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Amazon and the Dramatic Unmask

The Dramatic Unmask is something well-known in superhero or crime television shows where a villain or hero decides, or is forced, to reveal their true identity. The audience and the other characters all take in a sharp breath and someone on-screen usually says: ‘It was you/me all along!’ If it’s a good unmask, there’ll be some evil cackling involved or maybe a reference to ‘meddling kids’. And as petty as it might sound, I would take no small pleasure from doing this dramatic unmask to a sales rep for New Harvest in the USA at the moment – leaping from my chair mid-way through their pitch about a celebrity memoir and shouting: ‘Ah-HA! But these were AMAZON titles all along!’ And my smugness would be exceeded only by their embarrassment and the force with which they were tossed from the premises by my in-store security.

Amazon has announced it’s going to be distributing printed books from its East Coast Group through Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a US publisher who in turn are going to be branding the books under the imprint New Harvest. So… New Harvest = HMH = East Coast Group = Amazon – a publisher selling print rights to another publisher in the same territory who is in turn selling under a new imprint.

Has the brand of Amazon really become so toxic in the industry that they have to hide their name away under four layers of Babushka doll-style rebranding?

It’s acts like this which promote the sense of distrust in Amazon. That and their many other well-documented shady dealings and practices. The one thing they do do well is get on their customer’s good side. Except in this case where their customers are bricks-and-mortar-bookstores.

I’d never actually looked far enough ahead to consider that Amazon would want to stock their printed material in bookshops given they have such a massive online marketplace, but now they face the market as a publisher, I think they’ll encounter a lot of resentment on the other side of the looking glass.

Their spat with Barnes & Noble, who will not stock the printed material from ‘New Harvest’ (muahahaha) unless they can also stock the eBook in their Nook store, really highlights the issue here – Amazon are trying to have their cake and eat it by not drawing a clear distinction between Amazon the retailer, who want to control the distribution of eBooks, and Amazon the publisher who want to stock their books in as many places as possible.

The agreements with HMH are for printed rights only, so technically a New Harvest rep can’t actually offer to sell the eBook. But it makes sense  that this is something that Barnes & Noble would want. It might also be (in some small part) thumb biting because it means Amazon would have to distribute their eBooks in a *gasp* industry standard ePub format, and possibly contemplate someone else setting the price for their eBooks.

I can also imagine the flak HMH are getting for this, given most people in publishing who do business with Amazon are at best labelled as turncoats. So: any volunteers here in the UK feel like starting a new imprint and hawking some Amazon titles? I was thinking it could be called SDS Publishing – Scooby Doo Special.


Felice Howden

Felice Howden had opinions before she knew what the word 'opinion' meant. She wrote for the publishing and ideas blog Socratic Ignorance Is Bliss, and has had short stories published around the place. She graduated from the University of Melbourne in 2008 with a degree in English and Philosophy, and now spends her time typing code and hatching brain eggs for the future of publishing in a major publishing house.

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