Poke the Box, Or Who’s Shacking Up in the Book Industry? – Day 184

Got my copy of Seth Godin’s Poke the Box yesterday. That’s it there, in the cellophane wrapper. It will likely stay that way too for a few days until I get some time to open it.

For me, this is more than just a book — it’s a symbol. A little while back, I talked about books becoming luxury items. Well, it seems they’re becoming “premiums” too. Rex Pickett with his autographed, special edition hardcover (announced before and coming out March 31, according to Loose Gravel Press. Now Seth Godin’s Poke the Box, the first book published by his new publishing imprint The Domino Project.

That’s what really drew me to this book. As far as I know, this is the first “New Age” publisher, one that was launched specifically to take on the challenges of publishing in this age. At the very least, The Domino Project is the first to use Amazon’s “Powered by Amazon” publishing program. That means having heavy consideration for the ebook market but not forgetting the people who, well, just like books. The physical, touchable book.

It also means a marriage between the bookmakers and the booksellers, which is a bigger shift than I think is being realized right now. Instead of trade-offs and returns and ultimately animosity between the two factions, this project is illustrating that you can get rid of that chasm and just, well, partner up.

As foreign as that sounds on the face of it, it actually makes a lot of sense. Why, in this day and age, can’t the book distributors make their own books, and vice versa? Yes, they each take special expertise, but so does running a company like Proctor and Gamble and all its divisions. Surly it can’t be harder than that.

I think of all the business models so far, this is the one that makes the most sense to me. There is the undeniable tide toward ebooks. They’re like the paperbacks of the 60’s and 70’s: relatively cheap, eminently disposable, and (perhaps most importantly) accessible to a wider audience.

Okay, they’re not yet — there are still more Kindles and Kobos and iPads to be sold. But they’re on their way. Within the next five to ten years, ebook sales will likely out-pace traditional book sales. And more sales will be done online than in bookstores.

I also think it’s hard to bet against Seth these days, right? The marketing Midas touch, and all that. And what a perfect subject to start with: Poke the Box! He’s doing that himself with this book about taking risks and doing things differently than the rest of the world. (And at $75 for the premium edition — talk about poking the box on that one!)

Publishing will be in murky waters for the next few years. But imprints like The Domino Project that are tailor made for the new age of publishing will be best positioned (though by no means guaranteed success). That’s not to say that traditional publishers will all be left behind. But it might be more difficult for them to change — it’s hard to become unentrenched from the old ways.

The Domino Project, on the other hand, looks like it is being built on flexibility.


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