Seth Godin’s Book and the Rise of the Artisan Class

Two events coincided last week that lead me to believe that I might never buy another book.  I love books – just look at our shelves, and they confirm that we, as a family, are addicted to them.

The first event was, of course, the confirmation that Apple was planning to change the publishing business with their long-anticipated iPad.  At Christmas, I had been thinking of getting an eReader for the main reader of fiction in our house, and if we hadn’t blown the budget on a puppy (not the bad impulse kind of puppy, but the planned type that just happened to be ready to leave her mum in November) I would have.  Unfortunately, most eReaders today are not optimized for the non-fiction, technical and history books that I mostly read; they don’t even do magazines well.  But the new iPad looks like it could work for those too.

The other event was when I started a second layer of books on yet another shelf.  The book was Thomas Friedman‘s “The World is Flat”, which is also significant, because if that book doesn’t make you think about your place on the planet in a new light, you’ve either already found your way to make a living in the Flat World, or you’re already dead.  The catalyst was Seth Godin’s book, released last fall as an eBook, a page of which I printed and pinned on my office wall. I thought as my eyes flicked across the page admonishing me to excellence that I should really read the rest of that book, but I probably never will.   It’s going to languish on my eBookshelf because its format lends itself to browsing – it’s a perfect bathroom reader – than to reading (I see that it’s now available from Lulu as a hard copy).

So Seth’s book is an example of the kind of book I might actually buy after the rest of the books turn into eBooks, if only I bought that kind of book. Magazines are more my style when it comes to dipping. Sadly, it’s going to be years before we have a washable eReader; even so, I’m absolutely looking forward to that future.

Another place that’s ideal for this sort of book is of course the coffee table.  Now, despite a surfeit of coffee tables in our house, I do buy coffee table books, but not from any ordinary book seller.  The coffee table books I’ve bought for the past few years are photo books containing all the good photos from the past year alongside a transcription of my journal.  I make one for my family, and an abridged version for Christmas gifts.  For the past two years, this has come from blurb.com, and the cost is surprisingly not that much more than a comparable mass-produced book — perhaps 50% more.

As I say, these are not your standard coffee table books that you might get from Indigo or Book Warehouse.  So do those books stick around?  They might, but I think there’s a really interesting opportunity at the intersection of my annual journal and the large-format photo book you find in Indigo.

My friend, Dan, is currently vacationing in South America.  He has an amazing itinerary that spans five countries and includes things like diving with hammerhead sharks and hiking the Inca Trail (if it’s still there).  What if he came home and could assemble a book of not just his own photos, but beautiful images by professional photographers curated and lovingly edited and captioned by people who know all about hammerhead sharks and the Incas.  Well, that would be an amazing coffee table book that he would cherish for the rest of his life.

Frankly, although he’s full of surprises, I can’t see Dan putting such a book together.  He strikes me as more of a directory full of photos kind of guy.  I wonder if he’d pay to have someone else do it?  It’s even conceivable to largely automate the process – he could put in his itinerary, the system would sort his photos and choose the best ones (judged by focus, saturation, exposure), get the relevant boilerplates on the Incas and hammerhead sharks, and assemble it all together.  He then goes in and removes the bits he doesn’t like.

For a little more dough, he could have someone else look at his actual photos and choose the ones that are artistically best, or ensure that every friend is represented at least once.  This would reduce his time commitment and make a busy guy like Dan happier.  Then for an extra special book, like this one, he could have a book binder create a custom binding for his book.

The process makes an opportunity for a number of artisans to collaborate.  First there is the photographer who takes the stock photos, then the editor who collates them, the writer who creates the captions based on knowledge from experts.  All of them come together to create the sections on the Incas and the hammerheads.  Then, there could be a personalized editor and finally the book binder.

Would there be enough Dans to provide for the Inca and shark experts, or the book binders?  That is a good question, but the experts are making a living today on mass-produced books, and so, it is surely equivalent to make a living off personalized books.

What it all depends on is a mechanism that allows a group of artisans to come together to collaborate on the digital assets.  Then there is a workflow involving a company like blurb to create the hard good, itself.  If these things were in place, then it would transform not only the book publishing industry but many other industries as well.

I can hardly wait.

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One Response to “Seth Godin’s Book and the Rise of the Artisan Class”

  1. The Small Batch Platform « ReneGourley@work Says:

    […] previous posts, I had been calling these people artisans.  If the chief function of people in the increasingly […]

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