Kai Ryssdal: Seth Godin is a busy guy. He’s published 13 books — all of them quite popular — mostly about marketing and leadership and basically, making ideas and change happen. Now he’s trying to change the publishing industry. He’s got a new venture called The Domino Project, aiming to let writers bypass bookstores and go straight to their readers. Make books more like viral videos.
Seth Godin: The idea behind The Domino Project is that most book publishers are obsessed with scarcity — books are hard to find, they’re hard to buy, they’re expensive, and they’re hard to share. And the rest of the world is obsessed with sharing and abundance. So from big things to little things, what we’re trying to do is make it so that books are easy to buy and share, because most people don’t buy books directly; most people are encouraged to buy books by their friends.
For example, no bookstore wants to sell a five-pack or a 10-pack of books, because they don’t know where to stock them and store them or return them. But if you’re buying to share with people, you want to get them at a discount and spread them. So our books come in a five-pack and a 50-pack.
Ryssdal: Somebody’s going to hear this interview, Seth, and say, ‘Wait a minute, this is like self-publishing. That’s been around for years.’
Godin: It is like self-publishing except that it works.
Ryssdal: No sly intended, right?
Godin: Yes. The original self-publishing model was that you did it as a last resort. And I think what we’re seeing from blogs and what we’re seeing from YouTube and what we’re seeing from musicians who are putting their work online directly is that you do it now as a first resort, not as a last resort.
Ryssdal: So let’s talk about your first book in this project, which as it happens, is your book. It’s called “Poke the Box,” it is a compact little manifesto, one must say. Barely 100 pages, not even 100 pages. About in essence, just doing it — get up, go and use your creativity and make it happen. Do I have that right?
Godin: The key part of ‘just do it’ is that we shouldn’t have the word “just” in there. Because the “just” is the hard part. I am encouraging people to understand that we now have an abundance of almost everything — an abundance of spectrum, an abundance of resources, an abundance of factories. What’s scarce are human beings who are willing to stand up and say, ‘Me. I’m ready. Here. It’s done.’
Ryssdal: But here’s the thing, Seth. I read this book and I was one of those people who stood up and said, ‘You know what, this is an awesome idea. I’m going to go and stand up and be counted and pitch my stories and I’ve got 87,000 things that I think we could do better here at Marketplace.’ But taken to the logical extreme, you’re talking about breaking out farther and actually shedding all the shackles of your economic life. And the problem with that is — I’ve got a mortgage, and I’ve got kids to feed, car payments to make, and all that stuff.
Godin: Well yeah, I guess my hyperbole is showing. But here’s the thing, Kai: the guys in Detroit who did everything the foremen told them to — they had a mortgage and kids and school too, and now they’re just plain out of luck. What this economic recession we’re living through is about two things. It’s one, the cyclical one, that one’s over. But the other one, the more permanent one, is about the fact that the Industrial Age is dying.
Ryssdal: So you were looking at the economy while you were writing this book?
Godin: Either that or the economy was reading my book. But yeah, I think that what we are seeing — and it started with a bang, with an Internet boom — is this age that started with Henry Ford, is dying on our watch. This is the industrial revolution of our time. We can pull out the superstars, the people who are making a splash, but it’s all of us. All of us are now wrestling with this idea that there are no great middle-class jobs where someone tells you exactly what to do all day.
Ryssdal: Seth Godin, he’s got a lot going on. One is The Domino Project, about how to get books out. And the other one is the book that he wrote for that project, it’s called “Poke the Box.” Seth, thanks a lot.
Godin: My pleasure, Kai.