Amazon publishes books of the best authors, and Rivals Fret

When

Dean Koontz’s

The book contract expired last year, his stature as one of the best-selling authors in the country made him an important target for several major publishers. He chose

Amazon.com Inc.

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It was a surprising move because it means that his new books probably won’t appear in retail stores, which generally boycott

Amazon


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-titles published. But Mr. Koontz is relying on Amazon’s large retail machine to take his work to readers, whether in physical or digital formats.

“I may not be in some stores or make the New York Times bestseller list, but I’m willing to take that risk and I think we’ll sell more books in all formats,” Koontz said.

Amazon dominates the US retail book market UU., Which represents more than half of all new books sold in October, according to the research firm Codex Group, but is also a force as a book editor. The registration of leading authors such as Mr. Koontz could make the tech giant an even more formidable threat to traditional industry, led by publishers such as Penguin Random House, controlled by Bertelsmann SE of Germany,

ViacomCBS Inc.

Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins Publishers, owned by the parent company of the Wall Street Journal

News Corp.

Mr. Koontz’s first novel for Amazon is expected to be published on March 31. He has already published a collection of stories, “Unnamed”, which generated more than one million downloads in the first month after his debut last November. The stories are available only as electronic books and audiobooks.

Koontz, whose more than 100 books include hits like “Odd Thomas” and “Watchers,” is not the only high-profile writer Amazon Publishing has caught. In 2018

Patricia Cornwell

signed a contract for two books; The first novel, “Quantum,” was published last October and enjoyed quick downloads despite negative reviews. Both Mr. Koontz and Mrs. Cornwell are in the top 25 of all adult fiction writers currently published in the US. UU.

Amazon Publishing already has 16 impressions in the United States producing titles from suspense novels to romantic novels. Rival publishers expect the competition for the best talents to increase even more, now that Amazon’s initial big name signatures have been encouraging.

The fact that Amazon is both a book publisher and the dominant book retailer is unlikely, on its own, to raise antitrust issues, several legal and media experts said. Current antitrust laws are intended to increase consumer welfare, so Amazon’s low prices act as a shield.

Left on the shelf

The sales of Patricia Cornwell and Dean Koontz novels have softened in recent years.

Sales printed in the USA UU. In the first 13 weeks

The window of the night (published in May 2019)

The forbidden door (September 2018)

The crooked staircase (May 2018)

The whisper room (November 2017)

The silent corner (June 2017)

Depraved heart (October 2015)

Meat and blood (November 2014)

“When prices are low for the customer, that improves consumer welfare, even if it bothers business people who charge more,” he said.

Gregory Arenson,

antitrust lawyer and partner of Kaplan Fox & Kilsheimer LLP.

Mr. Arenson said that Amazon could be violating antitrust laws, however, if it is using its platform to provide an advantage to the books it publishes that it does not provide to other book publishers.

An Amazon Publishing spokeswoman declined to comment.

Amazon can promise writers a great salary, agents say, and a powerful e-commerce platform and marketing tools to promote sales of their work. That is an attractive package, even for established authors who have had decreasing sales but still believe their best days are yet to come.

“Quantum” sold only 6,000 hardcover copies through November 23, according to NPD BookScan, a unit of NPD Group Inc. A spokeswoman for Amazon Publishing says the book “has reached approximately 600,000 readers in sales and print, audio downloads. and digital “

Even when leading writers remain under contract elsewhere for their novels, Amazon can develop ties with them in other projects, such as exclusive short works, and seek a bigger deal in the future.

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“They are playing a long game with many authors, and yes, it worries me,” said a senior executive from one of the biggest publishers.

Amazon is not “aggressively hunting renowned authors,” he said

Jeff Belle,

Vice President of Amazon Publishing. But he is cultivating relationships with writers, he said, and is willing to “write checks for great content.”

The disadvantage for high profile authors of interacting with Amazon is that Barnes & Noble Inc. and independent booksellers reject Amazon books. It is possible that Barnes & Noble could change its approach under the new management team that took over after the Elliott Management Corp. hedge fund acquired the retailer last summer.

“I am surprised that there is an open policy in Barnes & Noble to boycott and in general I would not be personally in favor of this.”

James Daunt

The bookseller’s executive director said last month.

For Mr. Koontz, who has sold more than 500 million books worldwide, the opportunity to reach new readers through Amazon’s extensive promotions was too good to ignore, he said.

“We had seven or eight offers, but Amazon offered the most complete marketing plan, and that was the deciding factor,” said Koontz, 74.

The pact that Mr. Koontz signed last spring with the Thomas & Mercer imprint of Amazon Publishing ended his long-standing relationship with Bantam Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, the world’s largest consumer book publisher. A spokeswoman for Bantam Books, which has published more than 50 of his works, declined to comment.

The six short stories “Unnamed”, which feature a guard who suffers from amnesia and has no fingerprints, are sold for $ 1.99 each. Amazon Kindle Unlimited service subscribers can access them as part of their membership, as can Amazon Prime users.

Koontz says that another reason he signed with Amazon Publishing is because he enjoyed close ties with audiobook editor Brilliance Audio even before Amazon acquired it in 2007.

Mr. Koontz’s success with Brilliance Audio caught the attention of

Julia Sommerfeld,

Amazon editorial director prints Amazon Original Stories, who suggested working together. The novel that followed, “Ricochet Joe,” was published in December 2017 exclusively as an electronic book and audiobook by Amazon.

“There were no paperback books, no hardcover, but hundreds of thousands of people read it with their e-readers, and it was well compensated,” he said.

Richard Pine,

his literary agent

The ability to reach new potential readers was also a key attraction for Ms. Cornwell, best known for her novels with the fictional forensic doctor Dr. Kay Scarpetta. Ms. Cornwell signed a two-book contract with Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer label in 2018. Her most recent Kay Scarpetta novels were published by HarperCollins Publishers.

In 2018, Patricia Cornwell signed a two-book contract with Amazon.

Photo:

David C. Bowman / Nasa / Planet Pix / Zuma Press

“She’s not afraid to shake him,” said Mrs. Cornwell’s agent,

Jeremy Barber,

a partner in United Talent Agency LLC. “She believed that she could access new and different readers through this platform.” HarperCollins Publishers declined to comment.

Ms. Cornwell’s “Quantum”, the first of a new series with Captain Calli Chase, a NASA pilot, scientist and cybercrime investigative expert, disappointed many readers, and 35% of reviewers at Amazon.com gave it a star.

The author said she does not flinch. “I am building a new audience, and yes, they are kicking me in criticism, but I know what I am doing,” he said.

Mrs. Cornwell did not anticipate the emotional impact of not seeing her new novel in bookstores. “It’s depressing when you don’t see your book anywhere,” he said. “It’s not fair, and it’s not right.”

Ms. Cornwell is working on a sequel entitled “Spin” that is expected to be published this year.

Write to Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg at [email protected]

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