Someone at Amazon Launches a Speculative Fiction Imprint

My esteemed colleagues on the news side of the office report that Amazon has launched 47North, a new imprint dedicated to SF, fantasy, and horror. The report includes the names of most of the launch authors; I recognize perhaps half, and the ones I recognize have a broad range of writing styles, so it seems pretty clear that the imprint will not, at least at first, have much of what the kids these days are calling a brand identity. That fits with the extremely vague name, which is derived from Seattle’s position on the 47th parallel north latitude. You might as well call an imprint “You Are Here”.

(Actually, You Are Here would be a pretty cool name for an imprint.)

What I haven’t seen is any mention of who’s going to be heading up the editorial side of the imprint. This is not a small omission. Alex Carr’s announcement in Omnivoracious says “we” a lot, but it’s not clear who “we” are or what part Carr will play. Carr also says, “As 47North’s catalogue grows, so too will our ideas about what makes up each respective genre, and we hope you’ll be there to help guide us.” I read this as confessing a) that no one involved with the imprint really knows much about speculative fiction and b) it doesn’t matter because all they care about are providing readers with whatever those readers want or think they want. If readers put themselves in the “SF/fantasy/horror reader” box, then 47North is for them!

Am I the only one scratching my head over this approach? It’s very Amazon, of course, but recommendation engines don’t apply to unpublished manuscripts. Carr, or whoever is calling the shots, is not going to be able to open a browser window that says “If you liked submissions 4, 187, and 2169, you should also read at least the first fifty pages of submissions 28 and 492″. At some point, any acquisitions editor has to tell readers what they’re going to read, and that’s very not Amazon. My belief is that if one is going to go into this extremely difficult business, one should at least go in with a great deal of genre knowledge, so as to make up for the lack of useful market data (because in this industry there is basically no such thing) with a well-trained gut instinct. That is also, apparently, not Amazon. Or if it is, they’re not telling who’s going to be providing them with that knowledge, other than the collective readership.

I am really not fond of Amazon’s business practices (particularly the ones enumerated here). That said, I wish them success with 47North as I would wish success for any new genre fiction imprint, and I hope to see their mysterious, nameless, faceless editors at a convention or three.

17 thoughts on “Someone at Amazon Launches a Speculative Fiction Imprint

  1. Paul Riddell

    The editor selection is actually pretty straightforward. Once the appropriate candidates are selected, they wake up in an unnamed village that looks like a Welsh summer resort, with all of their needs met so long as they don’t try to escape. If they can handle Patrick McGoohan screaming “I am not a number! I am a free man!” at all hours, they’re set for life.

    1. Andrew Porter

      They used to wake up in Portmeirion, but now do so in Haye-on-Wye…

      Several others in other places have commented on the anonymity of the editor at 47North (not to be confused with the marvelous old film 49th PARALLEL). Curious, ain’t it?

  2. Adam Cantwell

    Maybe Amazon takes on what is, to them, an insignificant risk by having junior employees select manuscripts in a haphazard way. No investment in printing physical books (there will probably be a POD option, but again, very little investment.) No publishing-specific “brand identity” or reputation to uphold (they’re Amazon, they arent going away even if they never sell one 47North title.)

    Why wouldn’t they just pump out whatever into the market and see what sticks?

    I’ve been wondering when Amazon would follow their market verticalization strategy to its logical next step by actually buying up authors, I mean content providers.

    1. John Stevens

      This sounds about right. One side effect of the rise of e-books is the realization that some folks will buy a book if it’s really cheap and may never read it, and others just want a constant stream of diversions without much concern for quality. So, Amazon cuts out all of the other middlefolk and throws a pile of “genre” books out in to the aether and reaps whatever yield results from those little electronic seedlings. Who needs editors anymore, or even marketing, other than the cry of CHEAP E-BOOKS!!

      Plus, argh.

      1. Rose Fox Post author

        Actually, one of the interesting things about these new imprints is that they are all putting out print books and audiobooks as well as e-books. And one of the big questions is whether Amazon’s rival brick-and-mortar bookstores will be willing to carry those books.

    2. Michael Walsh

      “there will probably be a POD option”

      Actually, from their press release, linked to in Rose’s piece:

      “All titles will be available to English readers in Kindle, print and audio formats at http://www.amazon.com, and the company plans to distribute to bookstores.”

      1. Adam Cantwell

        … And these “print format” books will almost certainly be manufactured by POD service CreateSpace, which Amazon owns.

        1. Adam Walker

          Perhaps, though the costs would be high. Why use pod, which costs $5.00 to print a sizeable book, when you can go with offset, and get the unit costs down to .50 cents?

  3. Brian Hades

    A few years ago I predicted that the only (financial) saving grace for “creatives” will be the google (or amazon or youtube) equivalent of the 14th century Famiglia de’ Medici. This looks like the start of it. Why should authors have to sell their works when google can simply (and easily) support their creative endeavours by providing housing and 3 square meals a day in return for ALL the rights to the author’s works in perpetuity (and all the ads they can throw on, in and around the work). Really, would it be THAT bad! :->

  4. Amanda D.

    They’ll crowdsource acquisitions by only publishing authors that have already successfully self published. No thinking required.

  5. Steve Davidson

    Rose, you referenced the critique of Amazon at Borderlands Books, where among other insightful takes there is this:

    “If the foregoing wasn’t a clear enough indication that Amazon is interested in controlling all the good parts of on-line bookselling and ecommerce in general, the pattern of Amazon’s business expansion also indicates that they are trying to fill all the niches in the book business, from publishing all the way down to selling. There hasn’t been any sign that they are going into the writing business, thank goodness, but there really isn’t any conceivable reason that they would want to do that. (It’s always been best for publishers to let anyone try to be a writer who wants to and then pick and choose what they want to pay for).”

    Unfortunately I believe this to be incorrect analysis: distributors (and that’s what Amazon is) want two things: complete control of the entire distribution chain and Zero cost for product shoved through the pipe. In my opinion, every sign points to Amazon’s future steps including a squeeze on author compensation, eventually ending up with house names churning out whatever the stats indicate will sell the best. Quality will be determined by the masses, as informed by Amazon and we all know that is a descending spiral. “Indie” will come to mean not a small press, but an author who doesn’t sell to Amazon or through Amazon, with consequent minimal sales and virtually no public presence in the internet book world. Why buy a novel from an ‘indie’ at $3.99 when you can get four so-called novels from Amazon for the same price?

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  8. Theresa M. Moore

    Yes, and therein lies the crux of the matter. As an indie author I have seen my market share slide back to near obscurity while Amazon has been busy edgeing me and my fellow indies out. Amazon has basically modeled itself like the “company store”, where only the company products and services will reign. Amazon has made itself rich at the expense of indies who bought into the company line, and Amazon treats its suppliers like employees working for less than minimum wage. The problem with that model is that it is also based on industries which grew rich on the backs of their near slave labor, giving rise to unions. In the absence of a unified front like a union, the only thing authors can do is to take their titles and leave or capitulate to Amazon.
    We have already seen what happened with DC, and that does not make me as a single author comfortable. Amazon has been less than useful to me. If only Amazon had kept part of its focus on its suppliers instead of pushing the hype that it is “customer focused”. Baloney. It is entirely shareholder focused, and must do something to prove its worth to them. Now it has made itself into the pariah of the book world.

  9. Kitti

    “not going to be able to open a browser window that says “If you liked submissions 4, 187, and 2169,…” ::snerk::

    My complaint is this: “…no one involved with the imprint really knows much about speculative fiction” If you’re correct and this is the fact, it really irks me. Too often, I’ve seen fantasy turned into yet another romance novel flavor and speculative/science fiction turned into mindless gun romps by just these sort of people. They take the props and set them into a thoughtless, popular story. Then they get to call it by names I once used to weed out romance and mindless gun romps. Phooey.

  10. Andrew Porter

    Someone at Amazon has finally admitted that ALL of their genre fiction—SF, mysteries, fantasy, horror, presumably romances and westerns too—are being acquired by one person, as Publishers Lunch stated today: “a spokesperson for the company told us that Alex Carr, who also acquires books across all of Amazon’s Seattle-based imprints, will also oversee 47North acquisitions”.

    Yeah, all that stuff is crap anyway; no need to hire someone who actually knows what they’re doing, or has any background in it. Just slap it down on the counter, see if anyone buys it.

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