Seth Godin Gives Up On Traditional Publishing

The publishing world and the blogosphere is full of the reports that Seth Godin, 12 x NY bestselling author of marketing books, has given up on traditional publishing. Here is his blog post outlining his move to digital publishing as it allows rapid spreading of ideas direct to the customer. I previously posted about how he launched ‘Linchpin’ with non-traditional media so this seems like a natural progression.

In this video, I explain what this means for you and I as authors, and also how it is impacting the opinions of the publishing industry. (Main points below if you want to read)

In the video I explain:

  • What Seth Godin announced on his blog. Basically that he is moving on from traditional publishing and focusing on publishing his ideas to his customers directly through more digital media including ebooks, videos, blog posts and more. But not print books. He knows his customers (438,000 followers of his blog!) so he can sell direct to them.
  • What it means to you: Indie (independent) publishing is becoming more acceptable to the mainstream. When big name authors go that way, then there is no longer a stigma attached. I have seen some bloggers talking about changing their minds already. Check out agent Rachelle Gardner’s blog post on other publishing options.
  • Vocalization of issues by someone who publishers respect will benefit all of us e.g. time from idea to market needs to shrink. For fiction, stories are perennial so this doesn’t matter so much, but it definitely makes a difference for non-fiction.
  • Seth has made this move because he can market direct to his customers and he has a global fan-base from his blog, his books and his ideas worldwide. He has been blogging every day for years. This makes it very clear that authors need to build their platform regardless of whether they want a publishing deal or to go indie. Either way, you need to market to customers. [Ideas on platform building here]

Here are 2 other articles on the matter from blogs I read religiously.

What are your thoughts on this? Does it change your view of self-publishing/being an indie author?

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    1. says

      I think it’s a case of people are sheep. LOL.

      I don’t know of a nicer way to put that.

      It’s like people don’t have a concept of something not being true or false based on who says it but based on whether or not it’s true or false. Many indie authors have been saying all of these things for a few years now. But nobody cares until someone well-known says it. As if these weren’t all logical arguments to begin with.

      When someone who has just been observing makes these arguments then the counterpoint is: “You’ve never been traditionally published. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

      Of course then Seth Godin comes out and makes these same points. And he actually *is* someone who understands publishing… and business actually… and I do find that aspect of it interesting.

      It’s almost like there is a sort of publishing fundamentalism where the “true believers” will fight and claw to reframe their discussion and change their terminology so they can still be right and indie authors can still be “bitter morons.”

      I think Seth Godin is awesome. This is more a dig on human beings who can’t make a step or do something until it becomes “popular enough” because some “authority figure”… in this case someone somewhat famous… makes some kind of stand on the issue.

      I do think it will take more than Seth Godin though. People are going to be rah rah indie for a little bit, then that news will die down especially in light of the realization that “most people aren’t Seth Godin”. (It’ll probably take a few hours for that counterpoint to form.)

      It will take several big names defecting, as well as several indies who started indie rising up and doing well, before the game totally shifts, IMO.

      • says

        Zoe, your opinion is certainly one part of the spectrum! We are all on there somewhere :)
        You’re right, it will take more than Seth Godin but perhaps he will start the avalanche. Big name authors have to see other big names succeed, so this is definitely good news for indies and any author who wants to get their book out there!

        • says

          OMG Joanna, I wish I could be more like you. You’re so diplomatic. I go on a ranting tear and you say: “your opinion is certainly one part of the spectrum!” LMAO Thank you so much for not getting mad at me for spazzing like that. It was 5:30 in the morning my time and I hadn’t yet gone to sleep yet. Probably not the best time to make a reply. :)

          You rock with your positive attitude! I wish I was more like that!

    2. Brian Reich says

      I think this is an exciting announcement and certainly a validation for the idea that a) there are other alternatives to traditional publishers — which allow for more people to author works, promote them, add to the conversation around various issues, etc. and b) that publishers need to recognize and adapt better to changing times. However, the ‘not everyone is Seth Godin’ piece is very important to this discussion. I have been fortunate — I published a book with Wiley & Sons and will publish another next year. I could have written the book and published it independently, digitally or otherwise, but I chose to pursue the traditional route because of the support, and credibility, that they provide. Perhaps when I am a best-selling, world-changing author I will be able to carve a more independent path. Perhaps when I am a more seasoned author or have developed a voice like Seth Godin I will be able to create without as much involvement from a seasoned book editor. Not yet. And there are lots of other authors who I think would benefit from that support offered by publishers as well. I applaud Seth Godin, and am a little jealous at the same time… but that doesn’t mean his announcement should be seen as more than an endorsement of the possibility that more independent, digital publishing offers and a call to action for the publishing industry. The rest still must be figured out.

      • says

        Indeed Brian. We all have to figure this out for ourselves. I didn’t get a deal with Wiley so I self-published and went down the route of marketing direct to customers (with this blog, twitter, podcast, videos etc) and although I’m clearly nowhere near Seth Godin in influence or numbers following, it definitely makes more of a difference going direct to consumers.
        I am still interested in a traditional publishing deal for fiction – the sub title of this blog is now “Adventures in writing, publishing and book marketing”. I’m a fan of all types of publishing, and as per comment with Zoe above, there is room for all on the spectrum!

        Thanks, Joanna

    3. Brian Reich says

      Totally agree, there is — and should be — a wide spectrum. I think its very easy (particularly when blogs posts, and discussions in the comments, and panel discussions at upcoming conferences, etc. are the venues of opportunity for having this discussion) for the conversation to focus on the wrong things here. The fact that Seth Godin opted for an alternative route to publishing his books in the future is a data point, not a big deal. Your experience and success marketing, and the work you have done, lessons you have learned, insights you continue to share, etc. is ultimately more important to this conversation and everyone’s learning going forward. The success that you have created and the methods you have used to make that happen tell us more about what is possible, what we all need to know as authors, what the publishers should be learning from, etc. If/when people focus on the bigger names, the success stories that others will find challenging to learn from because the context is different, the whole conversation will get skewed.

      Personally, I would have framed the conversation differently. Instead of saying “woo hoo! Seth Godin has gone independent and digital’ I would have said something like “Here is what Seth Godin should know about how to promote his books without the help of a big publisher — something I (Joanna Penn) have learned.” Its going to be challenging for Seth Godin to adapt his whole process to the post-big publisher world and he should be learning from you, asking you for help, elevating what you have learned. You should lead and he should ride your coat tails to make this argument for everyone else, not the other way around.

      Thanks for what you do though – its very helpful to me personally, and in terms of people I work with and talk to about this stuff.

      • says

        That’s very sweet Brian. Thank you! I do try to share everything I am learning on this blog, I do harp on about platform often enough!
        Seth did a fantastic job of promoting Linchpin without traditional media which I did learn a lot from and I love his books. Guess I am one of his raving fans :)

    4. says

      This is a bold, big move for Seth. He’s been known for being a mover and a shaker of sorts. Exciting for those of us as authors. I am writing a non-fiction book myself and there’s no doubt, utilizing a blog or e-method will get the reader the info much faster. However, I must say, there is yet still something grand about a book, paper in my hands. Not sure that print is yet ready to go away, but I can surely see getting it first in e-form, then print later. This will surely challenge and cause pause for publishing companies.

      • says

        Hi Chuck,
        I don’t know if Seth is saying no to print, just using a middleman of publishers. I am using print on demand to sell on Amazon, and he could also do presales of a print run like Scott Sigler to the fans. There are many options
        I like paper as well, and love having the option of print books, but you can do that as an indie as well.

    5. says

      Liking the video posts!

      I really need to write about this subject properly. I agree entirely that we writers need to think about building a platform, especially if you’re thinking of self-publishing. My big concern is that the successful writers who aren’t backed by a publisher will be the one’s who are brilliant at marketing their work, not the ones that produce the best novels, stories etc.

      It’s a myth that this new techno-dawn has levelled the playing field. The field is far from level for those writers whose IT skills aren’t up to scratch. How can someone be expected to build a platform and push, push, push their work when they don’t know what a PDF is, let alone how to create one.

      There are truly revolutionary things happening in the publishing industry at the moment. It’s awesome. But collectively we need to acknowledge that, for some writers, and they could be truly brilliant writers, the revolution is creating an obstacle, not clearing a path.

      But heck, I guess that’s where blogs like ours can step in and make a difference. Keep up the smashing work!


      • says

        Thanks Iain, I’m glad you like the videos. I’m trying to do more (as I know you are too!)
        Authors with no IT skills will still use third parties to do all that, and that may be small press publishers, like Michelle from ireadiwrite who I interviewed last week
        She is coaching authors through that as a publisher.
        and yes, I hope this blog and others will help as well :)

        • Cheryl Schenk says

          I too am excited to hear this news. I have nothing against traditional if it works, but it is not always a viable option.
          As for people not knowing how to build up there on-line presence, another option is to get adventurous and learn. When I did the children’s book I knew NOTHING about a design program, but I spent several months learning and was able to do the layout for our book, and judging by the feedback, I did well. My next task is to learn more about great blogging and marketing. I look forward to learning something new again. Good luck to all you indies out there and Joanna your contributions are spurring me on. Thanks again.

    6. says

      Joanna –

      This is stunning news – and welcome news! My personal thought – this is just as good an idea for non-fiction writers as it is for fiction writers. I write in a specific non-fiction market, but I also want to branch out into two other areas – FlashFiction and cozy mysteries. I would love to do both of these things as an Indie!


      • says

        Hi Bonnie, yes, platform is great either way. I meant more that the time pressure to get a book out is there more for non-fiction as the world moves so fast whereas stories are more accessible over the long term. I know the books written on any tech are out of date as soon as they are printed these days!
        You can definitely do both as an indie!

    7. says

      It’s quite simple, actually.

      What happened in the music world a decade ago and and has happened in the news industry today (and is slowly happening in the film and television) was bound to happen in the publishing world.

      The middlemen are being cut out for several reasons:

      1) independent artists of all kinds can earn more money with fewer sales without a split with a “middleman” and
      2) the value of promotion, publicity and marketing (which was the primary value the middlemen brought to the table) is largely possible without them. In fact, studios, publishing houses and record companies may offer to “take you on” but they reserve their BIG marketing bucks for the few projects each year that they consider to be their “money makers”, leaving even traditionally published authors (etc) with the mother-lode of the work of marketing anyway.

      The times, they are a-changin’

      • says

        Thanks Madison, that’s a key point you made as well. Indie artists can make more money with fewer sales, so books that could be rejected by publishers as being too small a market can do quite well on their own.

    8. says

      Seth Godin is making a major error. He appears to believe that speed of delivery of knowledge is more important than the form in which that knowledge id delivered. We live in a three dimensional, physical world and we value and engage with physical things. Although ebooks are popular – indeed Kindle product sales are now outselling physical book sales in many areas – the physical book will not die or whither because we like and engage with physical things.

      Seth Godin needs to have traditional books for people to engage with them physically. The connection between the author and the reader is lessened without that physicality. True, he can go direct to his readers via blogs and ebooks, but without those physical books he will be weakening his connection. He needs those publishers much more than he seems to think.

      However, he is demonstrating that publishers are way, way behind where they need to be. They should be offering a combination of online/offline publishing services, producing books in download forms, blogs, etc etc. Most of them still only think of the physical book with internet as an afterthought.

      Perhaps Seth Godin’s strike for freedom is more an indication of the state of the publishing industry than anything else. It is time publishers moved out of the 19th Century, where most of them appear stuck…!

      • says

        Hi Graham,
        I don’t think Seth was saying no to print. He’s saying no to traditional publishing. When you publish it yourself, you can get a print book out very fast, so I imagine he will do print books, but will do them in a different way e.g. print on demand or self-publishing runs.
        Just my thought on the matter as I like print too, I just want it faster!

        • says

          I’m glad Seth is still going to use print. I agree that we need it faster. But therein lies the 19th Century position of traditional publishing. It is perfectly possible for a newspaper publisher to produce 100,000 words in print in 24 hours. Why does it take a book publisher a year or more to produce less words in print? There is no technical or editorial reason why printed books cannot be produced within a week. The only issue is the business structures and attitudes of book publishers. Hopefully, then, Seth Godin’s decision will be something of a challenge to them. Otherwise, they are doomed to certain extinction.

    9. Wilhelmien says

      Dear Joanna,

      This is truly exciting news! Thank you for your video about this move.

      I am very pleased about the fact that Publishing is changing and fully agree that the real opportunity lies in building a platform. Maybe this is the biggest challenge for us, to change from relying on traditional publishing to build a platform for us to building one ourselves. No more hiding in your office or secluded writing space out of your audience’s eyes, but to realize that you are now not only the writer but the marketer and stage personality of the knowledge you share.

      I believe that readers will change in the near future towards wanting to know more about the writer and being able to identify with them in person.

      Personally, I believe that a combination of electronic media and printed books through self publishing are a winning formula for the moment.

      Happy writing to all fellow Indies’

    10. says

      I sent my latest manuscript to the publisher at the end of July. They plan to publish in September – next year! OK, speed may not be everything (and for don’t-know-how-many weeks the books will be on the boat from China) but that just seems ridiculous. But as Graham Jones suggests, I’m planning to continue running old and new media in tandem.

      • says

        Thanks Graham. I still like print too, but seriously, life moves too fast these days. It’s hard to promote something you wrote over 15 months ago! Also, from a financial point of view, you will have missed out on 15 months of ebook sales by waiting that long. A combined approach is a good one. I’m a fan of publishing the ebook with print on demand model – very low cost of entry and available as soon as you load it to Amazon. [I absolutely think people need a professional editor as well though – so not total DIY!]

    11. says

      I’ve been following your tweets (@shirleyhs) and have now discovered your blog. Great all-around social media platform. You are a good model to follow. Great idea to do a video in the aftermath of such an important publishing announcement.

      • says

        Thanks so much Shirley. I had just got home from the day job and it did take some effort to do the video, so I am glad you thought it was good. I am trying to expand my audience onto video as well as text and audio. I’m now following you on Twitter as well. Thanks

    12. says

      Enjoyed the video, and good for Seth Godin :-)
      I self-published my first novel using a self-publishing company in 2006.
      Then in 2009 I revised Beautiful Strangers, set up my own publishing company (Colbere Publishing) and have never looked back. Best thing I ever did.
      I converted BS to ebook recently and am delighted to say it hit Number One in Kindle Best Seller list last Saturday!
      To all indie authors . . . onwards and upwards :-)

    13. says

      Thank you Joanna.
      It took me a little while longer than 24 hours as I found converting to ebook was a big challenge, but also an amazing experience. I have to say I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute. And, I am now able to help other authors.


    1. […] When Seth Godin left traditional publishing I thought the balance was tipping, but now I really think self-publishing has hit the mainstream. When authors of Guy’s stature do it their own way, that is something worth paying attention to. It means the consciousness has shifted amongst the thought leaders, and that can only be a good thing. […]

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