Posts tagged David R. Guenette

The Amazon Publisher

There’s been a certain amount of scuttlebutt about Amazon’s job postings that have been showing up in various publishing-oriented sites with listings, and yesterday’s PW Daily —one of such job listing providers—ran an article on the new Amazon imprint, Montvale Romance, that started this way:

With the news that Amazon is expanding its publishing arm, launching in the fall Montlake Romance (with plans to deepen its category publishing to mystery, science fiction, and thrillers), many in the publishing business have been talking about the company’s hiring strategies. And agents have been eyeing the unfolding process closely, trying to gauge whether the retailer will become as viable a place for their books as traditional houses.
For weeks job openings at Amazon, in both editorial and publicity, have been posted online, offering positions in Seattle and New York.

While this isn’t Amazon’s first foray into building direct deals with authors, the creation of an imprint and the hiring of many and high-level publishing professionals (engendering complaints about poaching from publishers, but ever thus…) highlights a significant sea change.

Just like people have been speculating over the last few years, the recent Amazon activity at least suggests a disintermediation of traditional publishers.  Poaching executives could prove to be the weakest complaint from the existing trade publishing business: the bigger danger is that Amazon will be “poaching” these publishers’ authors and customers.

Amazon has proved itself to be an essential part of the publishing (especially trade) value chain, first by becoming the first place that people now look for books, then by building—really, almost singlehandedly—the real ebook marketplace.  The success of the ebook marketplace is no longer a matter of speculation, as report after report points to digital publications taking on sales growth, even as print versions of titles are slowly dropping back.  Fortunately for everyone, there are strong counters to Amazon in the marketplace, including the rise and continuing improvement of ePub, as well as the apps-side of publishing, by which we still mean Apple and iPad, although this is sorting itself out quite nicely, thank you, with the growth of tablet competitors.

But the initial reaction to this recent news about Amazon’s quite serious play to become a publisher has engendered a fairly absurd pushback among some of the competitors, with what amount to mewling on the part of some publishers and independent book retailers who say that they simply won’t play along.  The PW Daily article, “Montlake Romance Marks Tip of Amazon’s Expansion Into Publishing,” by Rachel Deahl (May 04, 2011), mentions that some independent booksellers are already saying they will never carry a book published by Amazon, and the writer points out that “B&N did not respond to e-mails about whether it will carry Montlake titles,” which in journalism-speak means nothing, really.

Probably the single best assistance Amazon’s competitors could provide the new publishing efforts would be to refuse to participate in selling Amazon’ published titles, thereby driving even more consumers to Amazon as the one-stop shop.  Amazon’s biggest play isn’t to become the biggest publisher—although that may be a fervent hope of theirs—but to become the number one place to buy things, including books, and just because Amazon is already the number one book seller in the known universe doesn’t mean that it can’t get bigger. Petulance is not a sound business strategy for Amazon’s competitors, I’m pretty sure, although, to be honest, I’m not all that sure what the best strategy may be in the light of these recent developments.

Amazon is doing a sensible thing, cutting out “extra” participants in the publishing value chain.  It remains to be seen if Amazon does this well, and whether it distributes its bigger slice of the pie to authors and their agents to encourage robust sign-up with the A-Team.  Early days yet, and there’s little news about who Amazon has tagged for its publishing team, and a technology company getting into the book business has plenty of negative precedents, but this is a sound strategy on Amazon’s part.

Now, if they will only call me, so that I can tell them all the other things they need to do to achieve world-domination…


For a good chunk of time in 2000, I worked for Tony Fadell on a consulting basis as Senior Advisor, Strategic Research for Fuse Inc, Tony’s start-up effort to build “connected consumer electronics” devices, including MP3 players.  Tony had assembled a group of talented people, but I was older than the others, and joked that my title included “Senior,” not because it was a leadership position, but only to reflect my relatively advanced years. Regardless of the occasional gray hairs, I researched CE/home network software markets and strategic business development opportunities, and produced technology briefings and otherwise participated in Fuse business development efforts.

I had met Tony Fadell sometime in the early 1990s, when he was just getting out of school with a B.S. in Computer Engineering and already making waves. I had the pleasure of publishing his two-part article on MPEG in New Media News; it was a big editing effort, but any editor will tell you that he or she would always rather work with someone who really knows the subject, and all I can say is that I can still describe how discrete cosine transfer works, thanks to Tony.

As expected, Tony went on to cut a rather impressive swath through the computer industry, including a lead software/hardware engineer position with General Magic, then on to Philips Electronics, as CTO and Senior Director, New Business of the company’s start-up effort called Philips Mobile Computing Group, where the Velo, a handheld computing device based on the Windows CE platform, was developed; later he went on to serve as a Philips VP, for Strategy and Ventures.

Fuse was Tony’s first major play as entrepreneur, and a darn exciting one. MP3 format music was getting a lot of attention (the download industry was just forming), advanced television and digital cable were emerging, and, of course, the Web was in full swing, with broadband starting to make significant inroads.  Alas, also well into its development was the Dot-Com crash, and Fuse failed to find a second round of funding, and Fadell started exploring developing Fuse-like products at other companies.  At Apple, in 2001, he created the iPod.