Post Mortem: Two Publishing Start-Ups

Guy Gonzalez had a post up recently about the Domino Project, which Seth Godin is closing down. Included in the post was a link to a talk by Richard Nash, ruminating about what did and didn’t work at Red Lemonade, Nash’s web startup.

I generally agree with Guy’s take about both projects. Before I throw in my two cents, however, I want to state without reservation that both men deserve credit for putting their time and money where their mouths were. In a world of wall-to-wall pundits and doomsaying snipers with no skin in the game, we need all the people we can get who are willing to step in the arena and risk being humbled. It’s the only way progress will be made. Having said that, I have my own thoughts on what the end of these initiatives means. (Previous posts mentioning Seth Godin here, Richard Nash here.)

Both Godin and Nash garnered a great deal of interest a year ago as a cresting wave of change and doubt swept through the traditional publishing industry. Capitalizing on their celebrity and showmanship, both men looked into the future, saw a way forward, and acted on it. Godin, by partnering with Amazon in a publishing venture; Nash by creating and launching Red Lemonade, the first of an anticipated series of sites under the Cursor brand. Each project, at root, envisioned a new way of publishing content outside the traditional publishing paradigm.

So what can authors learn from their efforts? Well, given that most writers will never publish the work of others, probably not much. Unless you’ve a mind to become a publisher — whatever that elastic term means to you these days — most of what Godin and Nash have been through is probably inessential, however interesting it might otherwise be. Still, I think it’s possible to see connections to authorship in these ventures — if not directly, then indirectly, as confirmation of other truths.  Read more ]

Apples Weekly and Oranges Godin

Yesterday Publishers Weekly decided to go bottom feeding for small-dollar fees from desperate, easily duped writers. On the same day, regarding his radical, forward-looking decision to abandon traditional publishing, Seth Godin finally got his multi-week campaign of hints and rolling announcements to go effortlessly viral. (Inconvenient historical footnotes here and here.)

At first blush this would appear to be perfect convergence. An old-school publication debases itself by pimping out its own client base, while a visionary independent leads a rag-tag band of revolutionaries into the future.

But wait a minute. To whatever extent such announcements (of both kinds) have become commonplace over the past year, it’s worth noting that the actions taken by Apples Weekly and Oranges Godin are differentiated by scale, not publishing philosophy. Apples Weekly is trying to solve an economic problem determined by its staff size and production demands. That it’s doing so in a desperate and ugly way is beside the point. Oranges Godin, as far as I can tell, only has to keep Oranges Godin alive, meaning his visionary approach to publishing is primarily a function of low overhead, not secret knowledge.

To be fair, after Publishers Weekly President George W. Slowik Jr. put his name on the ugly press release for PW Select, he probably spent a few minutes throwing up in a desk drawer — if not because of the program itself, then because his name was on such an obviously deceptive document. Whether Slowik cares about the writers he’s determined to fleece or not, it’s his job as captain of the PW Catamaran to make sure that it doesn’t sink. If that means cannibalism…well, that’s what it means.

Given that Oranges Godin probably has a few bucks in the bank, and his celebrity as a guru is clearly established, it doesn’t seem particularly brave of him to wander off into the wilds. Particularly when the wilds are a place he’s intimately familiar with, if not better positioned to exploit than the concrete jungle.

— Mark Barrett


Squidoo and the Identity-Theft Threat

Speaking of trying to make a buck off of other people’s property, this is pretty impressive:

Rather than convincing companies to set up their own public profile pages for their brands to aggregate and manage online conversations, Squidoo is creating hundreds of unofficial ones (e.g. for Guinness) in the hopes that companies will come to them and cough up $400 per month for the right to develop the page on their terms. Once a company pays up and gains control over the relevant Squidoo lens, the left hand column will ‘belong’ to them.

Obviously Squidoo is smart enough not to use Guinness logos or other branding on the page, but what’s the real intent here? Rather than wait around for some user to put up a Guinness page, Squidoo is priming the pump in the hope that a discussion will get going that Guinness will then feel compelled to take ownership of. It’s a wonderful example of extortion by social-networking proxy, and I can see why somebody thought it was a good idea.  Read more ]