Seth Godin on the future of the book


An edited version of this interview will air on an upcoming episode of Spark.

When you hear the word "book", what comes to mind? Text printed on paper and bound so they stick together? Well, Seth Godin wants to change that. The innovator and author recently launched The Domino Project, an organization that hopes to redefine what it means to be a book, an author and a publisher.

The Domino Project brings every element of publishing, from authorship to distribution and sales, into the digital age. For five centuries, book publishing was a model built on scarcity. To suceed, authors and publishers had to fight for space within these limits. "The mindset of book publishers is to treat everything that way and how they can eke out their tiny share," Seth Godin explained to Nora Young, in an recent interview for Spark. Thanks to technology, this is no longer the case. "What they are forgetting is that the internet and the digital revolution tends to turn that upside down."

For Godin, this means that the industry needs to stop seeing the physical book as the finished product, but rather as a starting point for conversations and community. But turning the definition of "book" upside down also means reinventing the traditional roles found within publishing — starting with authors.

Authors need to become their own marketers and community builders if they want to succeed. This means that authors will do more of the work to find success, but it also means they will keep more control and power over their own careers. Publishers are no longer the king-makers of the literary world, authors are. "This notion that the J.D. Salinger of the future is going to be found by someone at Simon & Schuster is a fairy tale," Godin argues. "Don't wait for us to make you famous because we can't. You need to build a tribe, you need to build a following. If no one is reading your blog or no one is showing up when you give a speech, we can't solve that problem for you. No publisher can."

And if you're an author not comfortable with this? Too bad, Godin says. If you're not willing to do it, you need to find someone who can. After all, authors finding success on their own terms isn't the future, it's happening right now. "The authors who are succeeding today are doing this. They are bootstrapping themselves to their first 10,000 readers," Godin explains. "And once you have 10,000 readers you don't need a traditional publisher any more because you are the one with the scarce asset which is attention, not shelf space."

As for publishers and bookstores, Godin believes they won't be obsolete. They will just look very different. If book publishing catches up to Godin, The Domino Project won't be an innovator. It will be one of many engaging in a dynamic new industry focused on sharing stories, regardless of format.

Which is exactly what Godin wants. "I don't think this is Domino talking," he says. "I think this is the future."

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