The Domino Project is a new way to think about publishing. Founded by Seth Godin, we're trying to change the way books are built, sold and spread. Find out more about our mission here.

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October 2, 2014
by seth godin

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I’ve explored a variety of ways to get to market with the books I’ve created over the last thirty years. I’ve self-published, worked with most of the major NY publishing houses, did a partnership with Barnes and Noble and another with Amazon… All as a way to solve the problem of discovery. How do we get books into the hands of people who want to read them?

Tomorrow, I’m launching a new book, and I thought I’d explain some of my thinking about my approach and the format.

Looking at my personal book consumption as well as what I hear from readers, I’m seeing that people are getting ever more impatient about the traditional format we expect from books… more than I would have guessed. If you’re reading an ebook, there’s a huge temptation to skip to the next book on your device, or if it’s an iPad, to check your incoming email and then down the rabbit hole. We tap our foot while reading, rushing the author to get to the good part, fast.

Words on paper still have impact, but again, I’m seeing more people who would rather read a tweet (“a guy hunts a whale”) about a book than work their way through it.

Since my last book (two years ago), I’ve wondered a lot about what sort of book would be worth the journey. After all, through this and my main blog, I can reach more people with an idea than a book ever could. What’s the point of all the scarcity and printing and risk if it’s not going to engage people? We write books to make a difference, to spread an idea, to educate… and if the format can’t do that, we should find a new way.

My new book, What to Do When It’s Your Turn, is in a totally new format, for me and for most authors and readers. It’s printed in full color, heavily illustrated and in quality-magazine format. New digital presses from Heidelberg permit an individual to be able to do long or short runs in this format.

But the discovery issue still remains. So I’m hoping you will consider taking a chance as I ask my core fans to sign up for a pre-order of multiple copies. Three or eight or even more copies, the first off the press, sold at a radical discount, to readers who also become passionate distributors. Fans who will hand-’sell’ the book to colleagues and friends. Individuals who will use them to teach or inspire, to get everyone on the same page. Horizontal movement, side to side, person to person, not top down.

I wrote the book as a tool for people who want to help other people change.

We see this happen in digital media daily. An idea we believe in, a change we’d like to see, arrives and we share it, hoping to spread the word. I’d like to replicate that, but with the power of print.

I’m doing a pre-launch now because I’m trying to print the right number of copies (but not too many) and then, in December, we can simultaneously discuss the book widely. At that point, like all books, it’s on its own.

August 13, 2013
by seth godin

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ACT 1: The Book of the Month Club.

After World War II, a wealthier, better educated country started engaging in more culture, more often, in a more widespread way. We were more likely to watch the same movies, more likely to listen to more music, and much more likely to want to read the books others were reading. Paperback books really came into their own, making reading portable and cheap, and the Book of the Month Club began to dominate.

It’s difficult for us to imagine just how influential the board of the Club was. If they picked a book to be a main selection, it would be read, by default, by millions of people, discussed at the dinner table and at bridge club and instantly become part of the dominant culture.

This doesn’t have a lot to do with bookstores, except for the fact that as the Club faded due to the long tail of choice and the fracturing of the monoculture, the stores were there to pick up the slack.

ACT II: The magic of the dominant bestsellers.

Here’s the magic formula for a successful bookstore industry: Every month, a few new hardcover books are hand-sold, recommended by the local store. A few catch on and become bestsellers. Within its own cultural pocket, each book becomes a must-read, with the only source being the full-price local bookstore. The result? With a 40% profit margin and full return privileges, the local store can thrive. They don’t need to carry every book, just the books that sell. And in the early 1960s, it wasn’t unusual for a book to be a bestseller for a year or more.

ACT III: The New York Times bestseller list and Barnes and Noble end this magic moment

The insight was pretty clever—give up the juicy margins on the bestsellers and make up the profits in volume. Barnes and Noble had more inventory than just about any independent bookstore, but they needed traffic. So, they announced that if a book made the Times list, they’d sell it at 40% off (basically, at their cost).

This was a nuclear bomb for the independent seller. Suddenly, their core source of profit was in danger. Barnes and Noble was able to make juicy profits on the other stuff you’d buy in the store, and aided by the Times list, they bifurcated the market. Most people, most of the time, bought only the books on the bestseller list (the average American was buying and reading just a few books a year), but that’s okay if you’re the dominant player in a given town.

Harry Potter was the last gasp for many independents. They made that book happen, following their tried and true hand-selling approach. The word of mouth kicked in just as it was supposed to. With a profit margin of $6 or more on every book sold, the upside was nearly a hundred million dollars—but they got almost none of that, because Barnes & Noble (and the big box stores, which stole their strategy) sucked all the profit out of the bestsellers.

My mom used to run the independent bookstore she helped build at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo. I met sales reps when they came to our house for dinner, and saw the workings of what we think of as the ideal bookstore. Even during the pre-Amazon days, this was never a good business–without bestsellers sold at full price (and how many art books become bestsellers) it’s almost impossible to sell enough volume to make a small bookstore work.

THE END: Amazon and infinite selection, better service, more information and better prices, too

If you love books, it’s hard to see Amazon as a villain. More books sold to more people for more reasons than any other retailer in history. More cross-selling, hand-selling and up-selling too. The web pages of Amazon, on average, are better informed than many bookstore clerks.

Before Amazon and the web, we were on track for the bestseller inventory to totally dominate bookselling. Wal-Mart and Price Club and B&N had figured out how to dump huge quantities of certain books at really low prices, and there was pressure to avoid the long tail, and to guard shelf space zealously. I was new to the book world then, and there was just huge pressure to be on the right side of the bestseller line–everything else didn’t matter. Amazon fixed this, by embracing the long tail and carrying everything. If you love books, Amazon was a dream come true.

But if you love bookstores, Amazon is the final nail. In fact, it was the clumping the Times enabled, combined with the discounting that B&N started that did the stores in, but Amazon’s work in getting more books to more people meant that the discounts and selection they brought to readers removed the last bit of opportunity the stores had left.

Great independent bookstores deserve to thrive, and I hope they will. But they won’t thrive as local substitutes for Amazon. They will make it if they become hubs, connectors and gift shops. The book-as-gift concept is just now entering an important stage, and we don’t have to dumb down our local store to get there. More important, though, is the idea of a local place where smart people go to meet each other and the ideas they care about. We shouldn’t have that because it’s the last chance of the local bookstore, we should have that because it’s worth doing.

Vilifying Amazon, though, makes no sense. More people can read and write more books today (ebook and print) than at any other time in history.

I miss the magic of the local bookstore, but I would miss books more.

Does Kickstarter work as a platform for books?

Those that have been following along have seen the Kickstarter posts I did here, here and here. Feel free to go catch up, I’ll wait… THE THEORY: The hardest part of book publishing is getting the first 10,000 copies of a book read. After that, the book either resonates or it doesn’t. It’s talked about, [...]

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Voting for a winner

The single most fascinating Kickstarter stat is this: The odds of succeeding with your campaign are ten times higher once you reach about half of your goal. While this is somewhat self-fulfilling (only popular campaigns get that far anyway), it actually points to an irrational part of human nature: we don’t want to back a [...]

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When you focus on what’s being removed, it’s easier to understand the revolution

We remove shelf space as a limiting factor in books. We remove the cost of polycarbonate as a cost factor in CDs. We remove paper as an expense in magazines. We remove the number of channels as a limiter in the broadcast of TV. These are not small changes. These are revolutionary shifts in what’s [...]

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Confusing media with messages

Yesterday’s post about the halfway mark got a few responses from people who thought I was selling books short. “There has not ever been, nor will there ever be, a “halfway point” for cultural achievements,” one wrote. Let me try again, with more detail. We can probably all agree that more than half of the [...]

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And then what happens?

What happens when we reach the halfway point, when most of the great books have already been published?  Just as most of the great TV shows have probably already been made, and most of the great classical music recordings have already been recorded. Golden ages don’t last forever, and it’s entirely possible that we’ve reached [...]

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The power of simultaneous action

In 1776, the USA was more than 40 days across. It took over a month to ride on a horse from one end to the other. Today, it takes less than a second. And yet just about all of our systems are built around the slow build, the slow transfer of information and the slow [...]

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Kindle data progress four years later…

I’ve written a few posts about how I’d maximize the value of e-readers. Here’s the first and the second. Four years later, one of the things I’ve been agitating for–using the knowledge of how much time people spend reading a book and how many finish it–is starting to become real. Phil found this article in [...]

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Watching the price of media fall

I did a show at the NBC headquarters in NY a few weeks ago. I’m guessing that it costs them about $6,000 a minute to make a news show in the studio. That counts the painters, the set guys, the three camera operators and their assistants, the lighting guys, the producer, the executive producer, the [...]

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