Book Publishing: A Faster, More Social Approach03/06/2011
Seth Godin's first book failed because of Vanna White.
My last book was crushed by George Bush and John Kerry.
The book publishing industry is stuck in a rut. It desperately needs new ideas.
That's why Seth and I are both excited about his new venture: The Domino Project, a publishing platform that uses the power of social media to help writers spread their ideas and connect to readers.
The Domino Project's first book is an 85-page manifesto by Godin called Poke the Box, which was published March 1. It's about starting things, making changes and learning in today's fast-moving economy.
Godin says he wants The Domino Project to reinvent not the book itself, but "how the book is communicated to people, how the book is shared, how the ideas are spread, how books are sold."
"The biggest thing we're tying to do," he says, "is make a point about how you can engage with social media, as opposed to using it merely as a tool."
"A direct connection between readers and writers," he says, "is so much more powerful than reader, stores, sales rep, distributor, warehouse, printer, editor, publisher, writer. That doesn't make a lot of sense to me. It used to be the only choice, but it's not the only choice now."
If that sounds familiar, it should. The Internet has been tough on middlemen. Stockbrokers and travel agents who charge commissions, newspapers that sell classified ads, record stores that sell CDS—all have been dis-intermediated, which is a fancy way of saying that the Internet directly connects buyers and sellers.
"The biggest thing we're tying to do is make a point about how you can engage with social media, as opposed to using it merely as a tool."
Traditional publishers are worried by this, and for good reason. Sales of printed books, where they make most of their money, fell by 4.4% from 2009 to 2010, and they are down by another 15% during the first six weeks of 2011, according to Book Scan figures quoted by industry consultant Mike Shatzkin. Ebooks are capturing market share, but they're cheaper and anyone can publish one. Have you heard of Amanda Hocking? She's a 26-year-old novelist and blogger from Minnesota who self-published her first book last April; since then she has sold more than 900,000 copies of nine books on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and Smashwords—with no help from traditional publishers.
The Domino Project is named after the domino effect, the chain reaction that occurs when little changes lead to big ones, as when a single nudge can topple a line of dominos. It's the latest brainchild from Godin, an author, entrepreneur, marketing guru and, not incidentally, one of the Internet's most popular bloggers. The 50-year-old Godin also started Internet companies Yoyodyne, which pioneered "permission marketing" before it was sold to Yahoo!, and Squidoo, which helps millions of people build web pages.
But his very first book, Business Rules of Thumb, which he wrote with Chip Conley after they both got their Stanford MBAs, was a flop. As he tells the story, his editor was so distracted by his work on the autobiography of Vanna White, the performer who turned the letters on Wheel of Fortune, that he paid no attention to Seth's book. His next 30 book ideas were rejected by publishers. "I don't think I'm ever going to be able forgive Vanna White," he says.
I had a similar letdown when my book, Faith and Fortune: The Quiet Revolution to Reform American Business was published a month before the 2004 presidential election. By Inauguration Day, the book had disappeared from the stores. Too bad Facebook and Twitter weren't around back then to help me spread the word.
So when Godin invited a group of social-media activists to apply to become part of The Domino Street Team, I signed up. Partly that's because I knew I'd learn from his experience, as well as from others on the team; they tend to be young, Internet-savvy, well-connected and enthusiastic. The street team, about 70 in all, is organizing gatherings around the project, blogging and tweeting like crazy. We're not paid but we do get free books.
Since Seth's first failure, he has written a dozen books, all of them best sellers, including such buzz-generating titles as Tribes and Purple Cow. "My whole career has been about trying to spread ideas," he says. "Part of the reason is to write a book is to make a nickel. Part of the reason is to make a difference."
Several things set The Domino Project apart:
Speed. Books will go to market quickly, often in as little as six weeks. Traditional publishers usually take nine months to a year.
Pricing: The hardcover edition of Poke the Box sells for less than $10. People who pre-ordered the Ebook paid just $0.99
Formats: Poke the Box is available in hardback, paperback, Kindle and collectible editions, as well as in a five-packs and a 52-pack, both deeply discounted and designed for sharing.
Sharing: This is the core idea. The first group of Domino Project books are being called manifestos, meaning that they are short and accessible to people who don't read many books. "Books sell when a human being encourages another human being to buy it," Godin says.
Before publishing its first book, The Domino Project blog had 20,000 subscribers—" which is 20,000 more than every other major publisher in the United States," Godin says. Amazon.com is his partner in the venture.
As for Poke the Box, it's about initiative. It's about getting started, taking risks, and being willing to fail. The subtitle is "When was the last time you did something for the first time?" Good question, no?
Godin says: "What I'm trying to do with Poke the Box is give you a permission slip. You have the authority to work without a map, to initiate, to provoke, to make a ruckus. Quit waiting for instructions."
Which is exactly what Godin is doing with The Domino Project.