What is a Book? On Publishing, Books, and Video

Photo by Sam BR http://flic.kr/p/7MNugf

Seth Godin argued in a recent blog post that publishers need to revisit their assumptions about what “books” are…and by extension what their jobs entail. This is an important point, because it actually shows one potential way forward for an industry that is struggling to create value as its traditional business environment changes underfoot.

Book publishing, like the newspaper business, and the music business before it, is threatened by outmoded business models, new competitors, digital distribution, and the rise of substitutes for consumers. Barriers to creating and distributing a book have fallen so far that, as Clay Shirky says about publishing:

Publishing is not evolving. Publishing is going away. Because the word “publishing” means a cadre of professionals who are taking on the incredible difficulty and complexity and expense of making something public. That’s not a job anymore. That’s a button. There’s a button that says “publish,” and when you press it, it’s done.

So what does a savvy publisher do? Godin argues that publishers should redirect the curatorial, editorial, and marketing skills they have towards other projects that may not take the form of a traditional print book. He uses the short film “Caine’s Arcade” as an example.

Caine’s Arcade from Nirvan Mullick on Vimeo.


It’s worth noting that more people have spent ten minutes watching this film in the last week than have read all but a handful of books over the same period of time. And even more profoundly, that this short film has raised almost $200,000 for the star’s college fund without really trying.

Conceptually, this is a book.

…the act of finding Caine, of investing in a short film, of bringing that idea to the public–it’s stuff like that that publishers are actually quite good at–the format and the economics will change, but the risky act of bringing ideas to the public is what publishers do.

This is an important skill in a world where video is just as important as text. The creators of “The New Liberal Arts” argue that video literacy is one critical skillset for our era.

Basic literacy—reading and writing text—is no longer enough. Now, all media is transmitted through the window of a glowing screen. Television and web video have become dominant modes of communication and even print news media rely increasingly on video to show us “truth.” Understanding video is essential to participating in modern society.

The future of publishing may well involve scaling the ability to find, shape, and ship narrative-driven multimedia projects, which sounds a lot more like an emerging business than a dying one. All publishers should take a cue from Godin and ask themselves: What is a book?

Business Model Innovation Factory book

Saul Kaplan, founder of the Business Innovation Factory organization and conference series, has a new book out on reinventing business — the Business Model Innovation Factory, launching on April 24.

The business model innovation movement overall has built a literacy around articulating and then experimenting with how businesses create value — e.g. see the Business Model Canvas. Kaplan and BIF have been great champions of collaborative innovation in the enterprise, so I’m looking forward to seeing how they take these ideas forward.  Intro and TOC embedded below. See more at BMIFbook.com.




Tim Harford is a Financial Times columnist and the presenter of Radio 4’s More or Less, which won the Royal Statistical Society’s 2010 award for statistical excellence in broadcast journalism. He is also the author of several books, including The Undercover Economist. His latest is Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure.

Cory Doctorow: First of all, some context — what’s the thesis of Adapt, and how does it refine, extend or improve upon The Undercover Economist?

Tim Harford: The Undercover Economist was a book about the economic principles behind everyday life, from the way Starbucks prices drinks to the rise of China. Adapt isn’t primarily an economics book at all — it’s a book about how complex problems are solved. (If ideas from economics help, great. But sometimes they don’t.)

That said, the two books start from a very similar place: describing the amazing complexity of the economy that produces the everyday objects which surround us. In Undercover it was a cappuccino, and in Adapt I describe a memorable project in which a student called Thomas Thwaites attempts to build a simple toaster from scratch. But in Adapt this complexity isn’t just a cause for a “wow, cool” moment — it’s a headache, because it’s a measure of the obstacles facing anyone who wants to solve problems in this very intricate, interconnected world.

Ultimately Adapt argues that the only way forward is experimentation, which can either be formal or ad hoc. Whether we’re talking about poverty in Nigeria or innovation in Boston, solutions tend to evolve rather than be designed in some burst of awesome genius. And then the question is — what do we need to encourage those experiments?

via boingboing.net

The Domino Project: Seth Godin’s new publishing platform

To launch the Domino Project, a bestselling author is walking away from traditional book publishing and using the tools of new media to bring his (and his colleagues’) ideas to the world in a new way. Amazon is working with me to create The Domino Project, a new kind of book publishing venture, one that will redefine both what it means to be a publisher and what we think of as a book.

Following on his announcement that he’s abandoning traditional publishing, bestselling author Seth Godin hints at what’s next for him with the Domino Project, a collaboration with Amazon.com.

Seth Godin Linchpin Meetup Recap & Book Recommendations

When Seth Godin announced a series of reader meetups oriented around his new book, Linchpin, I decided right away to organize the Vancouver event. Linchpin’s themes of overcoming internal resistance and bringing a sense of art into one’s work have resonated with me as I have developed RedRovr, and I looked forward to meeting others who felt the same. Vancouver had an absurdly high number of folks interested in this meetup, on par with New York and London’s responses, so it was clear I was not alone!

Thanks to everyone who came out that night for creating a great event! Here’s a recap of how the night went, and links to the books and blogs we talked about:

Gift, Skill, Attitude

We kicked things off with a short talk by Steph Corker Irwin, who spoke about her week with Seth in New York as part of his nanoMBA program. Steph led a discussion about the extent to which the qualities of leaders we admire are a gift, skill, or attitude. As the group weighed in, it was striking and somewhat liberating how almost every quality was seen as ultimately a skill or an attitude, i.e., something you can wake up in the morning and choose to work on.

Open Space Discussion

I had the group write up topics they wanted to discuss and post them at the front of the room. We organized the topic suggestions into clusters which formed the basis for lightweight discussion groups. In line with open space principles, people could come and go from these groups as they wished, joining in on any discussion they wanted. The topics were wide-ranging, and included:

  • Overcoming the lizard brain
  • Gift, Skill, Attitude continued
  • Moving ideas into action
  • Crowdsourcing innovation
  • Making a difference in the world
  • Linchpinning education
  • Using business to save the world
  • What should I read next?
  • Creating community
  • Painting your life’s picture
  • The NanoMBA
  • When to ship
  • Creating Linchpinvilles

Book Recommendations

I spent a lot of time in the “What should I read next?” group. Thanks to Matt and Dave for drafting up this fantastic list of the books we discussed. For those inspired by Seth Godin’s work and Linchpin, check out the following books.

I went a bit berzerk here: you can see them all on this Amazon list of Linchpin Meetup Book Recommendations. You can see the raw list of books below, loosely categorized by me. And if you scroll down all the way, you’ll see a Librarything widget with covers and other info for every book.

Marketing, Sales, Customer Service:
  • The Art of Woo
  • Free Prize Inside
  • Delivering Happiness
  • Flip the Funnel
  • The Cluetrain Manifesto
  • Words That Change Minds
  • Made to Stick
  • How to Sell Anything
  • Switch
  • Making Ideas Happen
  • The Art of the Start
  • Startup Nation
  • Early Exits
  • Everything is Miscellaneous
  • Cognitive Surplus
  • The Long Tail
  • What Would Google Do?
Learning, Leadership, & Personal Development:
  • Emotional Intelligence 2.0
  • A Whole New Mind
  • The Creative Habit
  • The Art of Non-Conformity
  • What Makes The Great Great
  • Me to We
  • Style Statement
Business & Misc:
  • The Singularity is Near
  • Superfreakonomics
  • Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance
  • The Swiss Family Robinson
  • The Glass Castle
  • The Mirror Test
Blog recommendations from the group:

http://www.librarything.com/widget_get.php?userid=erlkonig&theID=w22d9a7905dec9f026269e3ebbdb99698My Library at LibraryThing

Thanks for reading!

Linchpins are everywhere


I’m organizing a meetup in Vancouver tomorrow (June 14) around marketer Seth Godin’s book Linchpin. The Vancouver event is part of a worldwide series of meetups about Linchpin all on the same day – set into motion by Seth but organized locally by volunteers.

Vancouver has the 7th largest showing worldwide (!), behind cities like New York, London, and San Francisco. If you’re in Vancouver on June 14, you should come. If not, see if there’s a meetup in your city.

For more info on Linchpin: see roundups of reviews here and here.

Want Seth Godin to come to your city? Request it on RedRovr!

Future Fatigue

William Gibson:

Say it’s midway through the final year of the first decade of the 21st Century. Say that, last week, two things happened: scientists in China announced successful quantum teleportation over a distance of ten miles, while other scientists, in Maryland, announced the creation of an artificial, self-replicating genome. In this particular version of the 21st Century, which happens to be the one you’re living in, neither of these stories attracted a very great deal of attention.

In quantum teleportation, no matter is transferred, but information may be conveyed across a distance, without resorting to a signal in any traditional sense. Still, it’s the word “teleportation”, used seriously, in a headline. My “no kidding” module was activated: “No kidding,” I said to myself, “teleportation.” A slight amazement.

Whole Earth Discipline


Stewart Brand is an intellectual magpie, drawing on an incredibly wide variety of sources for his new book Whole Earth Discipline. Fans of Brand will not be surprised at much of the content, as he has written earlier on similar subjects: the scope and scale of climate change, the dynamism of megacities, the controversy and promise of genetic engineering and nuclear power. What’s new is the synthesis of all of these subjects into a narrative and argument that compels you with its strength while bewitching you with its range.

Brand has put much of the text online already to create an annotated version with links, photos, and source material — which is either an unbelievable resource or the end of your productivity for the week, depending on the degree of your willpower. If you never emerge from this list of recommended reading, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The hard copy version of Whole Earth Discipline launches today. Buy it here.

Reader of a thousand books

Inspired by this recount of famous shed-writers, I am putting forth my own favorite hermetic book-lover story: that of Joseph Campbell spending several years in a cabin, reading for nine hours a day. Something about the unlikely combination of dedication and freedom involved in this endeavor has wedged it firmly in place at the top of my list of fantasy life plans. Here, the man himself explains the setup, from The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work.

So during the years of the Depression I had arranged a schedule for myself. When you don’t have a job or anyone to tell you what to do, you’ve got to fix one for yourself. I divided the day into four four-hour periods, of which I would be reading in three of the four-hour periods, and free one of them.

By getting up at eight o’clock in the morning, by nine I could sit down to read. That meant I used the first hour to prepare my own breakfast and take care of the house and put things together in whatever shack I happened to be living in at the time. Then three hours of that first four-hour period went to reading.

Then came an hour break for lunch and another three-hour unit. And then comes the optional next section. It should normally be three hours of reading and then an hour out for dinner and then three hours free and an hour getting to bed so I’m in bed by twelve.

On the other hand, if I were invited out for cocktails or something like that, then I would put the work hour in the evening and the play hour in the afternoon.

It worked very well. I would get nine hours of sheer reading done a day. And this went on for five years straight.

The full story of how he came to find himself out there and what happened next is really worth reading, and is included after the jump.

Continue reading “Reader of a thousand books”