Ferriss: Even if I sell a million Kindle books, some people will call it a failure

Tim Ferriss — the bestselling author of  The 4-Hour Workweek and The 4-Hour Body, both published by Random House’s Crown imprint — was the first author to sign up with Amazon’s New York publishing imprint, headed by publishing industry vet Larry Kirshbaum.

Amazon (s AMZN) will release Ferriss’s book on November 20, amid media coverage that the company probably isn’t thrilled about. Articles in Publishers Weekly, the Wall Street Journal and now the New York Times have focused on low print sales of Amazon NY’s first big title, Penny Marshall’s memoir My Mother Was Nuts, and bricks-and-mortar bookstores’ refusal to carry Amazon titles.

As Amazon attempts to sign big-name authors in the future, it will have to convince them that print distribution isn’t important. The 4-Hour Chef may be sold at few places other than Amazon. Barnes & Noble (s BKS), the largest bookstore chain in the U.S., won’t stock Amazon titles in its stores, and many independent bookstores refuse to do so as well. And while Amazon is making its New York titles available as ebooks to other retailers through distributor Ingram, few rivals are biting. The ebook edition of My Mother Was Nuts, for example, is for sale at Kobo but not at Google (s GOOG), Barnes & Noble’s Nook store or Apple’s (s AAPL) iBookstore.

Ferriss says he is not worried. He is cross-promoting The 4-Hour Chef, which Amazon will release on November 20, within his earlier two Crown titles. He announced on his blog today that the digital editions of The 4-Hour Workweek and 4-Hour Body will be updated with a sample chapter from The 4-Hour Chef, and The 4-Hour Chef will contain excerpts from the two earlier books.

“This is something that I effectively brokered. It made such straightforward business sense to cross-promote between the books,” Ferriss told me. He said it wasn’t hard to get Crown to agree to include the sample chapter of 4-Hour Chef in the earlier titles, though the Crown ebooks won’t include buy links back to Amazon.

Those articles, Ferriss told me, give the impression that he “didn’t know what he was getting into, and was very enthusiastic, and is now having second thoughts — which is completely, 100 percent inaccurate…I remain as enthusiastic and optimistic about this book as I was in the beginning.” People assume that success “means #1 New York Times bestseller,” he said. “I’ve never said that. I would love to have a #1 New York Times [bestseller], but the New York Times list skews heavily toward books that have reporting from multiple retail outlets. And therefore, I’m not pinning all of my hopes on the NYT list, nor did I ever do that. From the very first time that I considered working with Amazon, I had to come to terms with the fact that I might not sell print through retail.” On his blog, he writes, “Fiction: My goal is to have The 4-Hour Chef hit national bestseller lists. Fact: My goal is to have all three of my books on the lists at the same time.”

I asked Ferriss what he thinks about Barnes & Noble’s no-Amazon-books-in-stores policy — after all, the policy is partially having its intended effect at least in terms of media coverage like the articles I linked to above. “I’m not clear on what they are trying to prevent, or hoping to,” he said. “Do I blame them? No. If I were in their shoes, would I do the same thing? Maybe. I’m much more curious about what Barnes & Noble’s ten- to twenty-year plan is, as opposed to why they’re doing this with Amazon.”

When Ferriss originally signed up with Amazon, he expected “blowback” from the traditional publishing industry and retailers, he told me (and the NYT). “I’m very convinced this book will succeed in terms of the sheer number of units moved to readers,” he said. “I think it could sell as many [copies] or more than my previous two books. Am I going to have the same channels of distribution? No, I won’t, necessarily, because there are people who have blacklisted it…I think that no matter how well I do — even if I sell a million Kindle copies, for instance — there will be people in the book trade who call it a failure because they’re using different metrics.”

Photo courtesy of Flickr / Tim Ferriss