For as much as the headlines dissect Amazon.com's (NASDAQ: AMZN ) new Kindles and adventures in streaming, it's easy to forget that the company's original business -- i.e., selling books online -- is expanding in creative ways, and that's good news for investors.
Take digital publishing. Amazon has built an entire operation out of helping authors self-publish, and earn cash from, original works. Novelist and comic-book writer John Jackson Miller, whose work is usually set in the Star Wars universe, recently used the e-tailer for his first self-published novel, Overdraft: The Orion Offensive.
"The editor I'm working with is one of my former editors at Random House on the Star Wars books, so working with him has been great. Their proofreaders have been world-class. I've just been astounded," Miller said in an interview. "The fact that Amazon understands its own data allows me as a number-cruncher myself to really know what's going on in the lifecycle of this product, and where I need to do my PR."
Call it a successful experiment for a seasoned pro who has written and published 20 graphic novels and a pair of narratives. Miller's latest, Kenobi, offers a take on what happened to outcast Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi in the years between Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars: Episode IV -- A New Hope.
That he's taken to self-publishing can't be a coincidence when so many amateur and pro writers from all corners are doing the same. According to Bowker, which keeps tabs on the publishing industry, more than 148,000 print books were self-published in 2011. Writers distributed more than 87,000 unique digital works over the same period. Amazon, ever the disruptor, appears to be handling more than its share of both.
With Overdraft: The Orion Offensive, Miller wrote the novel like he would a comic book -- 12,000 words every two weeks. He'd then release the latest novel "episode," selling thousands of copies directly through Amazon. Miller had decent sales numbers even before the final product was available for purchase.
Would he do it again? Miller said writing another serialized novel, especially at the same pace, might be a bit much. But he also says self-publishing through Amazon is definitely a long-term option.
"In the past, everything I've done has been work for hire for a licensed publisher," Miller said. "I got to the middle of last year and realized I'd written a million words over the last 10 years, and I own maybe 5,000 of them."
Upping that total is going to take time. At least Amazon is around to help.
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