Seth Godin, the best-selling business author who jettisoned his longtime publisher Portfolio in August 2010 in favor of selling his books directly to his readers, is now returning to Portfolio and will publish three new titles in January.
Bloomberg NewsAuthor Seth Godin says testing reader interest could reduce risks.
But Mr. Godin, a marketing iconoclast known for titles like “Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable,” is taking an unorthodox path. A champion of new approaches to business, Mr. Godin decided to test online whether readers would be interested in his new books before the works actually hit the shelves, a decision that he says could make publishing and selling books considerably less risky in the future.
For Mr. Godin, his hybrid approach—which essentially supplements his publisher’s efforts with his own promotional work—could well become an industry template because it eliminates much of the uncertainty for booksellers and publishers deciding which titles to bet on.
“The pressure on the bookstore and the publisher is to pick stuff that will work,” said Mr. Godin. “I’m saying ‘Hey, Mr. Bookstore Owner, the world has spoken. There are lots of people talking about these books.’ “
Mr. Godin began his publishing experiment in June on Kickstarter, a website that enables people to solicit funds from individual investors. Before agreeing to his new deal with Portfolio, an imprint of Pearson PSO -0.50%PLC’s Penguin Group, Mr. Godin hoped to gauge interest from readers in the three new projects he had in mind. To potential backers, he presented a variety of pledge packages—that is, different levels of financial support for the projects bring perks for individuals, such as previews of the books and copies autographed by the author.
The lead title he offered is “The Icarus Deception,” which he describes online as looking at “how our economy rewards people who are willing to stand up and stand out.” There is also an illustrated book for adults titled “V is for Vulnerable” adapted from one section of “Icarus,” and a compendium of previous writings.
The Kickstarter campaign began on June 18 at 5:50 a.m. By 8:15 a.m., he’d reached his pledge goal of $40,000. By the end of the next day, he had exceeded his personal goal of pledgers signing up for 10,000 copies.
Mr. Godin’s followers continue to sign on to the Kickstarter campaign. As of Sunday at 1 p.m., the pledges totaled $232,000. Since the pledge window remains open until July 17, the total could move substantially higher.
Addressing the response to his new project, Mr. Godin, said, “What this shows is that if you build a tribe, you can use it to calmly build a publishing career that doesn’t involve a roulette wheel experience where you only have a week to succeed.”
Mr. Godin’s experiment comes as publishers and authors alike seek out new ways to build stronger direct ties with readers.
“You have to go direct to consumers today because it’s gotten harder to get attention from general media,” said Dee Dee De Bartlo, a principal in the marketing and publicity firm February Partners. She herself is taking a direct approach in marketing a new title from Rodale Press, “The Starch Solution,” which preaches the benefits of a plant-based diet. Her firm is targeting self-proclaimed vegans on Facebook.
Ms. De Bartlo thinks Mr. Godin’s hybrid approach may appeal to other authors. “It’s hard to convince publishers to take on some authors unless you can prove you have a fan base,” she said. “This is one way to do it.”
After Mr. Godin left Portfolio in the summer of 2010, he launched a joint venture imprint with Amazon.com Inc. AMZN +0.09%called the Domino Project, which published a dozen titles. Among them was Mr. Godin’s “We Are All Weird,” which generated disappointing sales, results Mr. Godin later attributed to his own failure to aggressively promote the book. Late last year Mr. Godin called it quits, writing on his blog that the effort was “not a lifelong commitment to being a publisher of books.”
As for Portfolio, it believes that the early copies that Mr. Godin sold will generate wider consumer interest when the book is distributed to stores and online.
“Before we published ‘Purple Cow,’ Seth self-published it and sold 10,000 copies,” said Adrian Zackheim, Portfolio’s publisher. “It went on to sell hundreds of thousands of copies. The idea is that the core base will start talking about the book, and that will spread to non-core readers.”
Author Seth Godin is seeking fan pledges via Kickstarter:
For $4 or more: Pledgers get a digital preview edition of ‘The Icarus Deception.’
$49 or more: four copies of ‘Icarus’ plus access to the preview digital edition.
$111 or more: eight hardcover copies of ‘Icarus'; two signed copies of ‘V is for Vulnerable'; a limited-edition essay collection; digital preview.
$1,150 or more: Mr. Godin will interview each participant and write a brief account of an artistic accomplishment that will be included in ‘Icarus.’ Pledgers also get eight hardcover copies of ‘Icarus'; two signed copies of ‘V is for Vulnerable'; an essay collection; the digital preview.