Amazon Publishing Has First Million Copy Bestseller: What Next?

In Discussion by Dennis Abrams

By Dennis Abrams

hangmans daughter 2Amazon Publishing has announced that Oliver Pötzsch — whose Hangman’s Daughter series includes The Hangman’s Daughter (2010), The Dark Monk (2012), and The Beggar King (2013) — has become the first Amazon Publishing author to sell one million copies in combined print, audio, and Kindle English language editions worldwide.

Originally published by Ullstein in Germany, the Hangman’s Daughter series was acquired, translated into English, and published in digital editions by AmazonCrossing, Amazon Publishing’s imprint focused on acquiring exceptional works of world literature for translation. The Hangman’s Daughter, Pötzsch’s debut novel, became a number-one bestselling Kindle book. Trade paperback editions of the books are published by Mariner Books, a division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, in a licensing agreement with Amazon Publishing. (The sales breakdown for each category was not announced.)

“We congratulate Oliver on this great achievement,” said Jeff Belle, Vice President, Amazon Publishing. “So few books from around the world are translated into English. Our goal with AmazonCrossing is to bring more of the world’s great authors to a global audience. Oliver’s novels deserve the broadest possible readership, and we’re proud to be able to bring them to the attention of the English-speaking world.”

At Forbes, Jeremy Greenfield noted that despite some initial “bumps in the road,” for Amazon’s publishing wing, that this is a major milestone and that “publicizing the success is likely an attempt to showcase its prowess to authors and agents.”

“This is one of the tricks that Amazon has had do to try to make itself a legitimate publisher,” said James McQuivey, Ph.D. and principle analyst at Forrester, who covers the book industry. “I think they genuinely believed that they would be selling a lot of copies of their best books. I imagine that they’re puzzled they haven’t had more success like this.

Still, as Hugh Howey, author of the best-selling Wool series acknowledged, “It’s a huge accomplishment for Oliver, a testament to the hard work of everyone at Amazon Publishing, and a sign that Amazon Publishing is now a major player in book publishing.”

Still, as Howey told Forbes, while admitting that print distribution might be a problem, he too almost signed with Amazon. “We very nearly came to an agreement…Getting into bookstores has never been my primary goal. My primary goal is to make my story available to readers, and increasingly, this is by getting my books into their living rooms via Kindle and on their front stoops in those smiley-face boxes.”

But the article makes clear that with physical bookstores still making up nearly 25% of all book sales, other authors and agents may not yet be ready to give up on print distribution as of yet (as well as the easy discoverability that “real” books in “real” bookstores can provide).

“I think agents and authors already know Amazon can move copies,” Kate McKean, a literary agent at the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency. “That’s not the issue. Agents and authors still want to see physical books in bookstores.”

Does Amazon’s success give you pause for concern? Something that should be widely lauded? Or merely a surprise that it took this long for them to have such a significant hit?

Us, we’re just delighted that it was a translated series of books that got there first. Translated people…translated. Publishers, take notice!

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.