The Domino Project is a new way to think about publishing. Founded by Seth Godin, we're trying to change the way books are built, sold and spread. Find out more about our mission here.

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November 24, 2014
by seth godin

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The secret of every book publisher’s success is the backlist. To Kill a Mockingbird, Stretching, Dune… these are books that sell, day in and day out, long after they’ve earned out their advances.

The distinction between the backlist and the frontlist (the new books, the promoted books, the books that publishers focus on, ironically) is based on two forms of scarcity that publishers have long dealt with:

1. There was scarce shelf space. The local bookstore could only hold 10,000 or 20,000 titles, and most of those slots (and virtually all of the merchandising and promotional slots) went to the new books. Book of year! is a category reserved for the new.

2. There were scarce review slots. The highest-leverage way a publisher could promote a frontlist title was to get it on Oprah, or reviewed in the local paper.

Backlist titles are noteworthy because of their profitability, but they also don’t depend on shelf space (people happily order them) and they don’t depend on reviews (the word gets out horizontally, or in a teacher’s assignment, not from the core of the media machine).

You’re probably ahead of me here, but:

There is now infinite shelf space. Infinite because the online booksellers carry just about every single book. And infinite because independent local stores carry relatively few books so that all but the hottest titles end up being ordered anyway.

And there are no more review pages to fight over, instead, there’s only the long tail, the countless peer-to-peer recommendations that aren’t bounded by place or time.

Launching a frontlist title using the old method makes no sense at all, because you will not capture these two scarce resources. Instead, as we saw from the gradual launch of the original Harry Potter and (in a totally different way) in the launch today of my new book Your Turn, success comes from whispering to the tribe, not from yelling through media amplifiers. Your Turn has already sold 32,000 copies, which would, if it were in a channel that bestseller lists tracked, would make it one of the top-selling books in the country. We did this without any shelf space and without any media other than talking to people who had already signed up. This takes patience and a willingness to focus on the long run.

Some people launch with the backlist in mind because they have no choice. I think it’s worth doing it because it’s the most direct and effective way to create a backlist success story.

The future belongs to this approach: Write for your readers, don’t try to find readers for your writing…

October 2, 2014
by seth godin

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I’ve explored a variety of ways to get to market with the books I’ve created over the last thirty years. I’ve self-published, worked with most of the major NY publishing houses, did a partnership with Barnes and Noble and another with Amazon… All as a way to solve the problem of discovery. How do we get books into the hands of people who want to read them?

Tomorrow, I’m launching a new book, and I thought I’d explain some of my thinking about my approach and the format.

Looking at my personal book consumption as well as what I hear from readers, I’m seeing that people are getting ever more impatient about the traditional format we expect from books… more than I would have guessed. If you’re reading an ebook, there’s a huge temptation to skip to the next book on your device, or if it’s an iPad, to check your incoming email and then down the rabbit hole. We tap our foot while reading, rushing the author to get to the good part, fast.

Words on paper still have impact, but again, I’m seeing more people who would rather read a tweet (“a guy hunts a whale”) about a book than work their way through it.

Since my last book (two years ago), I’ve wondered a lot about what sort of book would be worth the journey. After all, through this and my main blog, I can reach more people with an idea than a book ever could. What’s the point of all the scarcity and printing and risk if it’s not going to engage people? We write books to make a difference, to spread an idea, to educate… and if the format can’t do that, we should find a new way.

My new book, What to Do When It’s Your Turn, is in a totally new format, for me and for most authors and readers. It’s printed in full color, heavily illustrated and in quality-magazine format. New digital presses from Heidelberg permit an individual to be able to do long or short runs in this format.

But the discovery issue still remains. So I’m hoping you will consider taking a chance as I ask my core fans to sign up for a pre-order of multiple copies. Three or eight or even more copies, the first off the press, sold at a radical discount, to readers who also become passionate distributors. Fans who will hand-’sell’ the book to colleagues and friends. Individuals who will use them to teach or inspire, to get everyone on the same page. Horizontal movement, side to side, person to person, not top down.

I wrote the book as a tool for people who want to help other people change.

We see this happen in digital media daily. An idea we believe in, a change we’d like to see, arrives and we share it, hoping to spread the word. I’d like to replicate that, but with the power of print.

I’m doing a pre-launch now because I’m trying to print the right number of copies (but not too many) and then, in December, we can simultaneously discuss the book widely. At that point, like all books, it’s on its own.

The end of the independent bookstore (and a new golden age for books)

ACT 1: The Book of the Month Club. After World War II, a wealthier, better educated country started engaging in more culture, more often, in a more widespread way. We were more likely to watch the same movies, more likely to listen to more music, and much more likely to want to read the books [...]

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Does Kickstarter work as a platform for books?

Those that have been following along have seen the Kickstarter posts I did here, here and here. Feel free to go catch up, I’ll wait… THE THEORY: The hardest part of book publishing is getting the first 10,000 copies of a book read. After that, the book either resonates or it doesn’t. It’s talked about, [...]

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Voting for a winner

The single most fascinating Kickstarter stat is this: The odds of succeeding with your campaign are ten times higher once you reach about half of your goal. While this is somewhat self-fulfilling (only popular campaigns get that far anyway), it actually points to an irrational part of human nature: we don’t want to back a [...]

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When you focus on what’s being removed, it’s easier to understand the revolution

We remove shelf space as a limiting factor in books. We remove the cost of polycarbonate as a cost factor in CDs. We remove paper as an expense in magazines. We remove the number of channels as a limiter in the broadcast of TV. These are not small changes. These are revolutionary shifts in what’s [...]

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Confusing media with messages

Yesterday’s post about the halfway mark got a few responses from people who thought I was selling books short. “There has not ever been, nor will there ever be, a “halfway point” for cultural achievements,” one wrote. Let me try again, with more detail. We can probably all agree that more than half of the [...]

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And then what happens?

What happens when we reach the halfway point, when most of the great books have already been published?  Just as most of the great TV shows have probably already been made, and most of the great classical music recordings have already been recorded. Golden ages don’t last forever, and it’s entirely possible that we’ve reached [...]

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The power of simultaneous action

In 1776, the USA was more than 40 days across. It took over a month to ride on a horse from one end to the other. Today, it takes less than a second. And yet just about all of our systems are built around the slow build, the slow transfer of information and the slow [...]

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Kindle data progress four years later…

I’ve written a few posts about how I’d maximize the value of e-readers. Here’s the first and the second. Four years later, one of the things I’ve been agitating for–using the knowledge of how much time people spend reading a book and how many finish it–is starting to become real. Phil found this article in [...]

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