Seth Godin, a bestselling author and marketing guru, has apparently forsaken books.
Not the writing of them, mind you. Rather, the publishing of them — at least through the old-fashioned channels, meaning publishing houses (such as Portfolio in his case or Riverhead in mine).
In this interview, Godin says:
I’ve decided not to publish any more books in the traditional way. 12 for 12 and I’m done. I like the people, but I can’t abide the long wait, the filters, the big push at launch, the nudging to get people to go to a store they don’t usually visit to buy something they don’t usually buy, to get them to pay for an idea in a form that’s hard to spread … I really don’t think the process is worth the effort that it now takes to make it work. I can reach 10 or 50 times as many people electronically. No, it’s not ‘better’, but it’s different. So while I’m not sure what format my writing will take, I’m not planning on it being the 1907 version of hardcover publishing any longer.
On his own blog, he elaborates, somewhat more diplomatically.
I finally figured out that my customer wasn’t the reader or the book buyer, it was the publisher… 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.
Those of you who’ve been following my own progress in (first) writing a book and (now) waiting for Riverhead to publish it will understand why Seth struck a chord with me.
“I can’t abide the long wait,” he says. I would say the same, except I have no choice, because I’m waiting for my first book to be published, whereas Seth is thinking of his 13th.
So I wait, and wait, and wait…
What mysterious processes are unfolding that require me to wait? As I’ve said before, I’ve never had a satisfactory explanation from anybody in the formal ‘book industry’.
In the analytical part of my mind, I know that Seth is right. Book publishers as we know them will die, will become extinct.
Books per se will never disappear, because, as Seth himself once told me for an article in The Economist, certain books (very few, actually) will always be around as “souvenirs for the way we felt” at the time of reading.
But book publishers as they exist today are very near their expiry date. My children will read about them as they read about the history of dodos or the telegraph.
At this point, I just hope the industry dies after its printing presses squeeze out a whole lot of copies of the book I have written.