Author and marketer Seth Godin says that after publishing 12 books, he’s turning his back on the traditional book-publishing industry. In a weekend blog post, he said that his most recent book, Linchpin, will be “the last book I publish in a traditional way.” It’s not clear from Godin’s post whether he is banking on e-books for the Kindle or the Apple iPad as part of his future business model, but it seems obvious that he’s come to the same realization many authors, musicians and other artists have: namely, that the web allows you to connect directly with your fans, and in many cases traditional publishers just get in the way. As Godin puts it:
Traditional book publishers use techniques perfected a hundred years ago to help authors reach unknown readers, using a stable technology (books) and an antique and expensive distribution system. The thing is — now I know who my readers are. Adding layers or faux scarcity doesn’t help me or you.
Authors have traditionally needed publishers, Godin says, because they needed a way to reach the ultimate customer: the reader. However, all those levels of bureaucracy and distribution — whether it was the agent, the publisher, the printer, media outlets who promoted the book, retail stores and other distributors, and so on — just created more layers between the author and the reader. The rise of blogs and self-published PDFs and e-books have made it far easier for authors to side-step a lot of that infrastructure and engage with the reader directly, and in a much more efficient way. As Godin says in his post:
My audience does things like buy five or ten copies at a time and distribute them to friends and co-workers. They (you) forward blog posts and PDFs. They join online discussion forums. None of these things are supported by the core of the current corporate publishing model.
As Om said recently, books aren’t dead, they are just evolving, as more and more readers become comfortable buying and reading books on their Kindle or the iPad. While many in the industry continue to drag their feet and try to protect their traditional business model and profit margins, smart publishers are already taking advantage of the new possibilities that this kind of publishing provides — and more authors are choosing to embrace the new reality as Godin has. Meanwhile, e-book sales at Amazon continue to outpace sales of traditional hard-cover books.
It’s worth noting that not every author is going to be able to take the same route that Godin and others are taking. Godin has written 12 books already and is a well-known consultant and speaker; in fact, he likely makes a substantial amount of his income from speaking and consulting rather than from books. So he has an established audience that’s ready to download his PDFs or whatever else he plans to distribute, just as the band Radiohead had an established fan base, so could afford to offer “pay what you will” downloads of their music.
Not every author or artist has that ability, and not every book is going to find an established audience that way. There are still going to be mass-market blockbusters in publishing, just as there are in movies and music, where the marketing machine goes into high gear to reach as large an audience as possible. But for established authors and artists who specialize in a particular niche, connecting directly with readers or fans can be a far better approach than relying on the traditional infrastructure of the content-distribution industry. At the end of the day, that is a good thing for fans of both books and music.
For more discussion of the future of publishing, please join us for our Bunker session this Wednesday, Aug. 25.
Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d): The Week E-books Won the War