Seth Godin on the Road to Damascus

December 4, 2011 by Thad McIlroy

His fascinating and important Domino Project concluded, Seth Godin is still pondering writing and reading and all things in between. Godin’s latest post, Selling vs. Reading, includes the usual ramblings, some meaningless, a few trenchant, and one entirely ingenuous.

He sets the tone by leading off with a flatly incorrect statement: “Back when the only way to get someone to read your work was to get them to actually buy your work first, a focus on selling and a focus on being read were the same thing.” Hmm. Yes, buying has always been a primary means of obtaining books, but lending by libraries and from friends has been the source of perhaps half of the books I’ve read in my life. Oh well, why let a fact get in the way of a good argument?

Ebooks exclusively from Amazon

Moving on: “If the cost of delivering one more copy of the book is zero, then choosing to sell your work is optional. You might choose to work hard merely to get people to read your work, leaving money out of the equation.” Indeed, this is a concept that Seth and several others have championed to great effect, and it’s been an eye-opener for most of us.

Seth then acknowledges an important issue often overlooked in the “free” debate: “If someone pays for your book, perhaps they’ll take it more seriously, focus a bit more energy on it.” That’s certainly my experience. I devote far more attention to the books I pay for. I just do.

And then we get to the heart of the post: “But the real question remains: are you writing to be read, or are you writing to get paid?” (Emphasis his.)

I was just starting to run through my mind: um, how about both when I got to his concluding paragraph, a throwaway apparently, as it appears in parentheses:

(An example of this is the publishers and authors that oppose libraries and the lending of ebooks. In these cases, even though money was paid, they’re apparently against being read – even though there’s zero evidence that library reading hurts book sales.)

Well, excuuuuse me, Seth. Here are two dates you might well remember:

December 8, 2010 The date you announced an exclusive partnership with Amazon.com for The Domino Project. (I assume that discussions began just after your August 23, 2010 announcement that you would no longer “publish in a traditional way.”) At the time of your announcement Amazon.com categorically refused to allow any Kindle ebooks to be loaned via a public library, even if the library had purchased the book.

April 20, 2011 The date on which Amazon.com acquiesced to public pressure and announced restricted lending of Kindle ebooks via a third party, Overdrive. Overdrive, who is doing its best, finally delivered on the service only this past September.

As Canada’s remarkable Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker used to proclaim, “I have not seen such a conversion since St. Paul on the road to Damascus!”

Amazon is no friend of public libraries. It has become slightly less of an enemy than others. A friend of my enemy is…

December 6, 2011: I called out a librarian on this issue back in March. She was not responsive.

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