The last hardcover
Almost exactly a year after we started, Sarah's book is the last print book we'll be launching. Twelve books, twelve bestsellers, published in many languages around the world.
I've posted a history of what we built, along with some of what we learned along the way.
By most of the measures I set out at the beginning, the project has been a success. So why stop? Mostly because it was a project, not a lifelong commitment to being a publisher of books. Projects are fun to start, but part of the deal is that they don't last forever.
The goal was to explore what could be done in a fast-changing environment. Rather than whining about the loss of the status quo, I thought it would be interesting to help invent a new status quo and learn some things along the way. Here are a few of my takeaways:
- Permission is still the most important and valuable asset of the web (and of publishing). The core group of 50,000 subscribers to the Domino blog made all the difference in getting the word out and turning each of our books into a bestseller. It still amazes me how few online merchants and traditional publishers (and even authors) have done the hard work necessary to create this asset. If you're an author in search of success and you don't pursue this with singleminded passion, you're making a serious error. (See #2 on my advice for authors post from five years ago, or the last part of my other advice for authors post from six years ago.)
- The ebook is a change agent like none the book business has ever seen. It cuts the publishing time cycle by 90%, lowers costs, lowers revenue and creates both a long tail and an impulse-buying opportunity. This is the most disruptive thing to happen to books in four hundred years. It's hard for me to see significant ways traditional book publishers can add the value they're used to adding when it comes to marketing ebooks, unless they get busy with #1.
- Booksellers have a starfish problem. Without permission (see #1) it's almost impossible for a publisher to be heard above the noise, largely because long tail merchants haven't built the promotional tools traditional retailers have long used to highlight one title over another. You used to be able to buy useful and efficient shelf space at a retailer. Hard to do that now.
- There is still (and probably will be for a while) a market for collectible editions, signed books and other special souvenirs that bring the emotional component of a book to the fore. While most books merely deliver an idea or a pasttime, for some books and some readers, there's more than just words on paper. Just as vinyl records persist, so will books. Not because a reader can't get the information faster or cheaper, but because there's something special about molecules and scarcity.
- When you combine #1, #3 and #4, you get to Kickstarter, which it seems to me, is going to be ever more important, particularly to new authors, authors that don't write genre ebooks and anyone with a tribe who wants to produce something like a book.
- Sponsored ebooks are economically irresistible to readers, to sponsors and to authors. I'm proud to have pioneered this, and I think it's a trend worth pursuing. The value transfer to the reader is fabulous (hey, a great book, for free), and the sponsor gets to share in some of that appreciation. The author gets a guaranteed payday as well as the privilege of reaching ten or a hundred times as many readers.
- The ebook marketing platform is in its technical infancy. There are so many components that need to be built, that will. Ebooks are way too hard to give as gifts and to share. Too hard to integrate into social media. And the ebook reader is a lousy platform for discovery and promotion of new titles (what a missed chance). All that will happen, the road map is there, but it's going to take commitment from Apple, B&N and Amazon.
- If you're an author, pick yourself. Don't wait for a publisher to pick you. And if you work for a big publishing house, think really hard about the economics of starting your own permission-based ebook publisher. Now's the time.
- Most of all, the character of people in the world of books hasn't changed since I started in this business 27 years ago. Every author I dealt with was a delight. Smart, passionate, honest, humble (and yes, good looking). Readers sense this, I think, and treat books and the people who make them very differently than someone hawking a vitamin or a penny stock. Publishing is about passion and writing is a lifestyle, not a shortcut to a mansion and a Porsche. Bestselling authors are like golfers who hit holes in one. It's a nice thing, but there are plenty of people who will keep playing even without one.
I'm not going away, any time soon, but, except for a digital bonus coming soon, the Domino Project won't see any new titles (the current ones will be for sale forever). I'd like to thank Lisa who listened to me rant for more than ten years, the interns who helped me build it, the authors whose ideas we brought to the world and the passionate people (especially Amy and Alan) who made it work.
PS Thanks to everyone who has bought one of our books, and double thanks to anyone who shared a copy with a friend or colleague.