Mooing On

Linchpin will likely not be the last book Seth Godin publishes in a traditional way.

If you live primarily inside the echo chamber of the online marketing world you’ve undoubtedly heard that Seth Godin, author of at least 12 books that we know of, has pulled the plug on the publishing industry by proclaiming that he no longer intends to publish books the way they are traditionally published. You can get the full story on Seth’s blog, from MediaBistro and even the Wall Street Journal.

Now, before I go any further it must be stated that I am a fan – I am inspired by Seth’s writing and have been blessed by his support on more then one occasion. We have the same publisher and he was kind enough to write testimonials for the jacket of both my books. He is the real deal and has a following that any business or business person would envy. But, let’s keep this in perspective. This is not the end of traditional publishing as we know it, it’s not even the end of traditional publishing as Seth knows it.

Business books, and sadly marketing books, make up a very small chunk of the book publishing world, but even inside this rather small bubble, this is simply a statement that content consumption has evolved. We know that, we’ve all responded to that, but more than anyone else I know Seth has a knack for clearly stating the things we’ve all been standing around thinking – some may not agree, but that’s a skill set that turns people into thought leaders.

Seth Godin

Business book writers don’t really have to be that good at writing. I include myself in that last statement. I don’t think my publisher cares so much about what I can write. They do care deeply about what I can sell. That’s the reality that irks some, but it’s a fact. I have no idea if I’m a good writer or not – although three or four pages into a Don DeLillo novel and I realize how terribly inappropriate it would be call myself an author – but I love that people are inspired to action by something I’ve figured out how to put on paper – the digital and print kind. Not that the world is waiting for me to weigh in, but I do intend to continue to publish in the traditional sense because I still enjoy it and think that the majority of content consumers enjoy it as well.

Seth Godin can afford to move to non-traditional forms of publishing because he has access to traditional forms of publishing and distribution. If you’re a book buyer, you are going to stock Seth Godin’s next hardback. If you’re a world class book editor, you’re going to enjoy editing Seth Godin’s next book. Seth Godin actually stands to make more money from a book he can self publish because he has the platform to do so. This move makes sense and is not a completely bold or trailblazing one. But, let’s wait and see when it hits the shelves.

The Wall Street Journal article cited above states that Linchpin has sold roughly 50,000 copies. That’s a nice number, that’s a number that gets you Wall Street Journal and New York Times Best Seller status in the world of business books. Jonathan Franzen has a new book coming out next week. (Yes, there’s a Kindle version) His last book sold 2.85 million copies and I’ll bet the majority of business book fans couldn’t name it. So, before we go off and do away with the traditional print and distribution models understand that more than anything else, Seth wants to have a conversation with his fans and if he has something to say, you can bet he will generously say it in as many forms as are deemed necessary.

Perhaps the biggest winners from the buzz of Seth moving on are the self-publishing industry and authors without a sufficient platform to attract the attention of a Portfolio.

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  • Royale Scuderi

    Typo – Linchpin :)

  • Jeff Korhan

    Love the title. I knew the topic from those first two words!

  • The Franchise King

    Thanks, John

    50,000 books is considered a LOT of books, in the business cat?

    Amazing. Now, about that Jim Kukral guy…and his 50,001 business books…

    The Franchise King®

  • Renee Malove

    First of all, let me take a moment and completely forget the fact that I'm a professional to cave to inescapable fandom. I love this blog! I've been following your blog since I was a lowly college student, and I hope to continue doing so for quite a while. Congrats on a job well done!

    That being said, I did catch Seth Godin's statement on his blog earlier today. Working with a professional printing organization, I can quite firmly say the desire for traditionally published books that we can stick on our bookshelves is alive and well. It won't be long before someone drops the right word in someone's ear and another book hits the shelves, and I think the demand is certainly going to be there when the time comes.

    No, the digital era hasn't completely erased traditional printing. It's just given us a new way to celebrate the power of the written word!

  • Chris Eastvedt

    Hi John:

    I don't understand why you say that Linchpin likely won't be Seth's last traditionally published book. Seth has been touting traditional publishing's obsolescence for a long time due to its inefficient business model. Where's the gray area?

    Will traditional publishing be hit hard by Seth's departure? Probably not. It wasn't too broken up when novelist J.A. Konrath left to pursue an exclusive deal with Amazon either. The thing is though, other authors are now starting to look at their options- and that's where things get interesting.

    This is a time of great experimentation because the big guys are no longer the only game in town. Content is consumed in a variety of ways and savvy authors will exploit all that technology has to offer. Traditional publishing is notoriously slow at getting to market, which is especially unhelpful for non-fiction authors citing potentially outdated online sources. Some authors are no longer finding this acceptable.

    If you don't have to wait or jump through hoops to get your message to your audience, why would you? I think Seth's tired of waiting, as he should be.

  • sethgodin


    I guess my post wasn't as clear as I wanted it to be.

    Every author needs to ask:
    –am I building a platform or letting the publisher do it?
    –am I writing for my readers or my editor?
    –am I trying to sell to strangers or friends?

    For every Jonathan Frantzen, I can show you 30,000 authors who don't get on the cover of time or get the promo and wave he got. Great work if you can get it, hard to plan on.

    And don't be too hard on business writers. I think you can write.

  • ducttape

    Chris – I don't disagree with what you've added here, but think traditional publishing will change as much as anything and that it will remain one tool along with many others as long as there are people who still want to plod down to the store and buy a carton of milk. It's tempting for those of us immersed in the online world to fantasize about content being consumed on the iPhone by all, but we are a long way from that day even if we are headed there.

  • ducttape

    Renee – thanks for the fan love and keep celebrating the power of the written word.

  • Book Publishers

    Very interesting…50,000 books is considered a LOT of books, in the business cat?

    Amazing. Now, about that Jim Kukral guy…and his 50,001 business books…

  • ducttape

    Seth – I imagine it gets harder to be as clear as you want to be about anything with people like me trying to put words in your mouth :)

    Great questions indeed and ones that are as equally hard to answer and understand as they are to ask.

    Let's take one of our 30,000 authors without a Time cover (last living author to get one by the way was Stephen King)

    Wouldn't it also be logical for them to ask
    — how can I get my message in front of a bigger audience to build a platform
    — how can get the attention of an editor so that I can get a book deal and have my message legitimized (even if only by perception)
    — how can I attract the attention of strangers, turn them to friends and get much larger speaking fees

    I am looking forward to your next book in any form and would happy to apply my ability to write a blurb for the cover.

  • Sue Windley (@DangerousMkting)

    I think there will always be a market for traditional publishing because there are enough of us 'traditionalists' who like the tangibility of holding a book in our hands that can go anywhere without the need for electricity or battery power! I include business books in this because mine (which include Seth's books) have markers and notes in them that I can refer back to – online/Kindle versions just don't do it the way I want!

  • Joe Sorge

    I love the further clarification here Seth, thank you. And thank you John for creating this post.

    When I read Seth's points above, I see it as the central concept point that he's been making so well, for so long. Know your audience, build your Tribe!

    I'm hearing him say that he may be able to do that more effectively outside the traditional publishing model, and that excites me. I've always felt that Seth was writing for his audience, but now with the opportunity to connect even more directly to him via a new channel, I can't wait to see what he ships!

  • ducttape

    Sue – I do think that's possibly the main point I was trying to make – getting your content the way you want – that's the thing authors, marketers, businesses in general need to keep in mind I think.

  • The Religion Teacher

    I agree with most of what you said, John. I work for a publisher (but this opinion is my own) in a small niche that makes up an even smaller chunk of the publishing world than business books. Our audience wants traditional books. They rely on books for reliable information that they have a hard time vetting on the internet. I don't say this to try to defend the status quo; I only mean to make statement of fact after countless surveys and feedback from our readers.

    On the other hand, Seth is exactly right. We look for authors that have a platform. The editors are the gatekeepers. And we find strangers to connect with the authors (therefore, building their platform).

    That being said, I don't think is good for the “authors” now looking to self-publish. I hope the lesson they learn from Seth isn't, “Oh, now I can publish my book!” but “I need to find my audience (tribe) and build a platform to get my ideas to them in the most efficient and credible way.

  • ducttape

    Great point – “I need to find my audience (tribe) and build a platform to get my ideas to them in the most efficient and credible way.”

    And this post was never intended to suggest Seth couldn't succeed at doing whatever he chose – I think the reason I felt compelled to write this had more to do with the way I saw people reacting to and interpreting Seth message.

    Seth is a great caretaker of his tribe, but he's also an incredibly focused marketer and every word written here and other places about this topic is start of the launch of this next “book project”