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?

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!