“There ain’t no rules here, I’m just trying to accomplish something.” – Thomas Edison
Is print dead?
In a word, “no.”
Recently, however, there’s been a lot of “buzz” surrounding this hot topic. On August 23rd, it seemed to all come to a head when best-selling marketing author Seth Godin broke the news he was ditching his traditional publisher, after 12 bestsellers, to sell his future works directly to his fans (see the full story here via The Wall Street Journal: Author to Bypass Publisher for Fans).
The news hit Twitter like wildfire. The Wall Street Journal went on to state: [Seth Godin] “now has so many direct customer relationships, largely via his blog, that he no longer needs a traditional publisher. [He] now plans to release subsequent titles himself in electronic books, via print-on-demand or in such formats as audiobooks, apps, small digital files called PDFs and podcasts.”
I’m not a best-selling author.
Therefore, I can’t speak from direct experience about how Godin’s decision might affect the economics of traditional publishing in the future. According to best-selling author Tim Ferriss, “there is still real value [when attempting to build credibility and audience] in having the rare stamp of approval that a ‘traditional’ publisher provides [for non-fiction authors in particular].”
For now, I can agree on the “credibility” part of this equation. Although, more and more, I find I make decisions on who is credible based on how good the author’s content is and who in my social circle is subscribing to it and/or commenting on it (online). When it comes, however, to actually building your audience I don’t really see the benefit of having a traditional publisher.
Let me explain.
When Seth made his announcement, many traditional publishers recommended that aspiring authors should not follow him down a similar path. Their reasons? Godin has a fanatical fan base (most new authors do not). To succeed as a self-publisher you must also be a savvy marketing ninja and, lastly, it will take forever to make any money (if you make any at all).
Funny thing, according to some best-selling non-fiction authors I follow, publishers don’t really seem to provide any marketing support. In fact, many authors are forced to learn how to self-promote and build their own audience. Going the traditional route doesn’t guarantee you’ll make money either. Many published authors must sell tens-of-thousands of copies before (if) they “earn out” their advance. It also seems most of their revenue comes from speaking engagements and other strategic by-products.
Are you confused? I am.
It seems, regardless of what route you take you need to build your own audience and that takes time, effort, and patience. However, once you have an audience why would you need a publisher?
There are no rules
As we’ve seen, some have spent years going the traditional route and have been very successful (i.e. Tim Ferriss), THEN went on to build a loyal audience online. On the flip side, others have built their audience online FIRST via a blog then continued on to publish “physical” books (i.e. 37signals).
In your business, your job might not be to become a best-selling author (unless it is). Your job is to build an audience and take them where they want and need to go. Getting published as an author can definitely help, but this can also be accomplished over time using digital channels to push out “professional looking” content.
Whether you’re an aspiring author or a business person looking to build a reputation as a thought leader I believe you are best served by building your audience first, online, based on what’s right for the audience you have today given your current situation and resources. Who knows, maybe after a few years you’ll have a massive fanatical audience and, like Seth Godin, you’ll know who they are, what they want, and where they need to go.
What’s your take?
About the Author:
Mitch Fanning is VP of Strategy & Business Development for Fruition Interactive, an authorized member of Social Media Club, and founding member of Social Media Club Niagara. He’s spent 10 plus years working with businesses of all sizes, from global brands including NBC.com to Canada’s fastest growing Internet companies ranked in the 2009 PROFIT 100. Follow Mitch on his adventures in new media at [mitchellfanning.com].
Photo credit: brdwatchr1