to what we now call “legacy publishers.” Sure, there is the question of whether bookstores will actually stock the books, but how many readers out there actually care who publishes the book they read? From what we can tell so far, Amazon Publishing has set out to be a bona fide publisher.
But what happens when Amazon manages to come between a well-known author and his longstanding publisher, where said author happens to have his own imprint? Such was the news earlier this week when it was learned that Amazon had acquired guru Deepak Chopra’s new book (which he will write along with his brother, Sanjiv, a physician), Brotherhood: A Tale of Faith, Big Dreams, and the Power of Persistence. Robert Gottlieb of Trident Media Group, which represents the brothers, called the deal “a game-changer for the publishing industry,” but it also elicited a prompt response from Crown Publishing, with whom Chopra has had a longstanding relationship; the Random House division even launched Deepak Chopra Books last spring, which intends to publish books selected by Chopra in 2013. The release from Crown noted that Chopra has often worked simultaneously with different publishers and that he remains firmly involved with the imprint. It also mentioned that Chopra has “multiple” future books under contract.
That may well be the case, but it begs the question of whether publishers, whose entire business is being increasingly dominated by Amazon, should tolerate such a move from an author, even one as big as Chopra. In this case, Chopra’s partnership with Amazon immediately put Crown on the defensive. How will publishers react when their authors, returning from their jaunt with Amazon, demand greater royalties and more expensive marketing campaigns? Will they have what it takes to dissuade authors from returning to Bezos and Kirshbaum? While authors have every right to explore new publishing opportunities, ideally without breaching contracts, who will end up having more to offer them?