Amazon pursues authors, cuts out the publisher middleman

If you needed any more evidence that Amazon is building its own digital media empire, here it is. The New York Times reports that the online retail giant will publish over 120 books this quarter alone, both on its Kindle e-book platform and traditional physical copies. That puts it in the odd position of competing with some of its biggest suppliers, the traditional publishing houses that have been around for decades.

These aren't self-publishing hobbyists or first-time authors, either – Timothy Ferriss, best-selling author of The 4-Hour Workweek is among them. A memoir by Penny Marshall is rumored to have cost $800,000 in rights alone, a sum that Amazon paid happily. Reports from the industry indicate that the company is aggressively headhunting authors from established publishers, leading an agent to comment that "Everyone's afraid of Amazon."

And why shouldn't they be? With the number one e-book reader on the planet and apps servicing hundreds of millions of smartphones, tablets and PCs, there's hardly anywhere that isn't a target for Amazon's expansion, to say nothing of their new Kindle Fire. The cheap tablet has already racked up at least a quarter million pre-orders, and after the holiday season many expect it to become the first viable competitor to Apple's iPad. The Fire is a vector for Amazon's music, video, book and periodical ventures – the loss-leading device will essentially be a new mobile customer interface exclusively for Amazon.

Amazon sees itself as a catalyst for some much-needed change. Executive Russell Grandinetti notes that the demise of the traditional publishing industry is always being foretold, but that now, "The only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader." Anyone who's paid $29.99 for a new hardcover can certainly appreciate the sentiment.