Amazon Set to Publish Pop Author
By DAVID STREITFELD
Published: August 16, 2011
SAN FRANCISCO — Amazon moved aggressively Tuesday to fulfill its new ambition to publish books as well as sell them, announcing that it had signed Timothy Ferriss, the wildly popular self-help guru for young men.
The terms were not disclosed. But Mr. Ferriss said in an interview, “I don’t feel like I’m giving up anything, financially or otherwise,” by signing with Amazon.
Amazon has been publishing books for several years, but its efforts went up several notches in visibility when it brought in the longtime New York editor and agent Laurence Kirshbaum three months ago as head of Amazon Publishing. “I hope we can do some exciting, innovative things,” Mr. Kirshbaum said on Tuesday. “But I don’t want to overpromise.”
Or get his friends in the business worried. “Our success will only help the rest of publishing,” he said.
Traditional publishers do not necessarily believe that. Some are downright nervous about the intentions of Amazon, with its deep pockets and a unparalleled distribution system into tens of millions of living rooms and onto electronic devices.
Some independent bookstores have already said they do not intend to carry any books from the retailer, not wanting to give a dollar to a company they feel is putting them out of business.
Mr. Ferriss’s first book, “The 4-Hour Workweek,” has been on The New York Times Advice best-seller list for 84 weeks, and his second, “The 4-Hour Body,” for 33 weeks. Both are published by Crown, a division of Random House.
Amazon will publish his next work, “The 4-Hour Chef,” in the spring — as a hardcover, an e-book and an audio book.
The 34-year-old Ferriss is a natural choice to be the first Amazon Publishing writer. He is adept at new media (270,000 Twitter followers), expert at publicizing himself (the readers of Wired magazine gave him the self-promoter of the year award in 2008), and a start-up investor who sees nothing but shiny promise in technology.
“Amazon has a one-to-one relationship with every one of their customers,” the writer said. “You can just imagine the possibilities that opens up.”
Mr. Ferriss said he had approached Amazon about a book deal. Crown did not get a chance to match the offer because in the writer’s view, it never could have.
“The opportunity to partner with a technology company that is embracing publishing is very different than partnering with a publisher embracing technology,” he said.
Mr. Ferriss has risen to mass popularity by explaining to readers how to get the most change in their lives for the least amount of effort. His books promise to help readers lose pounds through “safe chemical cocktails” and odd food combinations, gain muscle in a month with only four hours of gym time, produce 15-minute female orgasms, and sleep two hours a day and feel fully rested.
At a moment of great restlessness in publishing, Amazon is offering its own appealing shortcuts to fame and fortune. E-book sales are rising significantly, prompting struggles over royalty rates. Publishers are reluctant to raise them but writers have a useful wedge in Amazon, where they can self-publish and, at least in theory, make more.
Jeff Belle, the Seattle-based vice president of Amazon Publishing, said writers were increasingly approaching Amazon — if not to sign up a book, at least to see how their sales could be improved. “There are a number of high-profile authors who reach out to us regularly,” he said.
Other retailers, including Barnes & Noble and Borders chains, have made occasional forays into publishing classics, but they have amounted to little. Amazon has much deeper pockets and a long-term strategy.
Victoria Barnsley, chief executive of HarperCollins UK, told the BBC this week thatAmazon’s foray into book publishing “is obviously a concern.”
The retailer, she added, was both friend and enemy mixed together: “They are also a very important customer of ours and they have done fantastic things for the book industry. I have mixed views about them but there’s no doubt they are very, very powerful now and in fact they are getting close to being in a monopolistic situation.”
Richard Curtis, a New York agent and longtime observer of the publishing scene, takes a slightly more benign view. “I’m not so convinced that this is the end of the world the way so many doomsayers are saying,” he said.
“There is lots of conventional business being done by conventional publishers on conventional terms, and the books are being published on conventional paper with conventional royalties. What we’ll see for a long time is an amalgam of the two approaches, digital and traditional.”
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