To boldly go
Amazon's latest effort is a sci-fi, fantasy, and horror imprint called 47North, named after Seattle's (and Amazon HQ's) latitude. It joins five other imprints in the Amazon stable, which range from mystery to romance to foreign translations, all available for the Kindle as well as for your old-fashioned physical bookshelf. The sci-fi and fantasy genres are big business, accounting for a quarter of Amazon's top 20 best-sellers. Three of those are part of the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, published by Scholastic
Amazon's ability to compete at this level will hinge on its willingness to pay a premium for top talent, as Collins earned a six-figure deal for her trilogy. Amazon's current lineup isn't quite there yet, but its headlining title, The Mongoliad, is an ambitious experimental work of digital fiction that could blur the line between storytelling and interactive spectacle. If this is the sort of risk Amazon's willing to take, it stands to reason that they'd also aggressively court the author of the next Hunger Games.
May the odds be ever in your favor
The rise of Amazon already sounded the death knell for Borders, and Barnes and Noble
Eliminating the publishing middleman would also be a direct attack on News Corp.
Armies of failed books
Amazon has some strong industry headwinds to push through, however. Out of at least 1.2 million titles published by the entire industry over the course of a year, almost 80% sell fewer than 100 copies. Only a few books at the very top of the sales lists make any real impact. One analysis estimates that only the top 3,000 or so books on Amazon's sales list will sell 100 or more books a week, depressingly low figures when stretched out over a full year. Top e-books don't fare much better -- the top 1,000 best-sellers sell perhaps 500 copies a week.
The answer to the ultimate question
Amazon's got to be smart with the authors they pursue. One Suzanne Collins is quite literally worth hundreds of subpar novels, and no amount of shameless promotion will make a best-seller out of a terrible author. I take that back -- it might work one or two times, but at the cost of the company's integrity. Amazon shareholders should hope that its publishing bosses have an eye for talent to match their CEO's skill at promotion, and the resources to bring it aboard.
Will the entrenched lords of old media fend off Amazon, or will the muscular upstart conquer another kingdom? Add these publishing powerhouses to your Watchlist to keep tabs on the latest tales of corporate triumph and tribulation.
Fool contributor Alex Planes holds no financial stake in any company mentioned here. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Amazon.com. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.