Book publishing is changing. It’s changing faster than it has in a hundred years. I’ve been persistent enough to be part of that change, provoking and poking and wondering about what comes next.
Today, I’m thrilled to report on what’s next for me.
- To reinvent the way books are created when the middleman is made less important.
- To reinvent the way books are purchased when the tribe is known and embraced.
- To reinvent the way books are read when the alternatives are so much easier to find.
- To find and leverage great ideas and great authors, bringing them to readers who need them.
The notion of the paper book as merely a package for information is slowly becoming obsolete. There must be other reasons on offer, or smart people will go digital, or read something free. The book is still an ideal tool for the hand-to-hand spreading of important ideas, though. The point of the book is to be spread, to act as a manifesto, to get in sync with others, to give and to get and to hand around.
Our goal is to offer ideas that people need and want to spread, to enjoy and to hold and to own, and to change conversations.
Working with a great team at Amazon, I’m launching a new publishing venture called The Domino Project. I think it fundamentally changes many of the rules of publishing trade non-fiction.
Trade publishing (as opposed to textbooks or other non-consumer ventures) has always been about getting masses of people to know about, understand and read your books. The business has been driven by several foundational principles:
1. The middleman (the bookstore) has a great deal of power. There’s only a limited amount of shelf space, and there are more books (far more books) than we have room for. No display, no sale. That’s one reason books are published with the economically ridiculous model of 100% returns from bookstores. Huge stores can carry thousands of books and return them if they don’t sell. Large chains get a say about what’s on the cover, what the title is, and they even get paid for shelf displays.
2. The audience (the reader) is largely unknown to the publisher, and thus to the author. Authors with large followings still have to start over with each book, because they don’t have permission (or the data) to contact loyal readers directly.
3. Pricing and product are static and slow. Once a book is published, the price is set forever. Add to that the glacial speed from conception to publication date and you see a system that is set up to benefit neither the publisher nor the reader.
4. Books are inherently difficult to spread. The ideas in books might travel, but the act of recommending a book, having the idea stick and a new sale get made is slow or broken. Given how important the ideas in books are, this chain has many weak links. It's worth rethinking how a publishing house could organize around its ultimate goal, which is to spread ideas.
The internet and the Kindle are changing all of these rules. The Domino Project is designed to (at least by way of example) remap many of these foundations.
1. There is no middleman. Because there is infinite shelf space, the publisher has more control over what the reader sees and how. In addition, the Amazon platform allows a tiny organization to have huge reach without taking significant inventory risk. "Powered by Amazon” is part of our name—it describes the unique nature of the venture… I get to figure out the next neat idea, and Amazon can handle printing, logistics and the platform for connection.
2. The reader is tightly connected with the publisher and the author. If you like the sort of things I write or recommend, you can sign up here (for free, using your email) and we can alert you to new works, send you free samples and otherwise make it easy for you to be smart about the new ideas that are generated. (RSS works too).
3. Pricing can vary based on volume, on timing, on format. With this project, I’ve made the decision to ignore the rules that publishers follow to get on the New York Times bestseller list. There’s no point in compromising the consumer experience or the product merely to get a nice ego boost and a small shot of promotion. More on this in a future post, but I'll let you use your imagination.
4. Digital goods and manifestos in book form make it easier to spread complex ideas. It’s long frustrated me that a blog post can reach 100 times as many people as a book, but can’t deliver the nuance a book can. The Domino Project is organized around a fundamentally different model of virality, one that allows authors to directly reach people who can use the ideas we’re writing about.
The Domino Project is named for the domino effect—ideas can quickly spread, moving through a previously static set up. Our mission isn’t to become a promotional machine, focused on interrupting large numbers of people or having significant promotional chops through traditional media. Instead, we're grabbing the opportunity to choose and deliver manifestos that are optimized for the tribe, for the small group that wants to grab them, inhale them and spread them. The good ones will spread, first from person to person, then from one circle to another, and eventually into large groups.
That’s a lot to absorb for one post. I’ve been working on the ideas behind The Domino Project since I published my very first book in 1986. The first manifestos won’t be out for a few months, but you can learn more as we go by following the Domino Project blog here.
PS When we roll out our books, there will be sneak previews and other goodies for those first on the list…