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Tyndale Exec Turns Traitor?

Amazon jumps “all in” to Christian publishing

Publishers and wholesale distributors have a different relationship with Amazon than do the people serving in the trenches, the retailers. While bookstore frontliners regard Amazon as the threat to their future and therefore the enemy, on the distribution side the relationship is less sharply defined, ranging from ambivalent to those quite happy to allow Amazon to accelerate the process of natural selection so that unsustainable retail accounts can simply fall by the wayside.

tammy-faxelSo when the announcement includes a mention that a former director of New Business Development — there’s a clue right there — at Tyndale House for 22 years is heading up things at Amazon’s new Christian imprint, Waterfall, it’s easy to see how some Christian retailers might be left scratching their heads.  Tammy Faxel subsequently held similar positions at STL and the Oasis Audio, racking up a total of 30 years in traditional, old-school Christian publishing before moving to Brilliance, which will handle logistics for the in-house publishing division of Amazon.

That means that while the title of this article is deliberately meant to be provocative, it possibly defines how the primary audience for this channel — old-school retailers — would see it as an exception to the idea that the Amazon assault is being commanded by an army of industry invaders, not long-term insiders.

For these brick and mortar retailers, fraternization with the enemy is unacceptable, and anyone who has been at Tyndale or STL should know better, right? Well, not so fast. From a publisher or author’s agent viewpoint, you can’t live without Amazon, and exposure to the traditional paradigm of the past generations may only serve to highlight the need to be friendly to the beast. So since we don’t know Tammy personally, we’ll give her a pass, for now.

WaterfallLogoFor Amazon, this is nothing more than the next natural step. Christians, who are stereotypically frugal, have embraced the door-to-door, discount distributor and the company already has specific imprints for original titles in target markets. The Wall Street Journal reports, “Waterfall Press joins sister imprints 47North, AmazonCrossing, AmazonEncore, Amazon Publishing, Grand Harbor Press, Jet City Comics, Kindle Worlds, Lake Union, Little A, Montlake Romance, Skyscape, StoryFront, Thomas & Mercer, and Two Lions in the Amazon Publishing family.”  Grand Harbor Press is described as an “inspirational” book line and also works with Brilliance. Waterfall will eventually include fiction and non-fiction.

Still, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is an active lobbyist and donor for the gay marriage initiative, as we’ve covered here. If you were committed to the highest level Christian ethics in investing, you might not buy shares in the company, and if you were a dedicated, conservative Christian, you might reconsider where you do your shopping. However, as we’ve found firsthand, even if you share that information with conservative churches, bargain pricing and direct delivery have won them over, and online purchasing has become entrenched for pastors, children’s workers, and church librarians.

But the authors are more principled, right? It came as a bit of a surprise that among the initial stable of authors included in the Waterfall announcement was Mark Buchanan, who has previous titles with Thomas Nelson, Zondervan and Multnomah. But when you think about, each of those houses has what some pejoratively term “secular ownership,” with Nelson and Zondervan now part of NewsCorp, and Multnomah owned by Random House. Besides, Buchanan’s first title with the company is, for the time being, an audio product only, though two other titles this spring are also releasing in print.

And what about Random House? Waterfall is very close in sound to the company’s Waterbrook Press. Was there not another name on the short list? Waterfalls (plural) only occurs once in the NIV, in Psalm 42, and the context — “My soul is downcast..” — is rather depressing. Not exactly Biblical imagery.

As a category killer, Amazon is a lean, mean, bookstore-destroying machine, but now that they’re also a publisher, one we may have to learn to live with. Buchanan’s audio title is already listed at Ingram, so if you have a customer who wants it, or any other Waterfall title, you might just have to play the game. The new game.

The Waterfall announcement isn’t a really big deal. It doesn’t represent the kind of news we had when Simon & Schuster or Hachette announced forays into Christian publishing and took some high profile, A-list authors with them.

But it is highly symbolic.

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