Updated at 2:12 p.m. ET on August 9, 2019.
Have you read Victoria Helen Stone’s False Step? No? Surprising, given that it’s a best seller, and that you clicked on an article about books and publishing—I thought you were more widely read. Surely you’ve at least gotten through Loreth Anne White’s The Dark Bones? Julianne MacLean’s A Fire Sparkling? Claire McGowan’s What You Did?
No? Each of these books beat out Where the Crawdads Sing, then the No. 1 New York Times best-selling novel, on Amazon Charts—which lists the most-read and most-sold books of the week—in recent months.* Each one is a bright star in the self-contained, lucrative universe of ebooks. And each one was published by Amazon Publishing, a subsidiary of the store we already buy everything else from.
Founded in 2009, Amazon Publishing is far from the tech giant’s best-known enterprise, but it is a quietly consequential piece of the company’s larger strategy to become a one-stop shop for all your consumer decisions. As Amazon Studios does with movies, Amazon Publishing feeds the content pipelines created by the tech giant’s online storefront and Amazon Prime membership program. At its most extreme, Amazon Publishing is a triumph of vertical engineering: If a reader buys one of its titles on a Kindle, Amazon receives a cut both as publisher and as bookseller—not to mention whatever markup it made on the device in the first place, as well as the amortized value of having created more content to draw people into its various book-subscription offerings. (One literary agent summed it up succinctly to The Wall Street Journal in January: “They aren’t gaming the system. They own the system.”)