Amazon snags another book industry vet: Sara Nelson, former Publishers Weekly EIC

Just about a year after it hired publishing industry vet Larry Kirshbaum to launch a New York-based imprint and office, Amazon is announcing a new high-profile hire: Sara Nelson, the former books editor for Oprah’s “O” magazine and, before that, editor-in-chief of trade mag Publishers Weekly.

Fittingly, Publishers Weekly broke the news. Nelson will be Editorial Director, Books, leading Amazon’s “editorial vision” for print and e-books sold on Amazon. Publishers Weekly says she’ll “give a fresh look and voice to the books home page which may include writing a column and talking up books both on the site and at public events.”

Nelson was editor-in-chief of Publishers Weekly from 2005 to 2009. When the trade magazine hired her, she told the New York Times, “We need to make more use of the Web products to break news and impart information, and in the magazine there needs to be more analytical reporting on trends in the business.” Four years later, Nelson was laid off. The New York Observer called the news “shocking” and wrote, “Ms. Nelson has come to serve as something of a den mother for an industry that, on its worst days, seems to be crumbling. Her ubiquity on panels dedicated to the future of books and her largely unflappable public optimism about the health of the business has made her one of publishing’s most visible cheerleaders.”

Now Nelson will serve as cheerleader for a company that many in the traditional book publishing industry regard as largely responsible for the crumbling of that business. Amazon’s publishing deal with beloved librarian Nancy Pearl angered many in the library and independent bookselling community. Like Pearl, Nelson has served as a champion of books throughout her career. In addition to her roles at PW and Oprah, she published “So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading” in 2003 and has written about the publishing industry for outlets like the Observer, Wall Street Journal and Huffington Post.

After Nelson headed to Oprah’s “O” Magazine as books editor in September 2009, she told USA Today, “Hard bargains will have to be struck, but in the end, readers will win. Over time, the more readers you can create and nurture, the better…no matter the format.” If some critics consider Nelson’s move a bargain with the devil, it’s undeniable that her new position will put her in touch with plenty of readers to create and nurture — undoubtedly many more than she reached through “O” magazine, whose circulation newsstand sales have plunged in recent months following the ending of Oprah’s talk show.