Reporting to Amazon's Jeff Belle, Kirshbaum is charged with building something that will look like a general trade publisher, with "a specific focus on non-fiction, but also literary fiction," Belle says, since Amazon has already been rolling out other imprints focused on genre fiction. In the note to agents, they write "Larry will be building out a publishing team in New York and will found new imprints under the Amazon Publishing umbrella, with a focus on acquiring the highest quality books in literary and commercial fiction, business and general non-fiction."
Kirshbaum tells us "the aim is not just to produce books that work, but also to innovate. What really excites me about this opportunity is the idea that we can help build electronic publishing and digital distribution as an even bigger force in publishing." Kirshbaum is "reluctantly turning my literary agency over to Megan Thompson and Susanna Einstein" (which he founded in 2005, after stepping down as ceo of what was then Time Warner Books, shortly before the company was purchased by Lagardere). But he notes that "this has been a deferred dream for me" after starting Time Warner Electronic Publishing in the 90s and iPublish thereafter. "It was way too early," Kirshbaum notes. "The problem was there was no Kindle."
A launch date, target title counts and even a name for the new line are among the many details still to be resolved. "We have a lot of work to do," Belle said. Kirshbaum indicates Amazon "is going to back this significantly" and frames the ambitions as "more in the vein of a major publishing house, such as the one that I ran." To his publishing colleagues, he notes "we're going to compete at one level," but "my hope is that our ability to innovate and help build a digital audience is going to benefit everybody. We're colleagues in trying to build readership. Clearly electronic readers and digital devices offer us great hope for the future of our business."
Kirshbaum also says "bookstores are still a major part of the business and we'll be doing print books for that reason." Exactly how the print side of the new operation will work still seems open to question, with the emphasis of acquisitions by Kirshbaum's team on the ebook side. Kirshbaum pointed to Amazon's relationship with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt as one route the titles he acquires might take to print. Jeff Belle said "we look forward to continuing to work with HMH when possible, or with someone else when a better fit might exist." Noting "it's possible that [HMH] may be interested in print rights," Belle indicated there is no firm plan yet and they will decide on the proper route to print "on a case-by-case basis."
Kirshbaum will be recruit an "editorial-focused team of a handful of people to begin with," Belle said. In general, Belle says "our goal is to continue to innovate on behalf of authors and readers to make our bookstore better. Our having an in-house publishing business has been very helpful in that regard." Belle added "we are thrilled to have Larry on board. I think we have found the perfect person for this role given his deep experience in the business and his strong leadership and creativity."