Is Tor Books seeking to become the Amazon of science fiction and fantasy?

tor books storeThe publisher has launched an online book store that aims to sell competitors’ products and its site has championed authors published by other imprints

Pablo Defendini, the web producer for Tor.com, said that above all else he is “publisher agnostic.” Tor Books launched its new site — part social network, part blog, part online magazine — last year and saw an immediate explosion of traffic after hundreds of fan blogs linked to it. Tor is arguably the largest science fiction and fantasy publisher in the US, but with this new launch it was evident that it wanted to be something more, a kind of hub for the entire fan community. It published new professional short fiction and comics every month and invited a number of well known bloggers to write for the site.

But though many predicted that the site would be a “loss leader” for Tor titles, the site has heavily promoted the work of authors from other publishers, inviting them to blog or contribute fiction. So when it was announced recently that Tor would be launchingits own online book store, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that not only Tor titles would be carried.

“We’ve had great participation from other houses in terms of editors from other imprints blogging on our site and talking about their own books and other books, and it’s been very positive,” Defendini told me in a phone interview. “And we realized that we should probably put up a book store because people were really asking for it and we really wanted to bring that same welcoming attitude to the store. and so that’s in effect what we’ve done.”

He said that Tor approached just about every science fiction publisher imaginable — big and small — to include them, and since announcing the launch he has been approached by several others.

Tor will be able to leverage the community of its site that it launched last year to promote books from the store, but Defendini was hesitant to consider the site a “loss leader.” He said that he doesn’t think of the site as primarily a promotional tool for Tor titles.

But still, one can’t help but note that playing host to a fan community should have enormous benefits for the host. There has been some evidence that some Tor titles saw increases in sales after the publisher released them as free ebooks, and Defendini said there have been anecdotal incidents when it was obvious that the site had turned on fans to new authors.

Tor is working with Ingram to distribute the books that it sells through its store. Though Tor isn’t offering ebook versions of the books yet, it plans to do so soon.

“We’re dead-set on getting this as right as we possibly can: we want to sell you ebooks that are a pleasure to read, are useful and hassle-free to manage, and we want to sell them to you in a way that is as simple and as unencumbered by technology as we can possibly make it,” Defendini wrote in a blog post. “As an ebook reader, these are headaches I’m all too familiar with, and I have no desire to enable them further. So it’s taking us a bit longer than the print store, but I’m happy to announce that we’ll soon also make ebooks available for sale, and in keeping with the spirit of Tor.com, the ebook store will carry titles from all SF/F publishers as well.”