Like author Malcolm Gladwell and Wired Magazine’s Chris Anderson, Seth Godin is one of the new breed of philosopher/science/computer whiz geeks turning notions about everything from behaviour to the media on their heads.
Already an in-demand public speaker, author and entrepreneur, Godin decided to change publishing. His initiative to do so — the Domino Project — was created to spread worthy ideas rapidly, the name coming from the domino effect, where a powerful idea spreads from person to person in a way that’s amplified quickly by sheer volume.
Godin popularised the then-nascent notion of Permission Marketing in 1999, which contributed to the way marketers reach us in the Internet age. Instead of interrupting us with unwelcome broadcasts the paradigm changed to target people looking for a particular product or service and spruiking to them when they’re open to the experience.
A collaboration with Amazon (through which you purchase the books), The Domino Project was born from idea Godin loved at the time but thinks is even more pertinent now. “We’re seeing one industry after another change,” he says. “At the time I talked about books for readers instead of readers for books, and I think it’s more true now than it’s ever been.”
Today the Domino Project takes ideas Godin and his staff find revolutionary and which he can spread to his readers and fans through what the website calls a ‘tight, direct connection with readers’.
“A manifesto is very different from a traditional book in that it makes a point, an argument, and it does it as succinctly as it can,” Godin thinks. “The goal isn’t to entertain, it’s to argue a point or inspire. When a manifesto spreads, it spreads because readers care about it.” There are nine books on the Domino Projects slate at the moment, dealing with subjects as varied as ending malaria and endless workplace meetings.
In part, the Domino Project is a reaction to everything Godin believes is wrong with modern publishing, where — like most art forms — it’s more about moving units to contribute to a corporate bottom line than plumb the depth of the human experience and spread thrilling new points of view.
Godin thinks the answer is to give Big Publishing a swift kick up the R&D budget, and he and contemporaries making it big in electronic books are doing just that. “Like all 400 year old industries, they get stuck,” he says. “They don’t hire people who want to change the rules, they hire people who like the rules and spend all their time looking for great books and great authors, not ways to blow up their industry.”
But he’s quick to add that a world where it’s easy (and quick) to disseminate ideas straight to a readership that’s hungry for them shouldn’t be a free for all. Take away the editorial/publication function and we can already see the result, with web-based ebook platforms awash with rubbish. “There are already tons of really bad books. Curation is vitally important, particularly if you care about conserving your time and attention.”
But the most urgent question facing The Domino Project might be the danger that it turns out to be the same sort of entity it exists to rail against. Will it only work if Godin and his handful of staff keep it small and retain their craftsmanlike approach, or would he like to see it get as big as the Doubledays and Random Houses of the world? “I’d rather people in publishing copy the notion so I can go back to having a normal life as a writer…”
The Domino Project also enjoys the financial freedom to not have a global media multinational demanding results, so it leaves Godin with the project’s true aim – getting good content in front of the people who want it with a minimum of fuss. He’s not even worried about people pirating his books, still a huge concern for the publishing industry when it comes to ebooks. “Total nonsense,” he says when asked if he thinks piracy will have an impact on him. “Sort of like fears that a cruise ship is going to be assaulted by Somali pirates. Piracy is not the problem — not for music, really, and certainly not for books. The problem is attention. The problem is getting people to read again, even if they don’t pay.”