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On his blog today, Seth Godin announced his new publishing venture, The Domino Project. In the post he highlighted four factors that drive the traditional book publishing business model. Here’s an excerpt from the post:
Trade publishing (as opposed to textbooks or other non-consumer ventures) has always been about getting masses of people to know about, understand and read your books. The business has been driven by several foundational principles:
1. The middleman (the bookstore) has a great deal of power. There’s only a limited amount of shelf space, and there are more books (far more books) than we have room for. No display, no sale. That’s one reason books are published with the economically ridiculous model of 100% returns from bookstores. Huge stores can carry thousands of books and return them if they don’t sell. Large chains get a say about what’s on the cover, what the title is, and they even get paid for shelf displays.
2. The audience (the reader) is largely unknown to the publisher, and thus to the author. Authors with large followings still have to start over with each book, because they don’t have permission (or the data) to contact loyal readers directly.
3. Pricing and product are static and slow. Once a book is published, the price is set forever. Add to that the glacial speed from conception to publication date and you see a system that is set up to benefit neither the publisher nor the reader.
4. Books are inherently difficult to spread. The ideas in books might travel, but the act of recommending a book, having the idea stick and a new sale get made is slow or broken. Given how important the ideas in books are, this chain has many weak links. It’s worth rethinking how a publishing house could organize around its ultimate goal, which is to spread ideas.
If you’re a savvy author or indie publisher, these factors won’t be news to you. But it merits repeating the message that we live in an incredible time of change. Huge shifts in the way people create and consume books, music, film, games and other forms of entertainment and education will continue to take place.
If you sincerely have an interest in delivering your message to your ideal audience, you must be open to operating in new ways. You must embrace the latest tools, formats and avenues that will help your ideas spread.
Holding out hope that some outdated corporate entity will come along and do all the dirty work for you won’t serve you or your readers well.
Embrace the flow!