Big cocky corporate book distributors who think publishing is so easy they can’t possibly botch it — but do — are a fine old tradition in the book trade.
Back in the ’80s, Harry Hoffman of Waldenbooks wanted to shovel the blandest of house-published genre books at customers but discovered that readers actually noticed and refused to buy them. In 2002, Barnes & Noble purchased cheapo artbook house Sterling Publishing in an attempt to undercut mainstream publishers, realized the experiment was too costly by 2012, tried to unload it (no buyers) and took it off the market “for the time being,” unsure how a chain bookstore can or should compete with its own suppliers.
And now what a surprise to hear that former Time Warner publisher and literary agent Laurence Kirschbaum, hired by Amazon two and a half years ago to create a big cocky publishing division, not only stumbled badly (the six-figure advance for Penny Marshall’s disastrous memoir was one indication) but also took another flier allegedly into the lap and down the throat of ex-lover/colleague Teresa McCoy, who’s suing him for sexual harassment.
Of course that trashy last part has nothing to do with Kirschbaum’s announcement today that he’s leaving Amazon at the first of the year. But it does portend of even better news, that “the most ambitious part of Amazon’s publishing operations will be scaled back,” according to industry watchdogblog Shelf Awareness.
“Already several editorial people have left or been let go, and Amazon has not been a factor in bidding on major books the way it had been just two years ago.” Thank heaven. Amazon’s attempt to control the book industry as a megalomaniacal online bookseller has been bad enough. This attempt at “a full-on assault of publishers” in the mainstream was obscene.