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Seth Godin trailblazes down a familiar path

August 23, 2010 |  4:22 pm
Sethgodin-withchicken

Just so we're clear: Seth Godin is a smart Internet marketing guy, one who's less full of hot air than many others. Even when I disagree with him, there's usually something there to disagree with -- which is more than can be said for most.

And rather than slipping slyly from some guru manufacturing HQ, Godin actually has a relevant history; his Internet marketing company was bought by Yahoo in 1998. And before that, he actually worked in publishing, so what he says about books in the Internet age carries, for me, a bit of extra weight. So today when he announced that he was leaving traditional publishing behind, I thought, well, that's something!

Something familiar, apparently. The New York Observer reports:

Last week, Seth Godin (self-described "bestselling author, entrepreneur and agent of change") announced in a Mediabistro interview that he would not "publish any more books in the traditional way." Bold words! They kind of remind us of that other time when Seth Godin quit traditional publishing, ten years ago.

In 2000, disenchanted with the dysfunctional aspects of publishing, Godin self-published ''Unleashing the Idea Virus'' after turning down an advance; he gave ebook copies away for free on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble's website. The New York Times explained how the project might work, financially (it did).

But Godin soon returned to the traditional publishing fold. "Unleashing the Idea Virus" was published in paperback by Hyperion. Recent books -- "Tribes" and the new "Linchpin" -- are out on Portfolio.

Way, way back, Godin, with a fresh Stanford MBA, had a book packaging company. When he left it behind, he started a new Internet marketing company that he called Yoyodyne, named after the spookily large military contractor that appears in Thomas Pynchon's novels. The man has bookish, geekish cred. Maybe he's leaving traditional publishing behind for good this time; maybe he'll come back again.

One thing is clear: a lot more people have devices on which they read ebooks today than did in 2000, the first time he went down this path.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Seth Godin speaking in January 2010. Credit: Simone Brunozzi via Flickr.

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