Even Seth Godin Needs A Publisher

I’m a big fan of Godin’s writing, and have been in awe of the care and diligence with which he has built his audience over many years. When he announced that he was self-publishing his future books, it made sense to me. Very few authors have as powerful an ability to communicate directly to their market as Godin does.

Godin is always about pushing the envelope, so it’s not surprising that he had a few critiques of the way traditional publishing operates:

It’s filled with really smart people whom I like, who don’t get paid enough and do good work. The problem is that they think their customer is the bookstore.

The other problem is that bookstores demand a very slow cycle of a year to bring a book out, demand books that meet a certain expectation and demand full return privileges on those books. At the same time, that industry is stuck paying big advances to big-name authors, most of which lose money.

When you add all these together, you end up with an industry that has a lot less flexibility and doesn’t realize that its real job is bringing ideas that spread to people who want to hear them. If they embraced that as their job, I think the industry would do far better and the readers would benefit as well.

Godin did, it seemed to me, an excellent job of publishing his works, and those of some others, with a lot of help from Amazon. But in the end he decided that he really was better off with a traditional publisher. As the WSJ reports (courtesy of the Melville House blog):

After Mr. Godin left Portfolio in the summer of 2010, he launched a joint venture imprint with Amazon.com Inc. AMZN -0.95% called the Domino Project, which published a dozen titles. Among them was Mr. Godin’s “We Are All Weird,” which generated disappointing sales, results Mr. Godin later attributed to his own failure to aggressively promote the book. Late last year Mr. Godin called it quits, writing on his blog that the effort was “not a lifelong commitment to being a publisher of books.”

As for Portfolio, it believes that the early copies that Mr. Godin sold will generate wider consumer interest when the book is distributed to stores and online.

“Before we published ‘Purple Cow,’ Seth self-published it and sold 10,000 copies,” said Adrian Zackheim, Portfolio’s publisher. “It went on to sell hundreds of thousands of copies. The idea is that the core base will start talking about the book, and that will spread to non-core readers.”

I’ve always felt that there are some authors for whom self publishing is the right decision. But those that claim that self-publishing is a no-brainer are simply short-sighted. Even Seth Godin has come around to the view that traditional publishers, warts and all, do add value in the end.

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