Publishing is Dead, Long Live Publishing

Shiv SinghBy Shiv Singh, Head of Digital, PepsiCo Beverages

I’ve discovered that “Something is Dead” headlines attract a lot of attention so I couldn’t resist using one myself today. With Seth Godin announcing that he’s going to ditch his traditional publisher (Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin), does it mean that book publishing as we know it is dead?

I find this topic especially interesting as it’s something that I discussed at length when I spoke at the Digital Book World Conference [click for video] back in January.

Here’s my take. Seth Godin is among the most popular best-selling marketing authors and his latest book Linchpin sold over 50,000 copies. The publisher probably played a big role in the editing and the distribution of that book. However, for future books, Godin is planning to release them over the Internet in electronic book formats as well as in the form of apps, small digital files and even PDFs.

What does this mean?

  1. Seth Godin knows his readers better than his publisher does. Godin has realized that he really knows his readers. He knows what they want, he knows how to reach them and he knows quite clearly what he wants to share. He has is own marketing platform via his blog and his twitter account, too. He doesn’t need a publisher to play that role for him. And with the Internet he can distribute his book to his readers electronically.
  2. Seth Godin believes in the power of his brand and is betting everything on it. At the most fundamental level, this is a brand play. You’ve got to believe in yourself and in your words if you want something to work, he’d say himself. And that’s exactly what he’s doing. He’s putting his money where his mouth is. Will he sell as many books? Fewer? Will he reach new readers versus just his fans? Time will tell but it’s an adventurous move without a doubt.
  3. Seth Godin doesn’t believe his publishers provide him enough value. By saying that he’s going to sell his book online and directly to his readers, Godin is basically saying that his publishers aren’t providing him enough value. He appreciates the need to have a strong editor (and he’s going to hire one independently) but everything else is not valuable enough for him. Publishers should be worried, and so too should Barnes and Noble and Borders. If other leading authors adopted this model they’d all be in trouble.
  4. Seth Godin knows that the book format itself is worth a second look, too. There’s a secret about writing books that no one likes and having just been through the process, I’ve witnessed it first hand. You have to fill the pages. Even if your idea and what you want to convey only needs a 100 pages, you are obligated to stretch it out into 200 or 300 pages. That’s how books are made. You have to conform to those guidelines. If the book is too thin, publishers won’t be able to charge enough for it. Godin recognizes that micro-book formats as well as audio files and apps are worth exploring as mechanisms to share his ideas. That way he’s not limited by the structure of the book market.
  5. Seth Godin has figured out the economics are in his favor. I’m guessing that for every book of his sold, Godin gets probably 15% in royalties. That’s not bad when you’re selling 50,000 books priced at $17.13. He’s made $2.5 per book sold or $128,475 in total.But imagine if he sold online only where he’d probably get something closer to 80% in royalties. He’d make a whopping $685,000. Imagine if he only sold half online versus through the book chains (the distribution channels that the publisher owns), he’d still make $342,600. Or if he sold just a quarter, that would be $171,300. I don’t think it is hard for him to sell 12,500 books directly. He doesn’t need a publisher to be better off.

Time will tell whether other leading authors adopt a similar model. For an author, nothing is better than being able to get closer to your reader. The question is whether this model will work and whether other authors have the personal brand, the distribution platform and, most importantly, the courage to try something like this.

I’d argue that if book publishers followed the model I outlined in this deck, they’d be less worried about what’s happening around them.

This post was originally published at Going Social Now and has been reprinted with Mr. Singh’s permission.

Shiv Singh is a recognized digital marketer who focuses on how brands are being forced to transform with the evolution of digital communications and social media. In September 2009, he was recognized by Ad Age as a Media Maven, and is the author of “Social Media Marketing for Dummies.” He has been with PepsiCo since July 1st, 2010 where he is responsible for digital in its beverages business. Prior to that he worked at Razorfish for over eleven years (one of the largest interactive agencies in the world and part of Publicis Worldwide).

7 thoughts on “Publishing is Dead, Long Live Publishing

  1. Pingback: The Importance of Knowing Your Readers | Write NonFiction Now!

  2. A. J. Dade

    My thanks to you for posting this video and associated, insightful article. I appreciate too, Digital Book World for the contributions they are making now in highlighting the current and future trends in book publishing vis-a-vis the new platforms in place and currently being constructed. It’s all very exciting for writers, artists, readers and the whole new world going forward from what I can see.

    I tip my mythological hat to you all and with my thanks for all of the insider insights and information, Shiv Singh!

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  7. A. R. Arias

    Stick it to the man Godin. This is our time. This is where the pulp meets the e-book and self-pubbed ebooks are very profitable. Why be faithful to big publishers? What have they done for their authors lately? Not much. It’s time to return the favor. It’s called the beauty of capitalism.



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