Seth Godin—entrepreneur, author, king of the TED Talk—specializes in marketing in the digital age. We thought we’d check in with Godin to see how, when, or even whether, this digital transition in publishing is going to reach a point of no return.
First, a little background. As we’ve written in these pages before, we’d all be wise to think of Kindles, iPads, and other digital devices as the Model Ts of digital publishing. In the minds of many futurists and technology experts, there isn’t even a question as to whether digital will replace the printed book—improved technology will blur the lines between the two. It’s just a matter of when. We like the smell, feel, touch, etc., of paper, too, but according to these big thinkers our children’s children will find physical books to be very Olde Tyme and quaint.
But wait: those who follow shorter-term business and technology trends aren’t convinced. In fact, the latest numbers indicate that sales of e-books might be leveling out, although it’s hard to tell because Amazon doesn’t always share its numbers. So, have we reached a plateau in e-book sales? Godin says no. Well, probably no.
“The percentage of e-book sales has to keep going up because book readers keep dying off,” he said in an interview with Foreword Reviews. “The real question is, ‘Will digital natives decide to consume books at all?’ Kindle started off with a bang because women, particularly readers of romance novels and Fifty Shades adopted it early and often. Do you know people who are reading more, and more seriously, now that they have a Kindle? That needs to happen, and in pockets it is, but will it trend? I’m not sure.”
What about the lowly author writing her masterpiece and then trying to figure out how and by whom to publish it? While many analysts say the Big Five are doing just fine, thank you, Godin sees more authors not even bothering with them.
“I’m having a hard time visualizing someone spending a year to write a nonfiction book on her own, then having it come out in a format that costs money to discover. Maybe novels, but that’s a tiny part of the pie.”
The takeaway from all this, to use a biz cliché, is that the digital transition is coming and vacillating publishers might want to stop rearranging the deck chairs with such a massive iceberg dead ahead. As Godin said, “The Titanic sunk fast.”