Spinning Dominoes: Don’t Believe the Hype… But DO Learn From It

Seth Godin Rides A Unicorn by zoomar
Seth Godin Rides A Unicorn by zoomar via Flickr

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.

Seth Godin, December 8, 2010

Was it really just twelve months ago that Seth Godin boldly launched The Domino Project, his purportedly innovative publishing partnership with Amazon that was going to ride the coattails of the Internet and the Kindle, eliminate the middleman (O RLY?!!), and “remap” the “foundational principles” upon which trade publishing was built?

Has it really been only nine months since The Domino Project’s first release, Poke the Box, a disappointing retread of his traditionally published and far superior Tribes?

Did any of the 12 books he published offer truly complex ideas, go viral in any demonstrable way, or introduce a viable new business model for trade publishing?

And yet, not quite one year to the day it was announced, Godin is shutting The Domino Project down, offering the awkward explanation that “it was a project, not a lifelong commitment to being a publisher of books,” instead of, perhaps, admitting that publishing is harder than it looks if you want to swim at the deep end of the trade pool in the middle of a dramatic transition, as he obliquely acknowledges in many of his noteworthy takeaways, especially this one:

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.

Seth Godin, November 29, 2011

Ironically, most of his takeaways are things that weren’t unknown to anyone paying attention a year ago, including the value of an email list; the importance of an author’s platform; the increasingly out-of-whack signal:noise ratio in the market; print as premium product; the power of free promotions combined with targeted marketing; and, perhaps the most obvious, ebooks have a long way to go before they replace print.

Credit where due, though, while not nearly as humble as Richard Nash’s candid take on Cursor’s shortcomings, Godin does a nice job of offering highlights, and lowlights, of each of The Domino Project’s books at Squidoo, including the interesting explanation of his disappointment in We Are All Weird: “This one hit the bestseller list the first day (I think it went to #9 overall) but it ultimately disappointed me. The problem, I think, was our lack of aggressive outbound promotion. We alerted my blog readers and readers of the Domino blog, but I didn’t hit the road, didn’t do a lot of virtual promotion, didn’t push.”

Ebooks aren’t magic; having a platform doesn’t mean you don’t have to do the work; and, most importantly, in the digital era, distribution is the easy part. It’s also a part that Godin took a calculated gamble on by limiting himself to Amazon and the Kindle platform, and it will be very interesting to see where he goes for his next book after so boldly proclaiming he was done with traditional publishing last summer.

For the second time.

I should note that I generally like and respect Godin, mostly when he sticks to his knitting and focuses on permission marketing, but I think we can safely add The Domino Project to the ever-growing list of wannabe disruptors who get tons of hype only to fade away into bit players or complete irrelevance.

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