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Spreading ideas outside the bookstore

March 9, 2012
by seth godin

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More and more, bookstores are turning into places where books go to die. Without active promotion, and even better, an easy way for the idea to reach people who don’t hang out in bookstores, it’s difficult for a book to catch on.

Here are two authors/crusaders who have figured out how to put alternative distribution to work for them. Bryan Stevenson, a professor at NYU, spent years honing his stump speech and it all came together with a TED talk he gave two weeks ago. In just a few days online, he has reached more than a quarter of a million people–he doesn’t use a book, he uses himself to spread the idea.

Michelle Alexander started more traditionally–with an extensively researched book, published by an old-school publisher. In the last few months, though, the paperback edition has sold more than 175,000 copies–not because she’s been on television, but because she has relentlessly traveled, speaking to groups who needed to hear her in person in order to start evangelizing her message.

It’s easy to look at the results of viral sensations and marvel at how quickly they went from zero to many. Most of the time, it’s not quick at all–it’s the result of years of groundwork followed by persistent attempts to speak up.

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