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.
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.
I am exhausted by old plots. From the New York Times Book Review today:
“Childhood friends in their mid-thirties find themselves at the crossroads of live and love. A vacation on the shore of North Carolina’s Outer Banks seems to be just what they need. But when an unexpected guest arrives, they all begin to question everything they thought they knew. Sometimes, when you need a change in your life, the tide just happens to pull you in the right direction.”
Perhaps I’m jaded by too many years in publishing (already… and it has not been all that many), but this and other selected summer reads are just too much over played. Too much of the same.
My first set of questions surrounds what is the real relationship that these publishing house have with these digital resources? Weekly calls? Monthly meetings? Do the digital media employees at publishing houses have a concrete connection to these other resources? For strategic planning? For consulting work? Market analysis?
Most of these potential acquisition targets are run by former publishing industry leaders. Why would they want to rejoin the bureaucracy they successfully already left? Or what, besides an exit, would digital media entrepreneurs gain?
Amazon has much more seriously gone into the publishing business and launched its fourth imprint, Montlake Romance. From Jeff Belle: “Romance is one of our biggest and fastest growing categories, particularly among Kindle customers, so we can’t wait to make The Other Guy’s Bride and other compelling titles available to romance fans around the world. We also know our customers enjoy genre fiction of all kinds, so we are busy building publishing businesses that will focus on additional genres as well.”
Meanwhile three leading trade publishers – Simon & Schuster, Penguin Group USA and Hachette Book Group – have formed a joint venture to sell books, Bookish.com. As detailed by the New York Times, “There’s a frustration with book consumers that there’s no one-stop shopping when it comes to information about books and authors,” said Carolyn Reidy, the president and chief executive of Simon & Schuster. “We need to try to recreate the discovery of new books that currently happens in the physical environment, but which we don’t believe is currently happening online.”
The question is, who is better positioned to win in the other’s space? Are publishers better booksellers or are booksellers better publishers? Who comes in with a better strategic position?
“To beef up its offer, Amazon brought in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which would have published the print editions of Ms. Hocking’s books, according to insiders … St. Martin’s Press ended up winning the auction, paying $2 million for the series of four novels, but Amazon actually made the highest offer of the six bidders, according to insiders.”
Industry insider Mike Shatzkin points out that Amazon does not have traditional book store distribution, but in reality that is not a big blocker. Any bookstore would take Amanda Hocking – even if it was Amazon doing the selling in.