Seth Godin

The biggest problem facing book publishing

16 April 2012

From Seth Godin:

…has nothing to do with the Justice Department or agency pricing.

No, the challenge the big book publishers are facing is that a perfect industry is being replaced by one filled with chaos and opportunity.


Limited shelf space plus limited competitors plus well-understood cost of creation and production meant that stability reigned. The industry was polished and understood.

. . . .

Revolutions enable the impossible at the same time they destroy the perfect. There’s entirely too much handwringing about how the perfect book industry is no more. That’s true. It’s no longer perfect. What’s happening now, though, is the impossible.

If the companies (and the people who work for them) are going to be in this business just five years from now, they will only thrive if they understand that an entirely new business model will have to be built and understood. And it will have nothing whatsoever to do with paper. It will be about ideas.

Which is what book publishing was supposed to be about all along, right?

Link to the rest at The Domino Project

Is everyone entitled to their opinion?

9 April 2012

From Seth Godin:

Is everyone entitled to their opinion?

Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean we need to pay the slightest bit of attention.

There are two things that disqualify someone from being listened to:

1. Lack of Standing. If you are not a customer, a stakeholder or someone with significant leverage in spreading the word, we will ignore you. And we should.

When you walk up to an artist and tell her you don’t like her painting style, you should probably be ignored. If you’ve never purchased expensive original art, don’t own a gallery and don’t write an influential column in ArtNews, then by all means, you must be ignored.

. . . .

2. No Credibility. An opinion needs to be based on experience and expertise. I know you don’t like cilantro, but whether or not you like it is not extensible to the population at large. On the other hand, if you have a track record of matching the taste sensibility of my target market, then I very much want to hear what you think.

People with a history of bad judgment, people who are quick to jump to conclusions or believe in unicorns or who have limited experience in the market–these people are entitled to opinions, but it’s not clear that the creator of the work needs to hear them.

Link to the rest at Seth’s Blog

To be clear, Passive Guy is posting this to help steel authors to lots of self-interested, short-sighted and ill-informed opinions floating through the book business air these days.

PG is definitely not suggesting that opinions of all sorts are not welcome on The Passive Voice. Barring personal attacks, feel free to opine.

ʎssǝɯ os ʇou sı lɐʇıƃıp

20 March 2012

From Seth Godin:

It’s a mistake to believe that messiness is always a bad thing. The organic feng shui of the real world gives us comfort, it makes things feel real or special or treasured.

Link to the rest at Seth’s Blog

Seth Godin on Libraries, Literary Agents and the Future of Book Publishing as We Know It

7 March 2012

From Digital Book World, an interview with Seth Godin:

Rivera: Forrester recently reported that they foresee a drastic drop in book print sales by 2013. What do you envision the book publishing industry looking like in 3-5 years?

Well, in general, I disagree with Forrester just about always. In this case, though, even Gutenberg can see what’s happening (and he’s dead). The thing to understand about trade publishing is that the vast percentage of profits come from backlist sales of print books. When those disappear (or diminish), the entire industry teeters.

I think we’re going to see consolidation, fire sales, layoffs and a lot of uncomfortableness … Not happy, but true.

Rivera: When do you see the book publishing industry being completely unrecognizable as we have come to know it? What will it look like instead?

Godin: Big advances for midlist authors are the first to go. Second: all the hard-working people in the book production chain, because the lack of scarcity makes it hard to pay them to do the work they do. Mostly, though, I think it’s a fading of the power of a published book to influence the conversation. When anyone can publish an ebook, anyone will.

Rivera: The role of literary agents has changed in the last few years and it’s changing even more. What can literary agents do right now so that they remain apart of the equation instead of lost in the digital eBook dust?

I’d start by redefining what you do. I don’t think the goal of the agent is to maximize the size of the advance (which is what it was, as evidenced by what agents talked about and how they got paid). I think the goal going forward is to represent every element of an author’s impact on the world, including their permission asset, the way they build a following, the approach to building a tribe.

. . . .

Rivera: Many authors hear your message about being willing to give away their books for free, or to focus on spreading their message but their question is: “I’ve got rent to pay so how do I turn that into cash money?”

Who said you have a right to cash money from writing? I gave hundreds of speeches before I got paid to write one. I’ve written more than 4000 blog posts for free.

Poets don’t get paid (often), but there’s no poetry shortage. The future is going to be filled with amateurs, and the truly talented and persistent will make a great living. But the days of journeyman writers who make a good living by the word–over.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

Who Decides What Gets Sold In the Bookstore?

1 March 2012

From Seth Godin via The Huffington Post:

We can probably agree that the local supermarket has no moral or ethical or business obligation to sell cherry-flavored Cap’n Crunch. If the owner doesn’t like cherries, she doesn’t have to sell them.

And the cereal maker shouldn’t work under the assumption that every store that sells food will necessarily carry the Cap’n, even on special order.

But what about books?

There’s been a long history of ubiquity at the bookstore. With a few extreme exceptions, just about every book is available at every bookstore if you’re willing to order it. Universal availability feels like part of the contract we make with bookstores-we expect them to sell everything. In the digital world, this goes triple, because there’s no issue of shelf space to deal with.

I just found out that Apple is rejecting my new manifesto Stop Stealing Dreams and won’t carry it in their store because inside the manifesto are links to buy the books I mention in the bibliography.

. . . .

I think that Amazon and Apple and B&N need to take a deep breath and make a decision on principle: what’s inside the book shouldn’t be of concern to a bookstore with a substantial choke on the marketplace. If it’s legal, they ought to let people read it if they choose to. A small bookstore doesn’t have that obligation, but if they’re seeking to be the one and only, if they have a big share of the market, then they do, particularly if they’re integrating the device into the store. I also think that if any of these companies publish a book, they ought to think really hard before they refuse to let the others sell it.

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post and thanks to Patricia for the tip.

Music Lessons

17 February 2012

From Seth Godin who suggests publishing might be substituted for music:

1. Past performance is no guarantee of future success
Every single industry changes and, eventually, fades. Just because you made money doing something a certain way yesterday, there’s no reason to believe you’ll succeed at it tomorrow.

The music business had a spectacular run alongside the baby boomers. Starting with the Beatles and Dylan, they just kept minting money. The co-incidence of expanding purchasing power of teens along with the birth of rock, the invention of the transistor and changing social mores meant a long, long growth curve.

As a result, the music business built huge systems. They created top-heavy organizations, dedicated superstores, a loss-leader touring industry, extraordinarily high profit margins, MTV and more. It was a well-greased system, but the key question: why did it deserve to last forever?

It didn’t. Yours doesn’t either.

. . . .

2. Copy protection in a digital age is a pipe dream
If the product you make becomes digital, expect that the product you make will be copied.

There’s a paradox in the music business that is mirrored in many industries: you want ubiquity, not obscurity, yet digital distribution devalues your core product.

. . . .

5. A frightened consumer is not a happy consumer.
I shouldn’t have to say this, but here goes: suing people is like going to war. If you’re going to go to war with tens of thousands of your customers every year, don’t be surprised if they start treating you like the enemy.

6. This is a big one: The best time to change your business model is while you still have momentum.
It’s not so easy for an unknown artist to start from scratch and build a career self-publishing. Not so easy for her to find fans, one at a time, and build an audience. Very, very easy for a record label or a top artist to do so. So, the time to jump was yesterday. Too late. Okay, how about today?

The sooner you do it, the more assets and momentum you have to put to work.

Link to the rest at Seth’s Blog

When the world changes…

18 January 2012

From Seth Godin:

It’s painful, expensive, time-consuming, stressful and ultimately pointless to work overtime to preserve your dying business model.

All the lobbying, the lawsuits, the ad campaigns and most of all, the hand-wringing, aren’t going to change anything at all. In fact, instead of postponing the outcome you fear, they probably accelerate it.

Link to the rest at Seth’s Blog

Advice for authors

9 January 2012

From Seth Godin’s old posts:

[From six years ago]

Always beware free advice. It is worth what it costs!

That said, I get a fair number of notes from well respected, intelligent people who are embarking on their first non-fiction book project. They tend to ask very similar questions, so I thought I’d go ahead and put down my five big ideas in one place to make it easier for everyone.

I guarantee you that you won’t agree with all of them, but, as they say, your mileage may vary.

1. Please understand that book publishing is an organized hobby, not a business.
The return on equity and return on time for authors and for publishers is horrendous. If you’re doing it for the money, you’re going to be disappointed.

On the other hand, a book gives you leverage to spread an idea and a brand far and wide. There’s a worldview that’s quite common that says that people who write books know what they are talking about and that a book confers some sort of authority.

2. The timeframe for the launch of books has gone from silly to unrealistic.
When the world moved more slowly, waiting more than a year for a book to come out was not great, but tolerable. Today, even though all other media has accelerated rapidly, books still take a year or more. You need to consider what the shelf life of your idea is.

3. There is no such thing as effective book promotion by a book publisher.
This isn’t true, of course. Harry Potter gets promoted. So did Freakonomics. But out of the 75,000 titles published last year in the US alone, I figure 100 were effectively promoted by the publishers. This leaves a pretty big gap.

This gap is either unfilled, in which case the book fails, or it is filled by the author. Here’s the thing: publishing a book is really nothing but a socially acceptable opportunity to promote yourself and your ideas far and wide and often.

If you don’t promote it, no one will. If you don’t have a better strategy than, “Let’s get on Oprah” you should stop now. If you don’t have an asset already–a permission base of thousands or tens of thousands of people, a popular blog, thousands of employees, a personal relationship with Willard Scott… then it’s too late to start building that asset once you start working on a book.

By the way, blurbs don’t sell books. Not really. You can get all the blurbs in the world for your book and it won’t help if you haven’t done everything else (quick aside: the guy who invented the word “blurb” also wrote the poem Purple Cow).

. . . .

[From five years ago]

It happened again. There I was, meeting with someone who I thought had nothing to do with books or publishing, and it turns out his new book just came out.

With more than 75,000 books published every year (not counting ebooks or blogs), the odds are actually pretty good that you’ve either written a book, are writing a book or want to write one.

Hence this short list:

1. Lower your expectations. The happiest authors are the ones that don’t expect much.

2. The best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out. Three years to build a reputation, build a permission asset, build a blog, build a following, build credibility and build the connections you’ll need later.

. . . .

7. Think really hard before you spend a year trying to please one person in New York to get your book published by a ‘real’ publisher. You give up a lot of time. You give up a lot of the upside. You give up control over what your book reads like and feels like and how it’s promoted. Of course, a contract from Knopf and a seat on Jon Stewart’s couch are great things, but so is being the Queen of England. That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen to you. Far more likely is that you discover how to efficiently publish (either electronically or using POD or a small run press) a brilliant book that spreads like wildfire among a select group of people.

8. Your cover matters. Way more than you think. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t need a book… you could just email people the text.

9. If you have a ‘real’ publisher (#7), it’s worth investing in a few things to help them do a better job for you. Like pre-editing the book before you submit it. Like putting the right to work on the cover with them in the contract. And most of all, getting the ability to buy hundreds of books at cost that you can use as samples and promotional pieces.

. . . .

17. Publishing a book is not the same as printing a book. Publishing is about marketing and sales and distribution and risk. If you don’t want to be in that business, don’t! Printing a book is trivially easy. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not. You’ll find plenty of printers who can match the look and feel of the bestselling book of your choice for just a few dollars a copy. That’s not the hard part.

18. Bookstores, in general, are run by absolutely terrific people. Bookstores, in general, are really lousy businesses. They are often where books go to die. While some readers will discover your book in a store, it’s way more likely they will discover the book before they get to the store, and the store is just there hoping to have the right book for the right person at the time she wants it. If the match isn’t made, no sale.

Link to the rest at The Domino Project

Rethinking the bestseller list

8 January 2012

From Seth Godin:

A year ago, I explained why the Domino Project chose to reject the very broken, easily gamed New York Times bestseller list.

Many authors and some publishers bend over backwards, changing every element of their business just to get on the list, in the mistaken belief that it still matters. It doesn’t, because shelf space and discount decisions aren’t based on the list the way they used to be. Add to this the fact that recent additions to the list (it now takes up many, many pages each week) have made it almost impossible to read and understand.

The key question is this: what is the list for?

If you’re a publisher, what you care about is how many books you sold last week. This isn’t based on category or format, you just want to know how many. Bookscan and other data sources tell you that.

For the rest of us, then, the reason we care if something is a bestseller is because we want to know if our friends are reading it. We want to know this so we can stay in sync with them, not appear stupid, or, perhaps, because we trust their judgment. That’s why you don’t care a bit about what the bestsellers in New Zealand are.

The digital world opens a new window, something that was unknowable just five years ago. Tell me what other TED attendees are reading, please. Tell me what readers of Mother Jones or Newsmax are reading. Or what my Facebook friends bought last week. Or highlight for me what people who read what I read are finishing on their Kindles…

Suddenly, there isn’t one bestseller list. There are a million. And almost all of them aren’t relevant to you. Except the few that are, and those lists are the lists that matter.

Link to the rest at The Domino Project

Why Are You Writing?

4 December 2011

From Seth Godin:

Back when the only way to get someone to read your work was to get them to actually buy your work first, a focus on selling and a focus on being read were the same thing.

Paper cost money. You need to sell the book if you want someone to read it, so feel free to spend all your time persuading people to buy it.

In the digital world, there’s a little bit of bluff calling going on. If the cost of delivering one more copy of the book is zero, then choosing to sell your work is optional. You might choose to work hard merely to get people to read your work, leaving money out of the equation.

. . . .

But the real question remains: are you writing to be read, or are you writing to get paid? They are becoming ever more divergent paths, with gradations ($6? $9?) in between.

(The most shocking example of this are the publishers and authors that oppose libraries and the lending of ebooks. In these cases, even though money was paid, they’re apparently against being read–even though there’s zero evidence that library reading hurts book sales.)

Link to the rest at The Domino Project

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