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'Fifty Shades' dominates publishing in 2012
The rise of e-books has shaken, but not broken the way books are published and sold. Membership in the independent stores' trade group, the American Booksellers Association, has increased three years in a row after decades of decline. Amazon is a draw for many self-published authors, but its efforts at acquiring and editing books — "legacy" publishing — have been mixed.
An in-house imprint, headed by former Time Warner Book Group chief Laurence J. Kirshbaum, has so far landed few works of note beyond a memoir by Penny Marshall and an advice book on cooking by lifestyle guru Timothy Ferriss. Rival sellers have refused to stock Amazon's books, limiting their sales potential. And if publishers suffer from their reputation — often earned — of being slow to adapt to technology, they benefit from a reputation — often earned — for being nice to their writers.
"There certainly is the comfort factor, and part of that comfort factor is the culture of old publishing, which is very collegial and warm and friendly," says Richard Curtis, a literary agent who represents several writers publishing with Amazon. "Authors contemplating Amazon are concerned about a loss of that warmth."
Amazon, the acknowledged leader in e-book commerce, remains the dominant player in what could still become the dominant format, and two of the year's major stories would never have happened without industry concern over the Internet retailer and publisher.
In April, the U.S. Department of Justice sued Apple and five publishers for alleged price fixing of electronic books, a lawsuit originating from Apple's 2010 launch of the iPad and iBookstore, which publishers hoped would weaken Amazon's ability to discount works so deeply that no other seller could compete. In October, the corporate parents of Random House Inc. and Penguin Group (USA) announced a planned merger, widely believed as a way to counter Amazon.
One of the publishers sued, HarperCollins, settled in the fall and prices for such new works as Michael Chabon's "Telegraph Avenue" dropped from $12.99-$14.99, common under the Apple model, to Amazon's preferred $9.99. But Chantal Restivo-Alessi, HarperCollins' chief digital officer, said there was no noticeable difference in sales, adding that bargain hunters tend to seek out older books.
"With new books, if you want to read that book, you're going to read that book," she said. "You're not going to replace it with a cheaper book."