Seth Godin's mini-guide to publishing, selling and marketing books now

Seth Godin's mini-guide to publishing, selling and marketing books now

Over the past quarter century, Seth Godin has taught and inspired millions of entrepreneurs, marketers, leaders, and fans from all walks of life, via his blog, online courses, lectures, and bestselling books. He is the inventor of countless ideas and phrases that have made their way into mainstream business language, from Purple Cow to Tribes.

In an exclusive video keynote created specially for this year's FutureBook Live conference on 30th November, Seth will explain how the ideas from his brand new book, This Is Marketing, can help reinvigorate the future of the book trade.

To get a little preview of his speech, I Skyped Godin in New York - and it turned into a long discussion on many aspects of book publishing, marketing and selling.

Read on for the inimitable Mr Godin on... 

... complacency

Book sales are up, and they're up because a few people are buying more books, not because a lot of people are buying some books. And that is a symptom of an industry in dramatic decline. These are really good people who make a product they can be proud of. They keep their promises, they don't cheat, they don't steal, and they're not always chasing the next stupid bright light. All of those things are great.

But I've been watching for thirty years and they keep shooting themselves in the foot, over and over again. And they're not going to get too many more chances to be able to do this, because as soon as Penguin Random House or Simon & Schuster or whoever goes from making a little bit every day to losing a little bit every day, they're just going to fire everybody. The backlist keeps it moving, but the backlist is threatened because, as we've seen with Spotify hurting the backlist for music, once you've got access to the six paragraphs you need from that book, you don't have to buy the book again. 

... being reader-focused

Something I saw that I was thrilled with was the sixth biggest publisher in the US is a religious publisher called Thomas Nelson. They make 15% of their revenue in one weekend at a conference. So what they've been able to do is organise 70,000 of their readers who want to come together, who want to be part of something, who fill up a giant football stadium for two and a half days - paying for the privilege - reconnecting annually and then going back out into the world filled with enthusiasm. Because they're willing to see and engage with their readers. But all you have to do is ask what's the toll-free number for Penguin, and you'll realise that Penguin doesn't want to hear from readers. And there are almost no successful businesses left that don't want to hear from their customers. 

... targeted bookselling

We know that in the US the healthiest segment of print books is kids' books. If a friend has a baby, I send them a dozen kids' books. So the question is why can't I go into a bookseller and find a basket filled with a dozen books by age - grab 'n go? The typical 45-year-old doesn't know anything about books for one-year-olds, so why is the idea that "we have almost every book on the shelf, find what you want" an appropriate way for the middle-man to behave?

If you go to a jewellery store, or an art gallery, they don't say we have every piece of jewellery or art ever made. And if you go to a gift store, they don't say we have every gift. So why do bookstores say we have every book? The fact is they don't. Every book is on Amazon, or whatever your country's equivalent of Amazon is. You're not going to win the 'we have everyone' battle, so don't try. What would happen if instead you said "we're the best mystery book store in the world"? And the experience of going to the store is worth the trip, and the experience of talking to our sales people - who don't get paid minimum wage - is worth the experience, and our books cost more than Amazon's, so if you want to go by your books on Amazon, begone! But if you want the experience of getting them from us, that experience is worth paying for. 

... events as bookshops

In San Diego, Comic Con is a business that is worth more than 10, even 50 million dollars a year. And Comic Con meets almost every definition of a bookstore in that what they do is assemble people who like to buy things that are on paper, and they assemble the vendors, and they sell it to them. And it's more fun to go to Comic Con than it is to go to a comic book shop. So you could argue, tough, I'm going to have a comic book shop. But why wouldn't you just have Comic Con instead?

... book signings

I don't do book signings because too many customers don't know Godin's rule of book signings, which is: if you step within 12 feet of the desk where the author is sitting, you must buy the book. You're not allowed to come up, look at the book and then put it back down and not buy it! That's not allowed! And now when I go to a book signing, I'd say 80% of the time people would rather have a selfie than a book. It frustrated me at first and now I understand what's going on, which is: a selfie is a better souvenir, more shareable, than a signed book. And so if we want people to buy a book as opposed to reading it online, or just the summary, there better be something about it that's better than a selfie. 

... skewed priorities

For the typical author, who wants to view this is a job with a boss, with the editor and the publisher as the boss, the editor and the publisher are not being good bosses. Because they're not having their workers focus their energy beyond the writing on things that will actually and truly engage with an audience and build a following. Instead what they do is book publishers think their customer is the bookseller. What the bookseller should be saying to the publisher is don't send your authors to do mediocre opportunities for newspapers that get read by 1000 people that sells 10 books. Instead, we want authors to do X,Y and Z, because we'll be able to multiply that by 10x. If the booksellers ask for that, the publishers will respond. But everyone's just waiting for someone else to take over. Everyone's waiting for someone else to lead.

... big tech

It's such a waste of time. There's never going to be a blockchain-enabled bookstore that matters. 

... the real disruption

The smartphone changed everything. It changes everything. When I started out in this business, the average person spent 20 minutes a day reading. And now the average person is spending nine hours a day reading. They're just not spending it reading books. But it's an increase of 27x! So when you show up and say "oh, by the way, put down your phone (which is really hard) and read", people say: "what are you talking about, I just spent the past nine hours reading!" And this device uses reading as a form of connection. And books use reading as a form of disconnection. And we've got to figure out how to coexist in a world where people are fully hooked on connection.


The reason that audiobooks in the US keep going up is that they are self-propelled. The audiobook moves whether you push it or not. And that's what this generation and the generation after it want, which is: I'll strap in and go for the ride, but don't ask me to turn the pages.

... organising the niches

Why did Harry Potter work so well? It worked because there was significant social pressure to read it. And that social pressure engaged someone because they weren't reading it to be a reader, they were reading it because they wanted to be in the circle. That's self-fulfilling in the sense that you have to have a hit to have social pressure. But you can have micro-hits that are based on micro-social pressure.

That's the ideal where the smallest viable audience kicks in. Book publishing is the original niche marketer. But too often editors substitute 'whoever' for a niche. That's not what a niche is. A niche is a tiny, self-selected, self-identified, connected group that will know you did this. That takes us back to Comic Con; Comic Con is about organising the niches. 

...creating his own micro-hit

I think I can do my best work in promoting it for Penguin if I can get people to buy an eight-pack. And the idea of eight-pack is: you're going to share seven of them and that's going to make your life better, because there will be seven other people you can talk to about it. So the eight-pack is going to come out the day after we launch, it costs $150 and it comes with two things: $1000 worth of coupons on the video course and eight collectible covers, each different, that I designed with my creative director out of 19 total that we made. They're collectible and tradable, YoYo Ma to Patti Smith, all over the place. There are only 2000 sets, when the 2000 sets are done we're never going to make another one. So there will be 2000 people who have eight copies of the book who will spread it - and then we're off to the races. It took a huge amount of my time, but I think it's going to be great.

FutureBook Live takes place on 30th November in London, at 155 Bishopsgate. The full programme can be accessed here, and tickets can be bought here.