Amazon Press and Out of Copyright Classics

I've been a self-styled Amazon expert since the late 1990's, but somehow, I never got around to talking about the Amazon Press. I saw it on the radar for the first time today when browsing the top 100 e-books, noting that H.G. Wells "The Time Machine" was among them ($2.99), and was curious to see who had taken this out of copyright classic the e-book route. To my surprise, it was the Amazon Press, right down to the Amazon graphic on the standard cover template. Using the Amazon search page to search for books by the publisher "Amazon Press" brings up 3205 titles, some of which offer "Look Inside" or "Search Inside" another edition - meaning an edition by another publisher.

The newest publication date they show is November, 2001. Almost all of the titles were digitized in 2000 or 2001, 3009 of the 3205 that show up in the Amazon Press search. It makes me suspect that the other dates shown are just typos. I'm not sure if this means that Amazon is sure they've already digitized all of the classics with expired copyrights that have commercial value, or if it was a random process that they spent a year on and abandoned. My memory on this point isn't perfect, but it does seem to me I was aware of the new titles being added at the time, since it corresponds with when my interest in e-books was peaking. However, I couldn't find any stories on the web about the Amazon Press, so maybe it's been under the radar for five years.

Pretty much everybody who hears about e-books or print on demand for the first times immediately thinks, "I can publish out of copyright material and get rich!" Of course, you'd have to find a way to do it cheaper than Amazon, not to mention the freely available copies of many of these works at project Gutenberg. The real question is whether Amazon will leverage its recent acquisition of Booksurge to put the classic backlist digitized by the Amazon Press back into print. Now that they own the cow, the milking machine and the distribution, the economics would be interesting.

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