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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Author Seth Godin’s perspective on the publishing industry

A posting from The 26th Story blog features an interesting interview with Seth Godin, author of several bestselling marketing books and the recently published title, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us. In the book, Mr. Godin explains that tribes or groups of people connected to each other, an idea, and a leader are the best achievers of lasting change. However, tribes can become “stuck” when they accept the status quo. “Every one of those tribes, though, is a movement waiting to happen, a group of people just waiting to be energized and transformed. A movement is thrilling. It’s the work of many people, all connected, all seeking something better. The new highly leveraged tools of the Net make it easier than ever to create a movement, to make things happen, to get things done. All that’s missing is leadership.” In the interview, Mr. Godin explains that book publishers are currently “stuck” and there is great opportunity to take the lead and become “unstuck.” “You're not in the printing business. The life and death of trees is not your concern. You're in the business of leveraging the big ideas authors have. There are a hundred ways to do that, yet book publishers obsess about just one or two of them. Here's the news flash: that's not what authors care about. Authors don't care about units sold. They care about ideas spread. If you can help them do that, we're delighted to share our profits with you. But one (broken) sales channel--bookstores--and one broken model (guaranteed sale of slow-to-market books) is not the way to get there. If you free yourself up enough to throw that out, you'll figure out dozens of ways to leverage and spread and profit from ideas worth spreading.” Mr. Godin suggests that publishers need to determine what it is, that is holding them back from taking the lead. Mr.Godin goes on to provide an interesting perspective on the topic of free content and the lessons that can be learned from the music industry, noting that he is pessimistic that the book industry will learn from the music industry.

College stores should be concerned about one of the above comments: "But one (broken) sales channel--bookstores--and one broken model (guaranteed sale of slow-to-market books) is not the way to get there." Like publishers, there are opportunities for stores to take the lead and become “unstuck.” It gets back to the fundamental question (again) of what business are college stores in? If it is just pushing paper textbooks, then we as a channel are indeed broken and probably not the way to get to the future. Part of the message here also relates to multi-channel strategies. Most industries have moved toward multi-channel strategies, and so we must expect that a future fact of the retailer’s existence will involve a multi-channel approach – providing new competition, and new opportunities for stores.

To think about this challenge to lead and become "unstuck", Mr. Godin has a posting on Squidoo, which is worth a read. There, Mr. Godin provides a list of 93 tribe building tactics that can be used to engage others and create connections. Many of these ideas would be easy for college stores or the industry to implement. In fact doing so is probably something of an imperative. It is a place to start and take action.

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