Just about a year after it was first announced, Seth Godin’s The Domino Project is issuing its twelfth and final book. Except for “a digital bonus coming soon,” that is. He writes, “By most of the measures I set out at the beginning, the project has been a success. So why stop? Mostly because it was a project, not a lifelong commitment to being a publisher of books. Projects are fun to start, but part of the deal is that they don’t last forever.”
Godin explains on his blog nine of his “takeaways” from the venture. Among the things that are probably most relevant to others, they innovated successfully with sponsored ebooks, enlisting General Electric for Steven Pressfield’s Do the Work; GoToMeeting/Citrix for Al Pittampalli’s Read This Before Our Next Meeting; and HubSpot and MailChimp for Dan Zarrella’s Zarrella’s Hierarchy of Contagiousness. “Sponsored ebooks are economically irresistible to readers, to sponsors and to authors. The value transfer to the reader is fabulous (hey, a great book, for free), and the sponsor gets to share in some of that appreciation. The author gets a guaranteed payday as well as the privilege of reaching ten or a hundred times as many readers.”
It’s no big surprise that Godin, who coined the phrase “permission marketing,” reinforces his own core belief that “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 singleminded passion, you’re making a serious error.”
What he calls “permission” publishers and authors know as a “platform,” which is indeed among the most powerful forces in driving a content-based enterprise. My own take on this concept for publishers, uttered at a variety of presentations in the past, is: “You know how important platforms are. So why don’t you have any of your own?” Godin is an old friend and we used to package together as well, so I can’t “report” objectively on the venture. His blog posts present what he has to say on the subject. But here are some on-the-fly thoughts that occur to me:
– The Domino Project was the first imprint to use what was expressed as a new “publishing program” called “Powered by Amazon.” Will we see any more imprints use this platform? We have a query in to Amazon.
But clearly one thing the experiment underscored is that dedicated retailer promotion can drive ebook sales. Amazon gave Domino Project titles high visibility (and targeted marketing), and low digital list prices and even lower price promotions helped to drive sales. The same lesson has been reinforced by “daily deals” and other price promotions.
– For those looking to experiment, TDP shows the potential for “influencers” to serve as “publishers”–in the digital sphere, with low overhead and little capital. On the big house side, you see this a little bit with the recent spate of celebrity-curated mini-imprints. Godin could have had an imprint at a traditional publisher, too–just as authors and others who are powerful endorsers and curators can also easily “power” imprints. Also interesting is that when the “publisher” is an endorser or other influential platform, the conversation is less focused on the economic terms of the deal and more focused on the exposure and marketing of the book.
– In some ways, TDP was supplanted by Amazon’s Kindle Singles initiative, also focused on shorter, inexpensive works brought to market quickly, and also featuring new “platform publishers” like TED. (The first Singles list launched in January 2011.)
– Without complete statistics, which are not disclosed, we don’t know if The Domino Project actually maximized either unit sales or dollar sales for Godin. Being exclusive to Amazon in ebook was probably a factor.
– Even with just twelve books, TDP broke some of their own rules. Their final title is a book of poetry; a reprinted Zig Ziglar planner had no digital version even though the line was focused on ebooks; another title (Death & Taxes) was a printed poster (and cost more than most of the books from the imprint).
Here is a round-up of the list and some of the publishing techniques TDP tried, posted at Squidoo.