Amazon Acquires Avalon Books – What Next?

avalon Unless you’re a librarian, or a reader who checks out lots of genre fiction from your library, Avalon Books has probably flown under your radar. Avalon is a niche publisher specializing in the library market, selling hardcover genre fiction to libraries. Founded in 1950, they publish 60 books a year — romances, mysteries, and Westerns. The books range from 50,000 to 70,000 words, so they’re quite short — about the length of a category romance, although shorter than the average Harlequin Historical. In today’s world of publishing conglomerates, Avalon is — or was — a rarity, a family-owned publishing house. Also, until now, Avalon’s titles have not been available in eBook format, not even though libraries with digital lending system.

Now, that’s going to change. Avalon is in the news because Amazon is acquiring it. What does this mean for now? First, according to the Amazon press release, Avalon’s books will ” be available digitally for the first time.” Amazon has acquired the rights to over 3,000 titles — all romances, mysteries, and Westerns. On top of that, new Avalon titles will now be published under Amazon’s imprints.

One downside with Avalon’s old system is that Avalon titles are not sold in bookstores. You can buy them on Amazon and B&N, but as their hardbacks generally run around $24, most people aren’t going to take a chance on a new author. Although I’d heard of Avalon Books, I have never read any of their books, though others here at AAR have reviewed them. I know they sold primarily to libraries, but I didn’t know whether my library had any of their books until I checked the on-line catalog. Yes, my library has quite a few titles, and I’ve probably walked right past them while looking for something on my list. Next time I go to the library, I’ll be sure to look for them.

This could be great for readers looking for “wholesome” reads on Amazon. For everyone buying erotica for their Kindles, there are plenty of readers who want something “clean.” There are also readers who love erotica but who want to escape into clean books now and then. This might be good for these folks because Avalon’s guidelines are very strict about content. Their guidelines call for “no explicit sexual content or profanity in any of our novels” and stress heroes and heroines with “sound values.” According to the Avalon FAQ, “Sexual tension is fine but not more than a kiss or embrace is allowed.” Also, Avalon frowns on cursing and harsh language, as well as “sexy talk,” and asks that liquor be used minimally, if at all. Even in mysteries and Westerns, cursing is limited to “hell” and “damn,” and liquor use is to be kept to a minimum. This means that some of my favorite episodes of Gunsmoke might not make the cut because they often took place at the Long Branch Saloon. (And I’m sure Miss Kitty would not be allowed into the stories!)

With so many erotic romances on Amazon, will Amazon preserve Avalon’s guidelines? It’s too early to tell, but so far, that seems to be the plan. Philip Patrick, Amazon’s Director, Business Development, Rights and Licensing, said, “Avalon has a long tradition in publishing wonderful stories that affirm a positive way of life. None of these titles have been digitized yet and we know Kindle customers will delight in this great new offering.”

So Amazon makes out because they will have many more books to add to their content. Also, acquiring a company with a steady, long-term relationship with libraries will strengthen Amazon’s inroads into libraries and Kindle lending at libraries. Here’s hoping that readers looking for this type of story will now be able to find them more easily, maybe without stumbling across books they object to. If this acquisition makes it easier for people to find the books they want, I’m all for it. Sure, it’s also possible Amazon will start to change the guidelines. Again, only time will tell. If they do try to change the guidelines of such a long-established niche publisher, that should result in lots of angry (yet wholesomely written) letters from customers.

Of course, as usual, no one knows what the writers will feel. Many of them probably found out about the acquisition when we did. On June 4, a letter to Avalon authors from Ellen Mickelsen, the publisher of Avalon, was posted as a comment at The Passive Voice blog. Mickelsen asked other authors to pass on the letter because Avalon did not have e-mail addresses for all their authors. Also, authors with earlier contracts most likely did not sell their electronic rights to Avalon (as those contracts were written before eBooks), so whether or not those books ever become available in Kindle editions is still up in the air. According to the post on The Passive Voice blog, while some Avalon authors are upset about the acquisition, others are glad for the change as they had been trying to get Avalon to let them publish their books as eBooks for some time.

Now that Amazon has acquired Avalon, what will happen to other publishers similar to Avalon, such as Five Star Publishing, which also specializes in the library market? Will they be forced to seek out a buyer so that they can compete against Amazon? Or will they be forced to ride off into the sunset like a sad cowboy at the end of a wholesome Western?

– Anne Marble

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