Publishing’s Brooklyn Problem

But the real question remains: are you writing to be read, or are you writing to get paid? They are becoming ever more divergent paths, with gradations ($6? $9?) in between.

Seth Godin

You know what the real reason is for friction between traditional publishing and self-publishing? Brooklyn.

There are too many people working in trade publishing who live in Brooklyn, and the high cost of living there leads to a zero-sum blindness when it comes to seeing self-publishing as a viable option. When you’re paying $1,500 month to share a closet with three strangers you met on Craigslist—DISINTERMEDIATION!!! (drink)—it’s all about the bottom line, and it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where the making the NY Times bestsellers list isn’t absolutely critical to success and that a publisher’s editorial and marketing muscle is the difference maker.

In reality, a savvy author living outside of NYC (or other expensive urban centers) doesn’t need to sell tens of thousands of copies of their books via Barnes & Noble, and can potentially do just fine with a series of $2.99 ebooks landing in the top 20 of, say, Amazon’s Science Fiction > High Tech Best Sellers list.

Much like Google didn’t disintermediate big ad agencies via AdWords, nor TV networks or Hollywood studios via YouTube, but instead provided new channels for those who had no need for the Super Bowl, Amazon has done the same for authors who are better served with a scalpel than a mallet.

When your primary goal is to reach new readers and build an engaged audience, your business model and expectations of it are very different from one in which short-term profit trumps long-term sustainability. When you live in Brooklyn, the subway ride into your Manhattan office is powered by short-term profits, by any means necessary, including your position being eliminated in year-end cuts when not enough new readers were found.

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