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 It’s very Amazon, of course, but recommendation engines don’t apply to unpublished manuscripts.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.