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

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Strangers and friends: understanding publishing

July 22, 2011
by seth godin

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The bookstore and the publisher keep more than 85% of what a reader pays for a book.

And that money is well-earned. Why? Because book publishing is the act of taking a financial risk to bring an idea to an unknown reader.

The key word is unknown. Before the book is purchased, neither the bookstore nor the publisher knows the identity of the reader.

This is fundamentally different than a magazine or a newspaper (they have subscribers).

Reaching strangers is risky business. Penguin is left with $40,000,000 in debt from Borders as they go bankrupt. They had to advance them that money because otherwise no bookstore would be able to take the risk of having all those books standing by, just hoping the right stranger would find the right book on the right day.

Authors, then, have a choice. They can give up more and more freedom and cash to publishers in exchange for the publishers taking the risk of finding, alerting and selling to strangers, or they can start to organize a tribe, to build permission, to engage with readers before the book exists and to sell those friends on their work.

Selling to friends (people who know you, trust you, are aware of what you can offer) is orders of magnitude more efficient than seeking out strangers. Sure, it’s time consuming and frightening to earn those friendships, but they are the transformative element of the new publishing.

Once you have a base of friends, then, publishing is reduced to a much simpler set of tasks–the hard work of editing, designing, printing and fulfilling. Hard, but not financially difficult. Not just that, but the speed, freedom and control will transform the way you write as well as how you engage with your audience.

It’s very seductive for an author to believe that a fairy godmother will introduce her fabulous idea to legions of strangers. Seductive, yes, but rarely something that actually happens.

[There are dozens of businesses, that like book publishing, focus on strangers. What happens to your business when you switch gears and focus on your friends instead?]

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