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What talent wants

October 14, 2011
by seth godin

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There are countless new publishers being created. Online podcasts, talk shows, ebook publishers, new kinds of film studios and record labels–all of them need talent.

Here’s a four word acronym of what talent wants (along with two things it no longer needs)

MONEY: This is the easiest one, because it’s simple to measure. When in doubt, pay an advance or a fee. When a publisher gives an author $850,000 for her next book, they have earned the right to call the shots. While this is clearly easy, you can see how difficult this is to pull off in a long-tail, moving-toward-free world

UBIQUITY: In an economy based on attention, the publisher that can offer talent a large platform has a significant edge. The reason virtually no one turned down Oprah during her reign was simple—she guaranteed the largest possible audience, and she delivered it every single day. This is why a permission asset–a list of customers/listeners/readers just waiting to pay attention–is at the core of the publishing proposition.

STRUCTURE/SUCCOR/STANDARDS: Talent often looks for someone who will care, raise the bar, shepherd the work, challenge and generally make the good, great. This is why stories of great editors are legendary. Charlie Rose and Woody Allen both get talent for cheap for this very reason. Make a project interesting enough and talent will be interested.

EGO: Rare indeed is a talented person uninterested in what the world thinks. If they’re out there, you probably haven’t heard of them. Writers want to win a Pulitzer, and jugglers want Ed Sullivan to tell them they did a great job. Hollywood publishers are fabulous at this. Producers and executives spend most of their time engaging with the talent early and often and bringing them feedback or control or interesting challenges–the things that drive better work.

The TED conference, then, thrives as a publisher (even though they don’t pay a penny to the talent) because they bring a huge audience via video, they insist on extraordinary presentations (and work with the speakers to get it) and most of all, because there is a prestigious audience, a group the talent would like to consider its peers, just waiting to give a standing ovation and make connections for future projects.

The two letters missing from the acronym now turn MUSE into MUSEUM (sorry, couldn’t help it).

UMBRELLA: Talent has often avoided the vanity press, the self-published route, the notion that it’s okay to pick one’s self. It was unseemly. You looked for cover, for an umbrella to protect you from the criticism that you weren’t good enough to be chosen. I think there are enough extraordinary successes in every field that this is clearly no longer the case.

MECHANICS: It used to be that the most obvious role of the publisher was to handle mundane, expensive and challenging tasks like printing, binding, shipping, accounting, venue arrangements, film developing, carriage, etc. All of these elements are diminished in the digital world–some are still important, but most are easily outsourced by the talent if she chooses. It’s not enough, and those that can only do this are left resorting to money as an inducement, which doesn’t really scale.

The publishing landscape is being completely reshaped–in just about every medium. The next generation will replace this when they get ever better at at least three of the four things talent wants.

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