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Publishing News: One publishing experiment ends, another begins

Seth Godin ends The Domino Project, Marc Herman blazes a journalism trail, and authors get personal on tour.

Here are a few of the stories that caught my eye in the publishing space this week.

An experiment in publishing comes to an end

The final book in The Domino Project, Sarah Kay’s poem “B,” was published this week — roughly one year after the project began. Seth Godin, the author and founder of the project, put together a list of lessons learned.

The entire list is well worth the read, but here are a couple of highlights:

1. 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 single-minded passion, you’re making a serious error …

2. 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 …

7. The ebook marketing platform is in its technical infancy. There are so many components that need to be built … 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 …

Godin also put together a project wrap-up over at Squidoo, and here’s Godin explaining his motivations for The Domino Project:

A journalist blazes a new trail

As the news media continues to struggle with all things digital and keeping the books in the black, journalists are finding work harder and harder to come by. Marc Herman, a freelance journalist (notably for The Atlantic), decided to try carving out his own niche. Leaving behind the beleaguered middlemen, Herman turned a long-form story into a Kindle Singles ebook, “The Shores of Tripoli,” and put it up for sale. He talks about the experience in a recent post on his blog:

The Kindle Single was my agent’s idea. Amazon provided an experienced editor who offered notes and a copy editor who checked the grammar and usage, and hired a designer to make the cover. This proved, in my case, a workable middle option. It was a way to tell the story in a way that reminded me of magazine journalism, but avoided the intense competition for the attention of a handful of editors in the traditional press who still buy this sort of work. And it’s providing the possibility of ultimately funding the work — we sell it, very inexpensively, for consumption on Kindle readers, and smartphones, tablets and PCs with a Kindle app.

Herman is looking into working with a team of people to produce more complex stories involving video and other media — see his “Meanwhile, in Egypt” blog post for more on that.

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The changing roles of authors requires more personalization

This week the Wall Street Journal looked at how bookstores are changing author presentations. Rather than offering the old straight-up book readings, stores are asking authors for personal presentations that better connect with attendees.

For the story, Vivien Jennings, owner of Rainy Day Books, described author visits at her shop, explaining that “the shop would sponsor only author events that featured a conversation or a mini-lecture, a PowerPoint presentation or perhaps a slide show, all followed by a question-and-answer session and — at most — the recitation of a paragraph or two from the book to illustrate a point.”

The personal approach is becoming more common, especially as bookstore owners, authors and readers embrace social networking platforms. In a recent post for Radar, Sarah Milstein wrote about how Celia Sack, owner of Omnivore Books in San Francisco, is benefiting from personal connections with readers and authors alike. Milstein described one of Sack’s first Twitter successes:

Although Twitter was Sack’s “only technological milieu,” it didn’t take her long to figure out that she could use it to connect with other people. Food writer David Lebovitz (@davidlebovitz) was an early inspiration. “I wrote him [an @message] and said, ‘I know you don’t have a book now, but if you’re ever in SF, I’d love to have you come give a talk.” He responded enthusiastically, and the proverbial light bulb went off for Sack.

If anyone is still wondering if an author can really connect through social platforms, check out Neil Gaiman’s Twitter ecosystem, or consider the power of a Mindy Kaling tweet:

Harvard Book Store tweet to Mindy Kaling

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