Friday, September 25, 2009

Seth Godin: Rethinking the Publishing Industry

The following was written by Eugene Schwartz who sat next to me at yesterday's meet-up and took better notes than I.

Publishers need to develop their own “tribal” networks to reach readers to whom they will be selling books in the new marketing environment. It is a concept that applies to authors, agents and anyone in the business who wants efficiently to create a market for their work. The old way of waiting for the publisher to promote the work is becoming ineffectual.

This was Seth Godin’s message at a Brown Bag lunch sponsored by the Digital Publishing Group (founded by Susan Danziger of Daily Lit) and held at the Random House building in New York. Godin is author of ten best-selling books including Permission Marketing and Purple Cow. He is the founder of the interest community “lens” builder, and former vice president of direct marketing at Yahoo.

Preaching revolution in the master’s den so to speak, Godin advised the more than 150 largely mainstream publishing house staffers that if they want to advance into the future and their employers didn’t see the light, they should put in the sweat labor in their off hours to demonstrate to their employers the efficacy of building social network followings centered around themes and/or authors. And if this didn’t do the trick, there would be something to be said for leaving and finding – or starting – another venture that understood where the future lies.

Publishers need to recognize that many of the production, marketing and distribution skill sets which authors relied on them for in the past are easily available to the authors themselves as well as to startup publishers by other means. The publisher’s value proposition needs to be reinvented in that light. Godin made the comparison to the music industry, “Music hasn’t gone away, but the old music industry has.”

According to Godin there is a five year window of opportunity for the industry to reshape itself to the new realities: readers can find advance information about any book on line before they buy it, and they will respond to free previews – or even free whole books – by buying more printed works or eBooks. It is in the next five years, he believes, that tribal franchises will be defined and won.

You build this tribe and the right to promote new books to them by gaining their permission through the prior interest you have generated by generous access to content and experiences that draw them to your site and your mailing list.

“If you have people’s attention, you can make money,” Godin declared. You start promoting your new book well before it is written by using the internet through blogging, hosting content-driven sites, and social networking to accumulate a tribal following. When to start promoting? “Five years ahead of time,” he suggested, underscoring the point.

The major error being made by established publishers (and agents and authors I would add) using conventional business models, Godin says, is to see new technology and the internet as a way to make old business models work better instead of as an opportunity to destroy (no sentimentality here) and reinvent the old. Strong medicine, imho – but true. Hard to conceive of at a meeting on the 44th floor of the Random House building – although we can take comfort that at least the building will survive in its present form.

-- Eugene G. Schwartz

Gene Schwartz is currently launching a new web service for authors named WorthyShorts.

1 comment:

Dan Holloway said...

Great post Eugene. I have no doubt whatsoever that they'll igniore Seth just like they've been ignoring the rest of us saying the same thing for a while now.

And the answer is in five years' time some of them will wake up, look around, and wonder what happened. And the answer is that "what happened" is authors realised they didn't need publishers.

It's funny, the whole "tribal" thing is all the rage right now - I see Jonathan Fields has been proclaiming it recently (in his own rather delightful way) as well. It's actually the oldest idea in the book - go out, do your thing, engage the people, make them clamour for you - it's at least as old as Pericles.

And what publishers lack is historical persopective. In the olden days, anyone could do it - you simply got on your horse, moved to the neighbouring town, and did your charismatic thing. It's only for a brief few centuries that publishers and middlemen have got in the way (basically as a result fo naval meracntilism). All the Web has done is returned us to the olden days and let the people with talent set up their stall. It's the same as storytelling in general - print and the idea of preserving a story in fixed form are rather new and brief ideas. The Web has just returned us to the days of the campfire and narrative community.

The lie the "industry" tells about "their way" is that it's always been so. Truth is, it hasn't. The difference now is that whilst in the old days, tehy sacred the authors into thinking we needed them, now the only people they're convincnig is themselves. And it'll be the end of them.