June 6, 2012

AmazonCrossing’s deep data pools not enough to make a splash


If you can’t beat ’em, buy ’em? The news that Amazon has bought up the romance and crime fiction publisher Avalon and plans to add its backlist to its imprints Montlake Romance and Thomas & Mercer raises the question: just how successful have Amazon’s imprints been? Larry Kirshbaum’s Amazon Publishing wing, with its roster of Tim Ferriss, James Franco, Deepak Chopra, and others, is likely to be fine, and other imprints have the occasional star—Neal Stephenson is heading up a gang of authors who co-wrote a martial arts epic that Amazon’s sci-fi and fantasy imprint, 47North, just released.

But what’s going on over at AmazonCrossing? Last year at BEA, there were whispers that the imprint planned to publish 100 books a year, with their deep pools of data turning up the right foreign books and their clout securing author and translator contracts. What’s panned out? Between March and May of this year, they’ve published 15 English-language titles (AmazonCrossing also includes books in Spanish). Most of the authors are new to American audiences, so it may not be significant that Ali and Ramazan by Perihan Magden, for instance, doesn’t ring any bells. But AmazonCrossing doesn’t seem to be serving authors who are already somewhat established, like Yasmina Khadra, well either, even by its own metrics. Khadra’s last book published by a trade house, The Swallows of Kabul, has 62 reader reviews and is ranked at #140,010 (for the Anchor paperback, the most recent edition). Khadra’s new novel, Dead Man’s Share, published by AmazonCrossing in February, has 3 reviews and no ranking at all, though the Toby Press edition of the book is at #1,211,742.

For the excellent Andrei Gelasimov, whose novel Thirst was published by AmazonCrossing in November, and who is in New York this week for Read Russia, a series of readings and talks on Russian literature organized in conjunction with BookExpo America (where Russia is the guest of honor), the case is a little different. There’s a nice slate of reader reviews and the Kindle and paperback editions are at #75,206 and #211,660 respectively. But there’s almost no coverage of Thirst anywhere else—not in the papers, not on the blogs, not in the magazines—after eight months of availability. You wouldn’t, as a reader, encounter it anywhere but Amazon. Is this enough to carry a foreign author’s career in the US? I doubt it. But if I’m proved wrong, I’ll be happy or at least interested to see it happen.

If you’re old-fashioned and want to hear Gelasimov and other authors read in person, the list of events is here: http://readrussia2012.com/events/


Sal Robinson is a former Melville House editor. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.