Seth Godin

The real threat to (big time) book publishing

12 May 2012

From Seth Godin:

The people who run the big publishing houses feel threatened by Amazon and by ebooks and by pricing and by the death of chain bookstores, not to mention the Justice Department.

All of these are contributors to the future, but they cloud the core issue.

The narrative of their fear is that book publishing will be just like it is now, but with lower prices and just one or two stores.

. . . .

In the book case, the disruptive innovation isn’t a huge retailer or even lower prices, the disruptive innovation is the long tail of boundless inventory. Scarcity of selection combined with scarcity due to the marginal cost of each unit have disappeared.

Every single day, hundreds of millions of people read something that the big book publishers and the big magazine publishers didn’t publish. This is astonishing–just 30 years ago, if you read something that wasn’t a newspaper, it was probably published by someone like Time Inc or Simon & Schuster. It was a scarce object, one that you paid for and probably went to a special place to get.

. . . .

Today, of course, that special place is your laptop or your tablet. And you’re reading blogs (like this one) or tweets or updates or rants or pdfs or ebooks that were never vetted or curated or approved or processed by one of these legacy intermediaries.

The big guys turn up their noses at this content. They don’t give a Pulitzer for independent bloggers. The Times bestseller list tries hard not to count self-published ebooks. The discussions at industry cocktail parties have almost nothing to do with what masses of people (rebar!) are reading all day.

And now the market is moving up a notch, from blogs to ebooks. Suddenly, self-published ebooks are taking more and more time off the table, more and more money from the pockets of readers. And none of that is vetted or curated or approved or processed by one of these legacy intermediaries.

Link to the rest at The Domino Project

Piracy? You wish.

27 April 2012

From Seth Godin:

Publishers are spending a lot of time debating DRM on ebooks. Many of the powers that be are worried about piracy, they say, and they are resolute in making sure that there are locks on the books they publish.

. . . .

For me, though, the interesting notion is of book piracy itself.

How many more people would prefer a hard drive full of 10,000 songs to one with 10,000 books on it? We’re hungry for one and sort of unaware altogether of the possibility of the other. What would you even do with 10,000 books?

Software is pirated because in just a few minutes, the user saves a hundred or a thousand dollars, and feels okay about it because software seems unreasonably expensive to some.

. . . .

Books are free at the library but there’s no line out the door. Books are free to read in comfortable couches at Barnes & Noble but there aren’t teeming crowds sitting around reading all day.

Books take a long time to read, require a significant commitment, and they’re relatively cheap. And most people don’t read for fun. Most of the inputs necessary for a vibrant piracy community are missing.

As Tim O’Reilly famously said, books don’t have a piracy problem. They have an obscurity problem.

. . . .

[I]n the long tail world, overcoming obscurity is the single biggest hurdle. If only piracy was a problem…

Link to the rest at The Domino Project

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

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