Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
When book publishers consider their customers, historically, they were stores that retailed books. As of recently, with the distance between publisher and reader now measured in electrons, readers have entered the mix as customers publishers relate with regularly. And with the rise of self-publishing, giving the competition for content from authors a new dimension, publishers have intensified their efforts to woo new authors and retain old ones.
Amazon Publishing, the relatively new house owned and operated by the world’s largest bookseller of the same name, is taking that last point to a whole new level.
“Our authors are our customers,” Sarah Jane Gunter, director of international publishing for the company, told me at the London Book Fair this week. “Amazon Publishing is going to become a house that is focused on authors. Our focus is service.”
But Amazon as a company has a particular view when it comes to customers. The customer is solidly at the center of Amazon’s thinking and everything the company does. According to Brad Stone’s book on the large e-tailer, The Everything Store, meetings held at Amazon leave a seat open symbolically for the customer.
It’s easy to argue that Amazon has followed through on this philosophy. The company has famously low prices and famously good customer service, two things generally very important to customers.
According to Gunter, when it comes to publishing, this means “helping [authors] find new audiences” and making “the books available to anyone who wants to buy them.”
It’s not hard to believe her: In its short history, Amazon Publishing has been known to spend money on content and actively promotes its list through its own very powerful retail platform. At the same time, the company has had trouble getting physical books into stores, which are still a hugely significant retail channel and very important for book discovery and new author discovery in particular.
When I asked her about being able to get authors’ books into wide bricks-and-mortar distribution, Gunter said that Amazon Publishing makes its books available to all stores. When I followed up with specific stores that would or would not stock Amazon Publishing titles, she said, “We’ll have to follow up with you on that.”*
That said, despite any hurdles the company might face, publishers in both the U.S. and abroad should watch the company closely. Amazon Publishing plans on hiring 70 new people this year, many who will help with the company’s planned expansion into Europe. It plans on translating 200 English books into German and will be investing in translating yet more titles into English, Gunter said. Further, Amazon Publishing has already acquired 26 titles in the UK and published 11 of them.
“We’re looking for people who are going to obsess over customers,” said Gunter of the proposed new hires, adding, “we want to hire people who are passionate about bringing great books to market and helping authors find new readers.”
Gunter will be running this operation from Seattle, where she is based.
“It’s helpful to have someone in Seattle to build a bridge between our teams around the world and our home office,” Gunter said.
*Editor’s note: This section has been amended to reflect the full exchange that occurred here. Previously it noted that Gunter’s final response to the matter was “we’ll get back to you,” which was not entirely accurate. We regret the mistake.