Seth Godin is a business guru; marketing appears to be his thing. And a while back Publishers Lunch had a link to one of his free ebooks. Its title is Who's There? Subtitled 'Seth Godin's incomplete guide to blogs and the new web'.
Who's There? will not apparently be free for ever, but for the moment it still is, and it's worth having a look at if you are a blogger or are interested in the blogging phenomenon from the point of view of marketing something. Thus it is, potentially at any rate, of interest to writers, who are for ever selling something or having it sold on their behalf.
As you will quickly discover, the ebook is aimed at business readers. For them, Godin argues that the mainstream media (MSM) are (he says is) dying, and hence a whole new approach is needed. The change, he suggests, is very inexpensive and very quick. The trick is to find the will to do it right. If you work in an industry which is very stuck in its ways (publishing, anyone?) it may be an uphill struggle.
One point which Godin makes early on is a point that I have been making over and over, particularly in the last couple of weeks, namely that the digitised world is changing fast. By way of illustration, he quotes the fact that, a year ago, a Google search for the word 'podcast' produced 24 matches. Do the same search today and you get 17,000,000 (more by now, probably).
But the internet does not solve all your problems. Naturally you want people to come to your blog/web site. But so do millions of other bloggers and site owners. And the danger, Godin says, is this. You (the businessman/marketeer) probably think that you live in a world where people care about you. But in reality nobody does. Hence it isn't much use going on marketing stuff as if we're still in 1969.
Now that really is what happens in publishing. Recently I have been sent a number of publishers' catalogues, by publicists who invite me to pick something to review. And you know what? Those catalogues are really 1969.
As far as blogs are concerned, Godin has lots of good advice, most of which, I now realise, I am continuing to ignore (e.g. 'make your entries shorter; use images'; and the like). But never mind. That's my privilege.
Anyway, Godin comes up with a few laws of the blogosphere. First, he says that it doesn't matter who you are; it's what you say. Which is true, up to a point. Next, he qualifies that by admitting that some bloggers are more equal than others, because they have an established name, either in the blogosphere or in some other field of activity. But then he also points out that some unknown bloggers do develop huge audiences pretty quickly. He quotes Gapingvoid.com as an example. Hugh McLeod, says Godin, had no business base to support him: no magazine column, no books, no help from the MSM; he just wrote and agitated enough to make people notice what he had to say.
(Godin's right, by the way -- McLeod's blog is well worth exploring: see for instance his advice on how to be creative. This is seriously good stuff, and nearly all of it is relevant to writers.)
The best blogs, says Godin, walk a fine line between civility and anarchy, between passion and privacy. Some bloggers let their hair down too much. We don't really want to know about your cat's operation.
At this point in the book, I scribbled down a comment which is not directly Godin-related but I will repeat it anyway. One commenter on one of my posts, who disagreed with it fairly profoundly, noted with an audible sneer that my work was not published by the mainstream press, so it was hardly surprising... et cetera. In other words, he took the view that a record of writing for the press is some sort of indicator of quality and value.
Well, leave aside the fact that I have written for the press -- lots of times actually, and the first time in 1955 -- but the idea that in order to have a valid point or to provide valuable insights you need to have first written a column for the Guardian or whatever, is surely mistaken. And the point that I want to make here -- with knobs on -- is that writing a blog or an ebook is actually better than writing for the press.
Better in the sense that I do not have an editor leaning over my shoulder and sucking his teeth. I can write 3 words on a topic, or 33,000; no one will stop me. I don't have to remember that I might meet Mr A. Famous-Writer at a publishing party later this week, and therefore had better temper my criticism. And I can provide hyperlinks which lead the reader in all kinds of directions that he would never go from a printed page. And so on.
Towards the end of his book, Godin reproduces his most popular blog post. It concerns size. Business size, that is. Once, he says, big used to matter. Big meant economies of scale and other benefits. But today, he claims (and he would know) small companies often make money faster than big companies. Small is the new big, but only when the person running the small thinks big.
Now, is that a message for publishers or not?