Thu
Jun 9 2011 9:00am

Thomas & Mercer - What is Amazon Up To?

The Internet has been all a-twitter (if you’ll excuse the pun) about Amazon’s two new publishing imprints, first Montlake Romance and then Thomas & Mercer, a mystery and thriller imprint. Most of the buzz, naturally, comes from authors wondering what these new venues might mean for them, but I am intrigued by what they mean for us as readers.

While Montlake Romance is starting off with Connie Brockway, an author who’s pretty much a household name in the romance field, having written both historical and contemporary romance, such was not initially the case with Thomas & Mercer. When Amazon announced their starting lineup, I’m not the only one who found the names less familiar than many others in the genre. I have excerpted partial descriptions here from Amazon’s press release to give a sense of the kind of books they’re starting with:

Resuscitation by D.M. AnnechinoResuscitation by D.M. Annechino

Two years ago, Detective Sami Rizzo narrowly escaped a brush with death at the hands of a serial killer. After apprehending the killer and bringing him to justice, this life-changing event compels her to resign from the police force. In her heart of hearts, however, she struggles with the decision. But a second serial killer—a well-respected doctor gone astray—uses his charm to seduce his victims and then performs horrific surgical experiments on them. In a final act of depravity, he scatters their mutilated bodies throughout San Diego County.

Stirred by Blake Crouch and J. A. KonrathStirred by J.A. Konrath and Blake Crouch

Lt. Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels has seen humanity at its most depraved and terrifying. She’s lost loved ones. Come close to death countless times. But she always manages to triumph over evil. Luther Kite is humanity at its most depraved and terrifying. He’s committed unthinkable acts. Taken human life for the sheer pleasure of it. He is a monster among monsters, and no one has ever caught him. Each is the best at what they do. Peerless. Unmatched.

Only one can survive. And it won’t be whom [sic] you think.

The Immortalists by Kyle MillsThe Immortalists by Kyle Mills

Dr. Richard Draman is trying desperately to discover a cure for a disease that causes children to age at a wildly accelerated rate—a rare genetic condition that is killing his own daughter. When the husband of a colleague quietly gives him a copy of the classified work she was doing before her mysterious suicide, Draman finally sees a glimmer of hope. The conclusions are stunning, with the potential to not only turn the field of biology on its head, but reshape the world. Soon, though, he finds himself on the run, relentlessly pursued by a seemingly omnipotent group of men who will do whatever it takes to silence him.

Already Gone by John RectorAlready Gone by John Rector

Jake Reese is a writing teacher at an American university. He lives in a small brick Tudor close to campus with his art buyer wife, Diane. His life is quiet – ordinary even. And he likes it that way. But it wasn’t always quiet. Jake’s distant past was a life on the streets, inflicting damage and suffering on more people than he can count. And now someone from his past, it seems, has come looking for him.

Now, when I read the full descriptions, I can already tell you one thing about the new imprint: it’s not for mystery readers, it’s for thriller readers. (I will also add that I really, really hope the editors of the books have a better grasp of grammar than whoever is writing the descriptions.) There is not a single police procedural or PI novel that’s not also a thriller on the list; there are certainly no cozies or traditional mysteries. And while I generally don’t like to jump at hot-button issues, there are no female authors.

As a late addition to the lineup, Amazon and Barry Eisler recently announced he would be doing his next novel in the Rain series for them. Since he had previously announced he would self-publish, this came as a surprise to Eisler fans, but it’s not surprising on Amazon’s side. Eisler fits right into what they already have in their lineup. He’s just a bigger fish in the same male-thriller-writer pond.

Of course, Amazon may know—as many of us who hang out in bookstores do—that men perusing the shelves in the crime fiction aisles often make statements like “I don’t read books by women.” So, perhaps, Amazon’s hedging its bets, and Thomas & Mercer will broaden their line later, once money starts coming in from this first wave of books.

So, let’s talk about the money. Amazon plans to print copies of these books in trade paperback. It’s not clear where such books will available, though according to Publishers Weekly “Amazon…promises to place the books in stores by distributing them on its own.” Really? Where do you imagine you’ll be able to buy these books in print? Will brick-and-mortar booksellers clamor to stock Amazon’s titles? And, if you could buy them in print, would you be willing to pay $15? Because that’s what they’ll cost at retail. Unless, of course, you buy them from Amazon, where they’re discounted to $10.

Now, if you’re a Kindle owner, things look better for you. The books will only be $5 on Kindle, compared to other publishers’ trade paperbacks, which come in around $10 in e-versions. But if you own a nook, Sony, Kobo or some other brand of e-reader, you’re out of luck, because Amazon doesn’t plan to publish these books in other e-formats. Also, for some bizarre reason (which, to be honest, I find duplicitous and manipulative in the extreme), they have put “digital list prices” on the books at $10. Since they’ll never be sold anywhere else, however, as Amazon doesn’t plan to make them available on any other platforms, what’s the point of the fake retail price? Just make the price $5, and be done with it.

Why have they priced their books at $5 (well, $4.99, to be exact)? In my opinion—and perhaps it’s just my cynical, conspiracy-theory-soaked brain—it’s because they’ve seen how many people buy books based on price, and figure their books will have a good shot at “bestsellerdom” if they’re priced lower than the average non-self-published thriller.

So here’s my question, dear readers: do this roster, this pricing, and/or Amazon-exclusivity irk you enough not to buy Thomas & Mercer books? Do you not care, because you’ll simply read them on your Kindle or Kindle app for whatever device you own, or crack the DRM to read them whatever way you please?

Frankly, I am not at all sure how I feel. I do own a Kindle, and I love reading on it, but I also find this type of manipulation offensive. Unfortunately, as a reader, I find “agency pricing,” which many major publishers engage in, almost as bad. Luckily, Amazon isn’t planning to publish anything I have any overwhelming yen to read, so I don’t have to decide yet.


Laura K. Curtis lives in Westchester, NY, with her husband and 3 dogs who’ve taught her how easily love can co-exist with the desire to kill.  She blogs at Women of Mystery and maintains an online store at TorchSongs GlassWorks.  She can also be found on Twitter and poking her nose into all sorts of trouble in various spots around the web.

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14 comments
1. Sarah
I'm in the irked-enough-to-avoid category. I dunno. There's just something about Amazon I've always disliked. I have an old second-generation Kindle (gift), and I use it, but I find myself using it less and less, and I suspect I will upgrade with a nook or Kobo fairly soon, anyway.
Laura K. Curtis
2. LauraKCurtis
My problem with the nook is that I absolutely hate the B&N online interface. Up until now, I haven't had any problems with Amazon (well, I don't like their politics, but they're the same at B&N and Borders), but this really irritated me!
3. Edie
I hate that they are not going to make their books available in other formats. Kindle is not the best choice for an Aussie reader, so I guess I just have to keep the fingers crossed that none of my fave authors move into this line.

I can't see bricks and mortar stores rushing to stock trades from this line, as unless it a major author, with a lot of book buzz, they'd be hard to move.
4. Vicky
A couple corrections:

1 - The books will be available in brick and mortar stores like Barnes and Noble and as well as any independent stores who are serious about books. I've seen several Amazonencore titles in my local Barnes & Nobel, so I don't see this as being beyond the realm of possibility. I've also heard that Amazon is partnering with Harcourt, and other big publishers, to distribute their titles.

2 - DRM is not enabled on these books, so they can be converted and read on any e-reader.

3 - The $4.99 price, I've heard, is a temporary price to promote the launch of the new imprint. After the launch, I wouldn't be surprised to see the price go up closer to $9 or $10 a copy.

I looked up these authors, and with the exception of D.M. Annechino, they're all traditionally published with major publishers, so the risk on Amazon's part seems small.

There is a lot of speculation regarding Amazon's move into publishing, but I see no problem with them breaking up the monopoly of the big 6 publishers. If you ask me, it's about time.
Laura K. Curtis
5. LauraKCurtis
Vicky -

The question for me is not whether Amazon is undertaking any risk--in fact, I think this is specifically designed to eliminate risk for them--it's what their strategy means for readers. And for me, it's irritating.

Nothing in Amazon's press releases has indicated that they plan to change their pricing after launch. We'll all have to wait and see.

I don't like agency pricing. I don't like monopolies. I don't think the big six are any more a monopoly than Amazon is, but I do think they shouldn't be allowed to engage in price fixing, which is what I see "agency pricing" as. I am more a fan of the small publishers, or those larger publishers (the biggest I can think of at the moment is HQN - Mira for thrillers) where they let retailers set prices the way normal retailers do.

I didn't mean to imply that Amazon wouldn't produce the titles in print -- they say they will, and I believe they will. I also believe they will offer them to bookstores. I just don't see the advantage to a bookstore to carrying the books when they will be forced to charge so much more for them than Amazon will, so I have my doubts about any independent bookstore carrying them.

I'd be happy if they didn't include DRM, but they've been very specific about the fact that they have no plans at present to publish in any e format other than Kindle (from their press release: "books will be available to English readers in Kindle, print and audio formats at www.amazon.com").

To be clear, the businessperson inside me actually admires this move on Amazon's part, but as a *reader* I think it's sleazy. That is, for me, where the conflict arises!
6. Vicky
According to Barry Eisler, Amazon is offering their print books to book stores at heavily discounted prices, so their profit margin will be higher on the T&M books than on books from the big 6. That's where the advantage will come in.

Not having DRM enabled doesn't mean they're going to publish in any other format, it just means the books are able to be converted by whoever buys them. I own two Amazonencore books, and I was able to convert both of them to epub with no problem.

I'm also not a fan of agency pricing. As a result, I'm a HUGE fan of Amazon and what they're doing to prevent the big 6 from ripping off readers, and especially authors. Going by the figures Eisler made public, it looks like Amazon is treating their authors like they are the customers, unlike the big 6 who treat their authors like an unfortunate, but necessary, downside to their business.

I'm also not sure I follow how their strategy is bad for readers. Do you think selling their books at $4.99 (temporarily or not) a bad thing for readers? I'd think any reader who can get good books at good prices would be happy about what amazon is doing.
Laura K. Curtis
7. LauraKCurtis
I haven't seen any official word from Amazon about how their pricing will be offered to bookstores. And in bookstores, they won't be competing against big six publishers--in bookstores, they'll be competing against the few small presses that get their books into those shops. The big six don't publish trade paperbacks of thrillers unless they're special editions, so bookstores don't generally have positioning for them.

I won't speak to how anyone treats authors. Authors like Eisler make their decisions based on a variety of factors, but certainly plenty of authors are choosing to stay with their publishers, even the big six, instead of going out on their own or going with smaller presses.

In my opinion, anything that limits a reader's choices is bad for readers. Whenever a distributor becomes a manufacturer, collapsing those two streams together, there are potential problems. Amazon has a vested interested in promoting their authors, whose books can only be bought at their store (even if you're capable of translating them into a format for a device from elsewhere), above those by other publishers; their pricing strategy is one example of that.

I love my Kindle. You'll pry it from my cold, dead hands. But the more I talk about Thomas and Mercer, the more I think about it, the less I like the idea.
8. Anita Page
Laura, I was alarmed when I first heard that Amazon was going to publish for the reasons you cite. Now, reading about the absence of women authors, I'm definitely irked enough to avoid. (Amazons: a race of women warriors. Some irony there). Interesting post--thanks!
9. Sam Anderson
I think Amazon is looking past independent bookstores because they're such a small player these days. You have the big independent stores like Powells, the Strand, and Tattered Cover, but even those only make up a tiny fraction of a fraction of overall sales. It seems to me that they are focusing more on ebook sales through their website, which they've already said accounts for more sales than print books on their site. And since Amazon is largest bookseller in the world, and the kindle is far and away the bestselling e-reader in the world, that's a ton of books we're talking about.

What I'm curious to see is what will happen when other authors see what amazon is doing, and whether or not they decide to try and switch over to publishing with Amazon. If they offer a better royalty rate than the big publishers, more promotion on the biggest bookselling website in the world, and they can get their books in stores, that seems like an easy decision to me.

With the way the print market is disappearing as ebooks grow exponentially every year, Amazon may very well become the biggest publisher in the world.

Now, regarding no women authors on the Thomas & Mercer imprint (so far): It sounds to me like people are just looking for a reason to be mad at Amazon. No women authors? Are you kidding? They announced five books for a new imprint that will probably have fifty more titles published in the next year, and you are upset that there are no women? Have you seen how many women authors Amazon publishes? The very first Amazonencore author was a woman, the first Montlake author is a woman, and most of the Amazoncrossing authors are women. BUT, when Thomas & Mercer doesn't announce a woman in their initial lineup, WATCH OUT!

It is a ridiculous thing to throw into this discussion.
Clare Toohey
10. clare2e
Sam- I don't think it's ridicluous to ask why a mystery and thriller imprint doesn't have any mysteries, and whether the opening slate of authors and book types points to the audience they're staking out. They could've decided (and I'm not saying they should've) to go with a sampler box of a variety of styles and voices of crime fiction, but they didn't. Fair enough to ask why there aren't any soft-boiled, traditional, or procedural, though I think one book has a female protagonist.

It's not a quota question, it's an audience/marketing question, and since we don't know their backoffice strategy, we can enjoy the armchair sport of trying to suss it out based upon their choices, especially since female readers approach 70% (I think, number may have shifted or even be greater) of the book buying public.
11. Anita Page
Clare, well said.
12. Sam Anderson
I wasn't referring to the lack of mysteries in this first round of titles, because I'm sure that will change. I was referring to the absurd comments about the "absence of women authors" and how it is "irking" people enough to avoid the entire imprint. The implication of sexism when none exists diminishes the issue and makes people care even less when sexism actually happens.
Clare Toohey
13. clare2e
I still think it's odd not to have any mysteries in a self-proclaimed mystery line. "Welcome to Crepes & Tacos!" "Hey, thanks, I've been looking forward to the crepes." "Sorry, we might add crepes to the menu later. Hope you like tacos!" I still think it's odd to advertise yourself as a mystery and thriller imprint with no mysteries even slated for the future.

The question about (not advice for or advocacy of) potentially avoiding the line includes reactions to ALL the points cited, and there's a lot more discussed than the point about female authors, mentioned specifically in a single sentence.
Laura K. Curtis
14. LauraKCurtis
I actually think the lack of women goes along with the lack of mysteries. If the line were announced and every book on it were a traditional mystery or cozy, chances are good that every author would be a woman. That's just the way it is at the moment -- the vast majority of traditional mysteries and cozies are writen by women. Of course, had they wanted to, or been able to seduce them from their publishers, there are also plenty of big name female thriller writers, but that's neither here nor there -- adding a mystery component would almost certainly have added a woman.

But of course, if they'd begun their mystery and thriller line with all cozies & female authors, that would have been equally bizarre and equally off-putting for a "mystery and thriller" line.
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