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Every little while, technology is democratized to a point where everyone is once again put on equal footing.
It happened at the printing press. It happened with blogs. It happened with podcasting, and it happened with Twitter. It happens a little bit at a time, and as it does, I’m amazed by the average person’s ability to step up to the plate. Normal, supposedly non-qualified people become journalists, entertainers, or musicians. Everyone proves themselves capable, often despite the misgivings of those in the ivory towers.
Well, it’s about to happen again. I’m starting to see it now, and you probably are too.
iPhone iPod has been out for ten years, and it’s reached a point of such ubiquity that everyone now also has an e-reader. They can push any text to their phone pretty much instantly.
So, this is about the time everyone starts to write books.
This is the time we all become authors.
I can start to see it already. The Domino Project is in full gear. I just received word that Chris Moore published his first book on his experiences in Cuba, direct to Amazon, for three bucks. Joshua just published his own, of short stories, since quitting his job. James Altucher continues to self-publish his work instead of going through mainstream publishers. And let’s not forget Mark Yoshimoto Nemcoff, whose most recent, Transistor Rodeo, got its movie rights optioned recently.
So, I was sitting having breakfast with Greg Isenberg the other day when this gem occurred to me: at one point, the internet was nerdy and uncool. Now it is hip and super popular. Those that got in early on the web, won. Those that got in late, not so much.
So our job is now to find the new uncool thing immediately. And right now, self-publishing via Kindle is definitely one of those uncool things.
No prestige, no money, no gatekeepers. Everything that goes the way of the vanity press is supposedly low-quality, but is it really? Soon, we won’t think so. Everyone will be doing it, and you’ll wonder why you never got in on it back then.
We’re all going to be peers. It’ll be about sales and reviews, not about advances. It’ll be about cutting out the middleman. Bloggers, and others with powerful platforms, will realize they don’t need the middleman at all (or rather, that Amazon has become the new middleman, and they do a better job).
Now onto what happens to authors themselves, and their work.
First, friction for a purchase is drastically reduced by a deeply discounted price point. $2.99 for fifty thousand words will significantly impact sales.
Second, a book no longer sits there on your desk. Anyone with an iPhone can hold 1,000 of them. So your most recently read/opened books become your RSS reader, with new things popping up all the time.
Third, add numbers 1 and 2 above and you naturally get many more unfinished books than you’re used to seeing– that is to say, readers not bothering to finish books. You don’t see the unfinished books at the bottom of your Kindle list, so you never finish them, and the price point means you didn’t waste much. New books on the top of the pile end up being tried out instead of old ones getting finished.
Fourth, this means shorter books end up dominating. Seth Godin has it right here.
Fifth, the ebook (or whatever we end up calling it) ends up becoming the midpoint between the blog post and the book. Some authors (many, actually) may stay here since it’ll provide them with enough income to survive and a direct connection to their audience. I’m thinking the Ev Bogue and Gwen Bell types.
Sixth, publishers naturally need to adapt– and they end up at the top of the market, grabbing the best of the ebook markets and offering them great deals (the way publishers like Wiley do with bloggers now).
Sidenote, all of these things are happening already. This post isn’t about the future at all; it’s about the present. Hope you’re ready!
Update: Aaron Wall left an epic comment here which adds significantly to the discussion. Click here to see it (it’s #55).
I remember having a conversation with Chris, sitting in Café Méliès in Montreal one time, talking about business. We had an idea for a private forum. This was a few years ago, I think– maybe even before the book.
We would base is on Aaron Wall’s private SEO community, base it on our expertise in social media etc. We’d split whatever money we made, pay any blogger who wanted to be an affiliate. The idea was simple, but good and scalable. It would make a lot of money if we did it right. So we called Brian Clark– he was doing Teaching Sells at the time. He said, “Good stuff. I’m in.”
The joke is, Chris and I never did it… at least, not in that format. :)
Much later, Third Tribe would be released– pretty much the same thing we talked about. Good on Brian for actually having the initiative. :) Aaron Wall’s forum would increase in price, from $100 to $300 per month (still a good value IMHO) and continue to grow. Chris would launch Kitchen Table Companies and other private communities of the same type.
Except I’ve been talking to Mark O’Sullivan at the exceptional Vanilla Forums, who says that big web personalities are asking him about private forums for their sites. I’ve been interviewing Brett Rogers, who funds his documentaries partially by having people come along on his adventures. And I’ve just started working with Martin Berkhan, who can’t handle the flood of questions people ask him about his workout and nutrition methods because they seem to work so well.
What is there was a solution to this? I think there is. But let’s veer off for a second.
Something big changed with the web. We could create personal brands, broadcast ourselves for free, and create a following. Except if we got popular, we started not being able to pay attention to everyone anymore. This is normal.
I’m thinking of Richard Nikoley. His (successful) experiment with not washing his hair for two years has led to articles in the Chicago Tribune and other places. He can’t handle the emails he gets anymore. Also Chris Guillebeau, who recently got 800 comments on a post he put out.
As Aaron Wall has said, popularity is an inequality between supply and demand. You solve it by raising price.
Books and conferences are price points– they are old methods that people are used to and don’t flinch at. I use both, and they work well. But there’s a problem with them.
Middlemen take over the old methods. They live as parasites off what you and I produce. Many of them do it without adding any value whatsoever.
There is something missing from Kevin Kelly’s 1000 True Fans method. It is fine for artists, for producers of actual artifacts, artists, etc. This is one reason Seth Godin’s Domino Project is so interesting. It cuts middlemen out. But it still requires the creation of an artifact… of a product.
I believe that what people want when they read your book, when they come to see you speak, or sing, or when they buy art from you– I believe that what they actually want is you.
This method has worked for authors before. Gary Vee and Tim Ferriss basically sold 1-on-1 time with them in exchange for bulk book purchases. This has the advantage of making them look big to a mainstream audience, but the end result is the same. People often want them, not the book. Same with all the people I mentioned who do amazing things.
Your audience wants to be a part of your life. Maybe, in some cases, you should let them.
Here is another assertion which I might be a bit shocking.
The web naturally creates an ecosystem of micro-stars, like television, but doesn’t necessarily have a way to turn this into a living. If you keep answering emails, forever, you become exhausted and your personal time is sucked out of your life.
The solution is paid access.
Of course, you don’t want to monetize your strong ties. That would be insane. The social norms space stays pure. You don’t pay your wife for the nice dinner she made.
But weak ties, by definition, take more than they give. They do not, as many people say, “pay in terms of attention,” except in huge masses which become unwieldy because of a new kind of demand– bug fixes, emails, etc.
Here is my theory. Once supply and demand of personal access are no longer equal, solving it through price not only helps you maintain a solid personal life but accelerates the process of popularity, by helping you free your time and do cooler shit.
A new stream of income means more freedom, which turns into a more interesting life, which turns into more popularity, which turns into more income, etc. A virtuous circle.
Of course, most of what you do is free and public. That’s one level of access. But I think that you should turn on different levels as well. Everyone in social media right now wants books and speaking gigs. You only get those at a certain level of popularity, but you could turn lesser levels on as well. Forum access, email access, Skype access– any of these could become an income stream for various types of web personalities.
But wait!, I hear you saying. Let’s say some of these weak ties become strong ties! What do we do then? Well, easy. Stop monetizing them. We could call this the dinner party rule– if you’d invite someone to dinner, then they should have free access to you. This impacts the bottom line, but that’s natural with friendships– wanted, even. Besides, friendship is more valuable than $47 a month or whatever.
Look, this post has already gotten much longer than I thought it would. I could go on forever about this– it’s so logical to me that I could argue it until the cows come home. But I won’t.
Instead, I’ll ask you what you think, and to spread it if you think the idea is interesting or worth talking about. Tweet or subscribe below.
By the way, I don’t know if it’s something I personally want to do– although I’m pretty sure I could. Maybe you could too, once your audience reaches a certain mass. Wouldn’t that be easier than trying to get a frikkin book deal or becoming a social media expert? Besides, I suspect there’s only enough of those to go around.
A simple metaphor for an important phenomenon. I’ll explain.
Cop bots are the enforcers. Google is an organizing algorithm but, more importantly, it’s also an exclusion robot. It says “you’re in,” and “you’re out.” It has to be very good at this, or it makes no money, and the robot gets shut down.
Spammers are infamous for sending millions of emails. These are robber bots. They find new ways around systems and exploit loopholes in the cop bots to give profit to their masters.
Both the cop and robber bots are massively leveraged. Both of them work extremely fast, but there’s one element that’s missing: humans.
Humans are currently sophisticated enough to detect most robber bots. We know when we’re on a splog instead of a real blog, and we know when a spam comment is real or not. But if you have a blog, especially one that gets a fair amount of traffic, you’ll notice it’s taking you longer than before to see what comments are real. Robber bots are getting smarter.
As time goes on, robber bots will get better and better at confusing us, just the same way game bots are getting better than humans at chess and Jeopardy. The cop bots accelerate too, but they need us to triage the grey areas, which is why there are “moderated” comments and CAPTCHAs that require human intervention.
This means humans will have to spend more and more time in the grey area, detecting robber bots. In other words, the robber robots are accelerating. Humans are not.
This is exacerbated by the problem that more and more existing information is going online and becoming spammable, where detection is more difficult due to restriction in trust signals (ie humans can detect each other easier in person).
I hypothesize that the inevitable endgame to this is a 100% non-anonymous internet, which has already begun with Google Accounts, Facebook, and Verified Twitter accounts. I’m not sure I like this idea, but I have a feeling that there is no way to avoid it, because it is the only way to ensure that someone is human, thus giving us our time back (especially since content creators are often moderators, too).
It is highly possible that there are gaps in my logic. If so, please poke holes in them, I’d be more than happy about it.
I wonder: Is this the last time I’ll visit a bookstore?
It’s about two weeks before the release of the iPad in Canada, and I’m at Indigo reading Do More Great Work (it’s crazy good btw). I saw it on Amazon and wanted it right away, so I picked it up here because I wanted that immediacy– book lovers, you know what I mean.
That immediacy required:
By this point, the book better be good for all the effort I’ve gone through to find it, right? (Hint: Amazon helped with that too.)
Anyway, that immediacy is the only reason I’ve ever come to a bookstore in the past 5 years. Aside from that, it’s always been Amazon.ca (which, by the way, doesn’t have the Prime feature you guys have in America) for 95% of my purchases.
At over 60 books purchased per year, I am what people would call an ideal customer for the publishing industry. So are Mitch Joel, Chris Brogan, and many of you. What happens when we all pick up these devices, solving our immediacy problems forever?
But we do know that the margins of bookstores are lean as hell… kind of like record stores. Heh.
It’s going to take a lot of candle, wrapping paper, and greeting card displays to cover those losses.
Is the future of the bookstore “The Content Store,” where you go to pick up all your content needs, music, book or otherwise, visited by grandparents everywhere who are afraid of putting their credit cards online? Who knows. But the landscape of content delivery will be changed radically over the next year, that’s for sure.
So, as I asked yesterday, what happens if every object has a status message?
The status message can be expanded to every object in our world. It is natural and in fact inevitable that this will happen. It has no privacy concerns and is far more useful to know where an object is than to know random snippets from a person.
It might even be possible that we needed people to create the status message, but that the amount of interest in objects’ status will eventually supersede that interest in people.
This may seem like a stretch, but it’s natural. We don’t need to hear where Jim is on Twitter when we can ping his location instead.* I’m already finding that logging into foursquare is sometimes more useful to let people know where I am than sending them a text message.
Do you see the same thing?
* Merlene reminds us that locative metadata is great for avoiding people, too. ;)
I was discussing with someone last night about the uselessness of the basic university degree. I compared it to an arms race– when one group has a BA, the other needs the BA to compete with them in the job marketplace, but when both sides have them, they no longer provide any employment advantage whatsoever.
Despite this, the price for university degrees remain absurdly high, and their ubiquity means people still ask for them before you’re allowed a job.
I’m not a big conspiracy theorist, but putting students into $100,000′s of debt before their 25th birthday (and inciting them with “no interest until graduation!!!!!”) sure is a great way of keeping them subservient, isn’t it?
Anyway, I don’t think university is useless for everyone, but there has got to be a better way to do things for most people. Wipe out 2 years of college + 3 years of university and you can make it from the mailroom to a level you would be proud to get straight out of university– likely with a better salary. This, assuming you’re decently smart.
Actually, there’s the real problem. The BA is a credential, used to fog people into believing in your competence, despite the real world having very little to do with how well you do in school. I’m sure this is one of the reasons the Peter Principle is true.
For those of us that don’t need degrees, or whose children don’t, what alternative do we have? School still provides you with the contacts you need, and the credentials can occasionally be useful (art school comes to mind). Where can we go from here, what are the options?
I just can’t figure out why we should waste so much to achieve so little.
In other words: Out of sight, out of mind.
Ever wonder why Sally Struthers needs to show us little Ethiopian babies before we’ll give away a bit of dough to them? Easy; it’s because we don’t care– until it’s right in front of us. Would those Ethiopian babies need feeding if their plight was broadcast into every home?
Ever wonder why Big Brother is so powerful? It’s because his message is everywhere. You can’t escape it. Even if you disagree at first, over time it’ll end up convincing you, just because you’re hearing more of it than anything else. Would Big Brother be as frightening if he only had a low-budget 30-second commercial that played on late night television?
The supremely visible are supremely powerful. Because they can make their will known, over time, it becomes the will of the people. Their opinions become the zeitgeist.
The invisible are largely impotent. Because they can’t influence others to their point of view, their will is largely their own. If they are wronged, they need to resort to other means to obtain justice– or anything else they want.
The rule of law keeps the biggest and toughest from overpowering the weakest. If you wipe out police and legal repercussions, you would quickly see a transformation in power structures that would bring the largest and strongest back up to the top– specifically in smaller communities that aren’t dominated by other forms of power (ie, wealth).
As law is to the weak, new media is to the invisible. Now, everyone has the ability to be #1 on Google for a problem they have, or can publicize their own revolution, no matter how small.
But among those who are gaining back visibility are those that are choosing to become extremely visible. Some people have done it just with Twitter. Others use every channel available to them. How you become visible will influence where your power flows.
This is why the medium is the message. People who use tools like foursquare will come to be known locally due to their influence in bringing others to a new venue. Social graphs based on other metadata– or social objects– will do the same in their spheres.
As always, the most important thing is to become visible, to build the channel, before the need. And as always, those with some forms of existing advantage will use it in this new space.
But the creation of new tools allows users a kind of jumping point. Chris, Gary, or whomever may have been huge with their respective platforms but them bringing the audiences onto Twitter allowed them to leap further forward, faster than they would have otherwise, gaining a lead that is now very hard to beat. You can do the same.
Power has always been dependent on visibility. But now is the time when there are more places– you could almost call them markets– to develop visibility and attention. This leaves you a better chance than you would ever have had when the barriers to entry were high.
So get to it.
This morning, I did six– count em– SIX radio interviews for the book.
Here’s some stuff I kept reiterating, that I’ll say now for you, except I’ll expand on it, because you already get a lot of it.
Only tools change. We’ve always trusted and liked the same kind of people + channels– those that were open with us, that are amusing and that tell us interesting things.
If you’re creating a social tool, you need to think, “Is this a normal human behaviour?” If it seems off, you need to make it more natural by reducing friction. Seems to me that it’ll get you closer to success.
There’s a lot of stuff that can be duplicated today by social technology, such as allowing for trusted networks, finding work recommendations, and so forth. But not all.
Some human behaviours aren’t yet amplified by social technologies. The trick to success is to facilitate the creation of these tools, and reduce the friction around adopting and using them.
Think Seesmic Desktop. Its main purpose its to reduce friction; as long as it does that well, it succeeds. That’s a smaller job than to duplicate a human behaviour, but it’s still a big enough job that it’s capable of sustaining a company.
If you can duplicate one social behaviour that we humans have, you’ve got a real success. Think Digg, Facebook, Twitter, even PlentyOfFish– all hugely successful sites that facilitate a natural human behaviour.
If you can do many of them, you’ve got a… well, I don’t know quite what, but something crazy.
Your job, then, is one of three things:
a) Build a tool that facilitates natural human behaviour.
b) Reduce friction in facilitating one of these behaviours through an existing tool.
c) Become a master at one of them.
Each of the above is a bigger job than one of the one below it– so if you just want to relax, choose a simpler one lower on the pyramid, it’ll be easier and you’ll have more time to ride your bicycle with your family or whatever you do.
Anyway, I’m thinking these are the only 3 ways to succeed with the social web. What do you think? Make sense?
Is it just me, or are newspapers becoming kind of quaint?
I was on the bus this morning looking over at the headline on one of those free dailies they hand out in subways. It said “Coup in Honduras!”
I was like, well no shit. I found out about this while it was actually happening. Where were you then???
Simultaneously over the past five days I’ve been receiving text messages and emails from people all over going “Michael Jackson is dead OMG” and “Billy Mays is dead WHOAHHHH,” and I’m like, uh… yeah.
Those of us on the extremes of information spreading mechanisms are used to this. I found out about all three of the events above through Twitter and Reddit, where there’s very little friction. And I spent minutes a day on those sites. The same could’ve happened if I were on CNN, though.
Thing is, I know I’m not the average. Neither are you if you’re reading this. But this feeling of ours is increasingly normal. Twitter is everywhere and recommendation sites like Reddit are known to most, even if we don’t visit them.
Information is spreading with less friction than ever. Have you ever wondered how much faster can it get?
… hold on, I just got a text message– maybe it’s someone else telling me yesterday’s news. ;)
I know this may seem like a conspiracy theory to you guys, but the other day we realized something at the office.
The iTunes Store on the iPod Touch… well, it has no podcasting section.
Anyway, after a bit of discussion, we kind of began wondering– is Apple flushing podcasting? I mean, they definitely don’t profit off it, so with limited screen resolution on the Touch, it makes sense that they’d kick it off. But is this telling us something more? I’d love to know what you think.