Every one of Seth Godin’s 12 books about leadership, marketing and spreading ideas in a post-industrial world has been a bestseller (Purple Cow, 2003, etc.). The 50-year-old author, blogger and entrepreneur, who’s been called “America’s Greatest Marketer,” says that his latest, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? (Penguin, 2010), is about becoming indispensible in the workplace. He also announced that it will be his last book with a mainstream publisher. Here, we talk to Godin about blogging, exiting the traditional publishing route and the current workplace revolution.
Read more of the Best Indie Books of 2011.
Why have you decided that this will be your last book using a traditional publisher?
I think that all successful authors are successful because the folks who read them choose them—there are so many substitutes. The art of being read is being unique or hard to replace or worth talking about. Otherwise, people can get their ideas somewhere else, somewhere faster or cheaper or easier. There’s no shortage of alternatives, so to become a linchpin as a writer is imperative if you want to have an impact.
I also wrote about this on my blog.
Talk a little about Linchpin.
Linchpin is about the death of the industrial age after 100 years. That has implications for our economy, for our worklife, for the future of enterprise. The book is about art and generosity and doing work that matters. This isn't a clever new tactic for a new set of gimmicks. It's about taking advantage of the revolution of our time, the biggest one since Henry Ford and mass marketing.
Do you feel promoting it yourself will negatively impact the time and passion you spend writing?
For the last 12 books, I’ve already signed up for a full-time job of promoting and connecting and being in the world. Perhaps if traditional publishers were great at this, authors wouldn’t have to be, but it’s crystal clear that for 99 percent of all authors, except for maybe J.D. Salinger, you do that work or your idea wilts. It’s part of the gig.
You’re a bestselling author. Is going indie a viable path for a lesser-known writer?
That’s the wrong question. The right question is: if you want to be an author, who are you trusting to build a tribe, to build permission, to bring the ideas to the world and create an asset that you can use for the next idea? If it’s the publisher, good luck finding someone who has the economic foundation to do your work justice. If it's not the publisher, it better be you. So start building that.
That's the message of my decision. Not “Seth Godin can do this and you can’t.” But “Any author who cares about the work either needs to hand these tasks to a publisher that can do it, or take control and start building.”
Do you consider yourself an author first or a blogger?
I notice things. Sometimes I write them down. Rarely, I turn that notion into a business. Often I teach people, in person, on stage, on the blog, in a book, how I think about the things I’m noticing. It all starts with the noticing and then extends into the teaching.
Many writers and journalist lament the death of print with the rise of digital media. You seem to feel the opposite.
I lament the fading of vinyl LPs and the lesser sound of MP3s. The delivery method is the music, in many ways. I don't so much lament people reading ideas in new ways, especially if those new ways reach five or 10 or a thousand times as many people, faster and with impact.
I love paper, but I don't think we should destroy the idea industry as we try to defend the paper business. Far better, it seems to me, to race to the top and push to build these relationships now while we still can.