Call me crazy, but the news that Amazon is establishing a romance imprint fills me with dread. And the more I think about it, the more reasons I find to worry about this development. There is a sense in some circles that the Big Six and other New York-based mostly-print publishers are giants to be slain in the book industry. The rise of the term indie publishers (which I find both silly and sad) has created the specter of a war between print and digital publishing. Despite having started as a print book distributor, Amazon's success with the Kindle and its encouragement of the new brand of self-publishing have put it squarely on the side of this supposed Team Digital. A pale blue women's t-shirt with the classic Rockwell Kent cover art for Moby-Dick. In reality, plenty of people read both print and digital, myself included. Plenty of authors publish both print and ebooks. Drawing lines in the sand between old-timey print publishing and hip modern cyber-publishing is unnecessary at best and at worst a threat to the health of the industry as a whole.

Because the Big Six might be big (and more than six, but it's a catchy name), but Amazon's a Leviathan in its own right. And it behooves us to question Leviathan when he is encountered.

The following quote comes from the Publisher's Weekly article:

One agent noted that Amazon is uniqeuly [sic] positioned to promote authors and books in a way traditional houses are not—through content on its Web site well as by tapping into information about its customers' book-buying habits. This agent said that, for this reason, there is a certain appeal to selling a book to them.

Questions also persist about what Amazon will do in the way of distribution.

Amazon has long since established itself as the major site of book distribution in the United States, and increasingly on a global scale. And when the major distributor starts publishing books of its own, well—it can't just be me who raises a hand and asks, "Are you going to give preferential distribution to books from your own imprints?"

And I'm not. From the WSJ:

Its moves are likely to exacerbate existing fears among some publishers that Amazon, the nation's dominant online bookseller, will use its marketing prowess to emphasize its own titles at the expense of books issued elsewhere.

"They can push their writers to the front and they have a decade of genre purchaser information," said one New York publishing executive who declined to named.

Suffice to say I have started reading the Wikipedia article on monopolies, just in case.
And yet, I also have to admit—a Connie Brockway romance set in turn-of-the-century Egypt sounds like it's right up my alley. This is the devil's bargain we are forced to strike with Amazon: sometimes, even though we know their behavior is predatory and they frequently lie to us and they have put some of my favorite bookstores out of business over the years, we pay them money because it's the only way for us to get our hands on one particular book.
It's depressing, that. Like being adrift on a coffin in a dark and moonless sea.

One final note about why this bugs me. I have lived in Seattle all my life, and many of my high school hours were spent in the Montlake neighborhood, the imprint's namesake. Here is what I associate with Montlake:

  • freeway bus stops
  • that one unfinished onramp the cops use as a speed trap
  • dust
  • heat
  • traffic
  • car exhaust
  • tiny old houses that are twice as expensive as they ought to be
  • that mini-mart by the freeway entrance
  • the Museum of History and Industry
  • a bridge that always manages to go up when you least want it to

A setting for epic romance, this is not.