A few days ago Seth Godin posted an update on Project Domino. In just seven months since the project was announced the small team has “published four books. We now have more than 250,000 copies in circulation across the four titles, and every one of them hit the Top 10 list (either hardcover, Kindle or both) on Amazon.” While I can’t speak to the details of Seth’s deal with Amazon, it is a safe assumption that it is structured in a very different way than publishing’s standard 15% royalty.
What is interesting to reflect on here, is how this project has faired versus agent Andrew Wylie’s own publishing venture, called Odyssey Editions. As you’ll recall, Mr. Wylie said his new company would focus on older titles whose digital rights are not owned by traditional publishers. Odyssey Editions flopped when Random House said that it would stop doing business with Mr. Wylie’s agency.
So, what was the difference? Obvious, for sure, but important nonetheless. Seth Godin could care less if he does business with Random House, or any other large publishing house. But Andrew Wylie’s future business depends on it.
Taking this a step further, wasn’t Seth Godin worried that Barnes & Noble would treat him the same way that Random treated Wylie? Perhaps, but in the end it’s Seth’s marketing power that causes him not to care. Seth’s customers will find Seth, wherever Seth tells them to.
For the big publishers to continue to matter they’ve got to prove that marketing is their core competency. Agents are going to continue to be wrapped up for some time, but if big authors (who publishing helped to create in the first place) continue to discover that they can go it alone, publishers are going to have a serious problem on their hands.