ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs Serial storyteller, poetry pusher, digital doodler, flâneur.

Seth Godin Will No Longer Publish Books Traditionally

New York Times bestselling author and marketing guru, Seth Godin vows to never publish traditionally again. After over 12 books with a legacy publisher, Godin says he’s had enough.

In my interview with him today for an upcoming Mediabistro feature, 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.” (via Mediabistro)

I’ve been anticipating this announcement, but I’m no less impressed, intrigued and thrilled to see Seth Godin stepping up the the plate. The landscape is going fluid, folks! Exciting times. Goodbye Gutenberg Paradigm, hello Socratic paradigm. It’s time for storytelling 2.0!

Godin announced this morning that “Linchpin will be the last book I publish in a traditional way.” He goes on to describe the recalcitrance and fear so pervasive in the traditional publishing world today. And he unabashedly steps away from it!

As the medium changes, publishers are on the defensive…. I honestly can’t think of a single traditional book publisher who has led the development of a successful marketplace/marketing innovation in the last decade…

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.

Since February, I’ve shared my thoughts about the future of publishing in both public forums and in private brainstorming sessions with various friends in top jobs in the publishing industry. Other than one or two insightful mavericks, most of them looked at me like I was nuts for being an optimist. One CEO worked as hard as she could to restrain herself, but failed and almost threw me out of her office by the end. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t heartbroken at the fear I saw. (via Moving On)

I look forward to supporting and encouraging Seth Godin as he wades into these exciting new waters. Fear be damned, Seth Godin is moving on…What about you?

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Publishing Industry’s Frenemy #1

Do you ever flash forward to 2050 or 2100 and wonder what students will be studying in the Publishing Industry chapter of their Economics books? Will encyclopedias (or Wikipedia) parade Amazon and Jeff Bezos as Gutenberg II or the Gutenberg Killer?

Amazon is busy making the entire book business a “direct-to-consumer” model. This isn’t new; they have been doing it for 15 years. By most accounts, the company is now the largest retailer of physical books and the dominant player in the digital space. What are Amazon’s priorities?  It doesn’t hide them.  In 2007, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos described a company that is “congenitally customer-focused” whose enduring priorities are selection, low prices and fast delivery.

Compare those priorities to the ones in place at most publishing houses.  It’s easy to see where interests start to diverge.  And if you apply Porter’s framework to Amazon, you quickly see why the company has become publishing’s best-known and most significant frenemy… The recent controversy involving an agent selling exclusive e-book rights to Amazon… has focused largely on royalty rates, the role of agents and the exclusive nature of the deal. I think that debate misses the point.

The publishing supply chain has shifted. The interests of the company best positioned to benefit from those changes are not aligned with those of most publishers today. Publishers can defend, change or co-opt, but they can’t stand still.  Issue all the press releases you want, but realize this isn’t about e-book royalty rates.  It’s about Amazon. (Magellan Media Partners)

Spot on, of course, the “publishng suppy chain has shifted” and ranting, soapboxing, naysaying “old school publishers” are liable to miss the train if they don’t start running down the platform and getting on board.

Look at the last decade in the music industry. There wil always be audiophiles who insist that the “new school” music supply chain is killing the music industry. Or has already killed the music industry. They’ll insist on higher definition audio, better acoustics, etc. And they’ll pay through the nose for their tastes and recalcitrance. That’s fine. It’s good. They’ll continue for a long time to support an increasingly niche but valuable pocket of culture and business. But they’re already a tiny minority. The music train left the station, and the landscape of the music industry shifted dramatically, rapidly and irrevocably.

Unfortunately, the book publishing industry isn’t sure it wants to run and catch the “new school” train out of the station. In fact, its not sure which direction it’s going, an aggravating predicament when trying to decide which train to chase… So instead of leaping on the Amazon Express to the future or the Gutenberg Paradigm to niche-bibliophile-land, the publishing industry is planted on the platform throwing a temper tantrum. “I don’twant to go anywhere! I like it right heeeeeeeere… And I get motion sickness. And I have waaayyy too many traveling companions to fit on that dinky little train. And there’s no first class. I ONLY travel first class!”

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Publishing Isn’t Broken

Publishing isn’t broken, or so says Jane Smith over at How Publishing Really Works, and here’s why. The very best books from the very best writers get published; books get sold; and writers, agents, editors, publishers, etc. get what they want: money. Phew. Good to have that sorted out so tidily. Unless, of course, it’s not really that tidy…

For decades, the publishing business has worked pretty well. Writers write books; agents sell those books to publishers; publishers make the books available to the market. Money flows through the system from reader to writer via the publisher and agent. Everyone involved makes money, and gets what they want… Be very wary of new models of publishing. The old one works just fine. (A New Model for Publishing?)

Smith suggests that the only breakdown in the publishing world is unskilled writers, agents, etc. Granted, there’s plenty of room to point the finger at unqualified contenders, that’s always fun and easy. But it seems that Smith is overlooking vital current concerns about whether or not the traditional publishing environment is broken, outdated, inefficient, etc. She talks a lot about money in traditional book publishing. This makes sense because the Gutenberg Paradigm is expensive to maintain. Whereas evolutions in technology, book selling, and readers’ habits have enabled modern publishing alternatives that make book publishing less expensive. Much less expensive!

Mainstream publishing isn’t broken: it has its flaws, certainly, but it still works. It still publishes books which show clear commercial potential; works to make those books as good as they can possibly be; and then gets those books into as many sales points as it possibly can. Just because it does that by only publishing the very best books from the very best writers, and consequently rejecting the majority, doesn’t mean that it’s broken: just that far too many writers are not yet good enough at their craft for publishers to risk investing their money in them.(Publishing Isn’t Broken)

Correct, rejecting the majority does not mean traditional publishing is broken. Correct, many writers undoubtedly are not worthwhile investments for traditional publishers, either because they are not sufficiently skilled writers or because there isn’t a big enough market for what they write. But this fulcrum of commercial potential is dramatically shifted when we consider the modern publishing industry’s efficiencies. Digitally distributed ebooks cut significant time and cost out of production and distribution. Print on demand (POD) publishing dramatically reduces up-front costs for book publishing. And these are just two cost cutting shifts that favor new models of publishing over traditional models of publishing. And less invested in a new title means less risk of failure and a lower ROI threshold. It means that the market can be used to evaluate the viability of a new book rather than a committee, an editor, even an agent. This means more variety and risk is possible for new books. It means niche markets become far more viable than they were in traditional publishing.This is hugely exciting!

Publishing cannot focus solely on bringing works of staggering genius to the attention of a grateful reading public, or on nurturing and supporting novice writers as they learn their craft and experiment with exciting risky new projects: while that would be nice for those novice writers it wouldn’t be nearly so nice for the publishers’ shareholders who would have to provide funds to publish the many turkeys such an approach would undoubtedly hatch, nor would readers appreciate being provided with all the unreadable tripe which might well result… [So] publishing books which will sell well has to be the publishing business’s main focus. (Publishing: Broken Or Not?)

Broken or not, Smith highlights one of the biggest challenges that traditional publishers face today: the economics are changing. The old way no longer works just fine. “Re-imagine the future,” Debbie Stier says. “Forget the old way. It doesn’t work in the new economy. Stop trying to control; make something useful and help people use it; get out of the way.” Amen. I’m anticipating a publishing industry that will be far more agile, flexible and stripped down. Far less costly to sustain. Far more in sync with readers, writers and consumer habits.

Self-Publishing 2.0: How I Saved My Book

Never believe people when they tell you something is impossible, or “that’s not the way things work.” Make your own success or be doomed to fail.

It was this author’s dream. After writing a deeply personal and revealing memoir, The Last Day of My Life, I landed a top agent at the esteemed William Morris Agency (now WME Entertainment). Six months later, I had my first publishing deal and less than a year after that, the book was officially released. Publishing takes a long time, but the wait was worth it. I had hoped that my book would inspire others who were facing troubling times in their lives and I have been humbled by the many emails I have received from strangers who reached out to me since the January publication date.

Then, the unthinkable happened. My publisher abruptly closed its doors at the end of April. The timing could not have been worse. It was just days before the LA Festival of Books, where I had been scheduled to appear. My participation in that event was canceled and it looked like months of effort in landing numerous television and radio appearances and all the print interviews had been for nothing. My old publisher was gracious enough to grant me a reversion of all the rights to my book, along with all the digital files, but what was I to do with them?

“It’s over,” I was told, by most everyone. But I had heard that before. After writing the manuscript for my book, I was told that getting published today was all but impossible. I refused to listen then and I refused to listen now. As Chief Correspondent for the syndicated television news magazine, Inside Edition and as a regular contributor for CNN and HLN and frequent guest host for Larry King Live, I knew that I could continue to land television appearances. I also believed passionately in the message of my book — that no matter what challenges come your way, life is worth living and there is plenty for which we need to be grateful. What better time to put that into practice than here and now?

I reached out to the former head of sales at my old publishing house for guidance. He connected me with both the company which had originally printed my book and with the independent sales team that sold it to stores. My former editor instructed me on how to apply for and secure a new serial number (ISNB) and Library of Congress registration. I hired a talented graphic designer to repackage the book and I came up with a name for my own publishing house: Incognito Books. Within two months, I was “ready for my close-up” again. I timed the launch of my new edition to coincide with an appearance on Dr. Phil, which I had taped in April, but was not airing until July 9. My boss at Inside Edition graciously ran a story about that appearance and on my newly launched book as well. The results exceeded even my wildest expectations.

As I tracked both Amazon and Barnes and Noble sales numbers throughout the day, I watched in amazement over what happened as both shows aired in the various time zones across the country. It was remarkable. By Friday evening, I had hit #1 on Amazon’s “Movers and Shakers” list with an astounding increase of 309,000% in ranking, from number 80,000 to number 31. I also reached #17 on I have already ordered a second printing and I am launching the book in all available digital formats in the next two weeks.

I am still at the beginning of what I hope is a long journey as a writer, both for this title and other books I hope to write. Still, I learned a valuable lesson — never take “no” for an answer. The old publishing model is no longer the only one available to writers. (The Huffington Post proves that.) Look hard and be creative and you may just discover a new way to get your message out there. (Huffington Post)

Jim Moret’s firsthand account of self-publishing his debut memoir is a timely illustration of the shift underway in the publishing world. When the “old publishing model” imploded, Moret sidestepped the debris and leaped forward. Once upon a not too recent time the Gutenberg Paradigm was the whole game. Lose the game, and you might well have lost your chance at the season. But the new publishing models emerging every day are opening up possibilities heretofore unimaginable. And Moret’s experience is an encouraging reminder that persistence and ingenuity will pay dividends to good writers willing to explore new and creative ways of connecting with their readers/audience.

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Ryu Murakami Bypasses Publishers, Opts for IPad

Are you familiar with Ryu Murakami? He’s a successful, established Japanese novelist, and he’s breaking away from the heard with his next novel, A Singing Whale. Although he’s still ironing out the details for an ink and paper edition, he’s releasing the digital version directly to his audience via Apple’s iBookstore, “circumventing his traditional publisher in the process…

Murakami’s project should be hailed less as a blow against the monopoly of big publishing houses over authors and the circulation of their work, and more as a celebration of the kinds of opportunities that devices like the iPad can provide for creativity and cost-efficient distribution.

Other authors are, however, dispatching more direct challenges to the traditional publishing industry model by signing deals directly with e-book retailers, rather than through their publishers. This spring, bestselling suspense novelist Stephen King released his latest work, Blockade Billy as an e-book one month before releasing the hardcover version in the U.S. and Canada, and published a short story, “UR,” exclusively for the Kindle in February 2009. Other prominent American writers have also sold the e-book rights to past and current work exclusively to Amazon. (

Wall Street Journal blogger, Yoree Koh, explains that the release and rapid adoption of Apple’s iPad has fueled a world of worry among old guard publishing industry heavyweights who “have feared the worst: thatprecious big-name authors might sign directly with e-book retailers, relegating the old-school publishers as the dispensable middleman.”

Let the nightmare begin. Novelist Ryu Murakami… replaced the publishers with a software company to help develop the e-book titled “A Singing Whale,” or “Utau Kujira” in Japanese. The digital package will include video content and set to music composed by Academy Award winning composer Ryuichi Sakamoto… Mr. Murakami’s decision is the latest step taken by well known authors in re-writing the business model of the publishing industry… [By] offering fresh material only in an electronic format, Mr. Murakami’s plan has basically removed the traditional book publisher from the calculation entirely. (Wall Street Journal)

Obvious growing pains will follow such a bold move, but this as an inevitable and exciting evolution as the publishing industry moves away from the Gutenberg Paradigm toward a more audience-centric publishing model. I see this transition not so much as a challenge, but rather as a reminder that content can easily and quickly be packaged into engaging, innovative, multi-modal, portable and user friendly formats. Vook, iBookstore, Kindle and others are leading the innovation, while the lumbering dinosaurs sit by and grumble.

Why? Catch up. Surpass. Imagine an even sexier future! Paper and ink publishing is grand. Aesthetically pleasing, nostalgic, luxurious and enduring in a fragile sort of way. All true. I love books. And they’re here to stay, though their production will not continue to be the primary vessel for publishing content. They’ll likely become a specialty item. Electric format books offer outstanding financial benefits, distribution benefits, and creativity benefits. The biggest challenge will be to storytellers and content providers. It’s time for us to begin dreaming up the next frontier of storytelling, and Ryu Murakami’s A Singing Whale is just the inspiration we need. It’s time to liberate words from their bindings, time to let them soar and dance!


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Re-Imagine the Future

More nuggets of wisdom from Debbie Stier.

The moral of the story is to think differently.  Really differently.  Forget the old way.  It doesn’t work in the new economy.  Stop trying to control; make something useful and help people use it; get out of the way. Re-imagine the future.

If you’re not too sick and tired of the soap boxing, prognosticating and Doomsday ranting about the future of the publishing industry, Debbie Stier is a good level head to follow. She gets it. Goodbye, Gutenberg paradigm. Hello, Socratic paradigm. But she’s not sensational, nor does she submit her readers to the histrionics proliferating lately. It’s simple: create value, share, yield control and stand clear!

Agent Andrew Wylie Is Threatening to Bypass Publishers

Agent Andrew Wylie is threatening to bypass publishers and license his authors’ e-book rights directly to Google, Amazon or Apple because he is unhappy with publishers terms. In an interview with Harvard Magazine, Wylie said the agency’s negotiations with publishers on e-books were currently on hold across the board.

“We will take our 700 clients, see what rights are not allocated to publishers, and establish a company on their behalf to license those e-book rights directly to someone like Google, or Apple. It would be another business, set up on parallel tracks to the frontlist book business,” Wylie said.

Such a “heretical strategy” would likely meet with stiff resistance from publishing houses, the piece notes in response. The Wylie Agency’s stellar list includes authors Martin Amis, Philip Roth and Salman Rushdie, as well as the estates of giants including Italo Calvino, Arthur Miller, Vladimir Nabokov and John Updike.

Wylie also takes issue with the deals publishers are making with Apple, which he says are similar to those entered into by music publishers. “The music industry did itself in by taking its profitability and allocating it to device holders. Manufacturing and distribution accounted for roughly 30 percent of the music industry’s profit. These were conveyed to Apple in the deal for iTunes. But why should someone who makes a machine—the iPod, which is the contemporary equivalent of a jukebox—take all the profit?” (The

Ah-ha, a standoff! Just what we’ve been waiting for, a player with enough hudzpah to challenge the Big Six. Benedictine Page’s post pits literary superagent Andrew Wylie against the publishing industry. That is, thetraditional publishing industry. This could get ugly, but I’m pleased to see someone willing to challenge the Gutenberg Paradigm from within. Outcome will be watched by authors, agents, publishers, book sellers everywhere.

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Inverted Publishing Funnel

Nathan Bransford’s June 10 HuffPo post, “The Rejection Letter of the Future Will Be Silence (And Why This is a Good Thing)” expresses the optimism that I share about the democratization of the publishing industry. His Neil Postman-esque reflection doesn’t flinch from the downside of the Post-Gutenberg Paradigm, but the tenor is undeniably positive: “the very nature of commercial viability in the publishing world is changing quickly with the transition to e-books, and I think it’s ultimately a change for the better.” The agents and publishers who recognize that this publishing funnel inversion will thrive, profit and help redefine the future. Those who hesitate, resist or cling to the Gutenberg Paradigm will struggle to survive.

Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody, notes that we’re moving from an era where we filtered and then published to one where we’ll publish and then filter. And no one would be happier than me to hand the filtering reins over to the reading public, who will surely be better at judging which books should rise to the top than the best guesses of a handful of publishing professionals.

I don’t see this transition as the demise of traditional publishing or agenting. Roles will change, but there are still some fundamental elements that will remain. There’s more that goes into a book than just writing it, and publishers will be the best-equipped to maintain the editorial quality, production value, and marketing heft that will still be necessary for the biggest books. Authors will still need experienced advocates to navigate this landscape, place subsidiary rights (i.e. translation, film, audio, etc.), and negotiate on their behalf.

What’s changing is that the funnel is in the process of inverting – from a top down publishing process to one that’s bottom up.

Yes, many (if not most) of the books that will see publication in the new era will only be read by a handful of people. Rather than a rejection letter from an agent, authors will be met with the silence of a trickle of sales. And that’s okay!! Even if a book is only purchased by a few friends and family members — what’s the harm?

Meanwhile, the public will have the ultimate, unlimited ability to find the books they want to read, will be unconstrained by the tastes of the publishing industry and past standards of commercial viability, and whether you want to read experimental literary fiction or a potboiler mystery: you’ll be able to find it. Out of the vastness of books published the best books will emerge, driven to popularity by passionate readers. (Bransford, Nathan.”The Rejection Letter of the Future Will Be Silence(And Why This is a Good Thing).” The Huffington Post. 6/10/2010)

Update: Several colleagues and friends get their feathers ruffled each time I pronounce this vision, and I expect this post will be no exception. But it’s worth noting that I do believe books have a long and exciting future. They are valuable, enjoyable and luxurious. They will continue to be. Perhaps moreso as the publishing world evolves in and increasingly digital, decreasingly paper-based direction. Specialty book publishing is likely to endure for these reasons, and because certain content lends itself to print far better than digital formats. But, bibliophile leanings notwithstanding, I’m quite comfortable with the transition from print to digital for most content distribution including fiction, non-fiction, literature, education, etc. In fact, the transition excites me enormously. I believe that digital storytelling will reignite innovation among writers, artists, designers and publishers. New genres will emerge as a result, and debates will rage over what is/isn’t literature. It will be exciting! And there will be less silo-ing, less manipulation of markets and information, less “clubbiness” in the publishing world. This may not last forever, but even for a while these will be positive changes.

Read Nathan Bransford’s full post at The Huffington Post.


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