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Larry Kirshbaum to Leave Amazon Publishing in Early 2014

[Updated to include Amazon’s confirmation of story to Publishers Weekly.]

Two and a half years after recruiting a high-profile industry veteran and launching a general trade book publishing operation, Amazon is dramatically scaling back its publishing ambitions,  Shelf Awareness reports:

“Shelf Awareness has learned that Larry Kirshbaum, editorial head of the company’s New York and Seattle adult imprints and children’s publishing, is leaving the company early next year and returning to agenting. In connection with his departure, the most ambitious part of Amazon’s publishing operations will be scaled back. Already several editorial people have left or been let go, and Amazon has not been a factor in bidding on major books the way it had been just two years ago.”

The story does not cite a source for the information. But the company confirmed Kirshbaum’s departure to Publishers Weekly:

“An Amazon spokesperson credited Kirshbaum with being instrumental in launching its New York office, including its New Harvest partnership and establishing its children’s book business. ‘We’re sorry to see him go, and wish him the best of luck as he returns to life as a literary agent,’ the spokesperson said.”

 Shelf Awareness also reports that Amazon:

“Will continue with its more specialized publishing imprints, such as Thomas & Mercier, which publishes mysteries and thrillers, the sci-fi and fantasy imprint 47North and Montlake Romance.”

Amazon’s downsized publishing plans will surely be welcome news for both publishers anxious about the etailer’s increasing dominance over the book business and bricks-and-mortar booksellers who have balked at the thought of selling titles from a competitor they consider ruthless. While some retailers have refused to carry Amazon books altogether, others have stocked but not promoted the titles.

Many agents have been equally unenthusiastic about Amazon’s attempt to establish a big publishing presence. Though perhaps none have been as outspoken as top literary agent Andrew Wylie, who talked about Amazon’s “lack of success with authors” in an interview with the New Republic earlier this month:

“I think that Napoleon was a terrific guy before he started crossing national borders. Over the course of time, his temperament changed, and his behavior was insensitive to the nations he occupied

Through greed—which it sees differently, as technological development and efficiency for the customer and low price, all that—[Amazon] has walked itself into the position of thinking that it can thrive without the assistance of anyone else. That is megalomania.”

Amazon may be downsizing its publishing operations, but its sales and stock price continue to soar. Its third quarter financial results, released yesterday, showed sales increased 24% to $17.09 billion, as operating loss fell to $25 million compared with $28 million during the same period last year. The news has sent Amazon’s share price up nearly 9% this morning, to more than $361.