The Digital Reader

Charting the eBook Evolution since 2010

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Intent v. Execution in Amazon-land

February 10th, 2012 by · No Comments · opinion

While I agree that folks like the ABA, B&N, BAM, everyone else on the planet may be “playing into Amazon’s hands” by refusing to stock titles from Amazon’s publishing arm, this kinda ignores that Amazon itself won’t stock titles if, you know, they’re printed by LSI, not CreateSpace, or maybe there isn’t a Kindle edition, or else the discount isn’t set to what Amazon wants, or, you know, the person at Amazon’s whim. To my knowledge, nobody at ABA/BAM/B&N has coerced even a single publisher. OK, B&N back in their heyday. Amazon, on the hand, employs coercion as a matter of routine.

In fact, Amazon has now refused to carry, for various reasons, so many titles, there really is an opportunity for a google to come in and become the “Earth’s Largest Bookstore” that Amazon used to be. But whatever. This post is on Thomas & Mercer, Amazon’s crime publishing imprint that I’m actually kinda familiar with.

The first Thomas & Mercer book I read was handed to me at BEA last year. It was… amazing. Essentially, in a knock-off of Jim Thompson’s first novel, a guy sues God, but in this case wins billions from the Catholic Church and flees to Mexico, where he fights drug dealers from his plane using his bare hands, a lasso and, inexplicably, a mule. It’s the kind of thing that might have worked if the locale was Florida, in an Elmore Leonard kind of way, and the book was edited for coherency, but, for some reason the author was from L.A., land of James Ellroy and Raymond Chandler, and had actually won awards for his clear resemblance to those two.

So, that was my first T&M book. Amazon, to their credit, realized there was a problem, went and hired some names to edit the series. Then, in their big coup, they scored the ebook rights to Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels.

Now, that’s kind of a bigger deal. The series isn’t a personal favorite, but Evan Hunter, who wrote as McBain, also penned The Blackboard Jungle, one of the all-time greats.

Six months after signing Hunter, Amazon made the 87th Precinct available, heavily discounted (of course). I bought about a dozen of ‘em, searching through to try to start in order. Actually, though obtaining the rights, Amazon still didn’t have all the books in the series, missing quite a few from the early days.

Here’s where it gets funny. The first one I read, think it was The Con Man–had an amazing number of typographical errors. I’ve learned to expect that from the Open Roads of the world, but, Amazon–and this is their big push? In fairness, a second McBain I’ve just started has much cleaner text, through from the intro it’s apparent Amazon digitized a 1994-era trade paperback, likely one with aired-out text and a 14 pt. or greater non-serif font. Not that I know anything about scanning old pulps, but a book like that’s just a bit easier to digitize than, say, a 1956 Permabook.

However, Amazon spent a huge chunk of change on McBain, and then didn’t even have quality control in place to fix commonly known digitizing errors from old paperbacks. And also didn’t have the oldest paperbacks die-hard McBain fans are guaranteed to want. Why? And why do the marketing push until you do have those books?

I’m sure Amazon’ll make future splashes with Thomas & Mercer for a few years in their continued push to force exclusivity on people. Spending a fortune in the process. And, really, I expect nothing but continued nonsense from the company until the stock price corrects to more properly value a firm that’s seen its cash position fall in half in 12 months and expects to lose money this quarter. As long as AMZN shares hold 160, 190, whatever, on incredibly thin volume, the company will be arrogant in all its dealings with all parties, no matter how little cash is left in the bank.

When those shares hit 16, 19, as happened with ebay, another firm that relied primarily on third-party sellers for profits, regularly abused its business partners, expanded haphazardly in all directions, and then saw it all come crashing down, a lot of ill-conceived, poorly executed Amazon missions will hit the chopping block. And even though ebooks have absolutely led to a crime fiction renaissance, just look at the bestsellers on Nook, I suspect Thomas & Mercer will be among the first that go.

/Ebay used to tick me off. A lot. These days, they’ll let you list your non-pr0n backlist for a nickel with free subtitles. Fine.

reposted with permission from Munsey’s TechnoSnarl

image by jwyg

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