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Why Does Seth Godin Hate AuthorAssistant?

Question_markA few days ago I blogged about why I think the AuthorAssistant program from HarperCollins is a great idea.  Despite recently coming across this curious post from Seth Godin I still like AuthorAssistant and I hope other publishers should launch similar initiatives.

Seth complains that "Publishers, like many organizations, want to control the conversation, want to own the web page, want to be sure that people come to them, as opposed to going where people are."  I'm sure some publishers do indeed feel this way, but what does this have to do with HarperCollins offering a simple way for their authors to create a web presence?  After all, in the world of RSS does anyone really care who hosts your blog?!

Seriously, I keep up with almost 200 different blogs each week and the only way I can do this is with RSS feeds.  There's no way I'm going to visit all of those sites directly -- there's simply not enough time in the day!  I'll bet that 95% or more of the blog reading I do every day is done in my RSS reader and I have no idea who those blogs are hosted by.

AuthorAssistant offers a great way for HarperCollins authors to create a simple web presence.  Sure, HarperCollins can benefit from this, but their authors are free to either join AuthorAssistant or create a site on their own.  I think Seth is wrong to bash AuthorAssistant and I hope it becomes a popular resource for HarperCollins authors.


seth godin

Hi Joe

thanks for reading. Maybe your understanding of corporate (publishing) psych is different from mine, but here's why I think AuthorAssistant is a not so good idea.
1. it wastes resources that could be used on promotion.
2. it reinforces 'not invented here' thinking. How on earth could it be as good as wordpress or typepad?
3. it limits an author's abilities to reach out in ways that the tiny IT group didn't think of.
4. it puts the power in the hands of the publisher, not the author. Who owns the data? the RSS feed? what if the author switches houses?
5. it makes the publisher comfortable. makes them feel as though they are doing something about the giant problem of books fading away. it's false security, without actually generating real learning for most of the team
6. most of all, it's about building your own subdivision out of town instead of renting prime real estate where the traffic is already going.

my two cents. I've been there and done it, and I think pushing people to roll their own with help, combined with using all the new tools (like twitter and facebook and squidoo) to go where people are makes a lot more sense than organized complacency.

Gina Black

Actually, I had that reaction too. It's a control issue, an image issue, and potentially a censorship issue. It feels like the old Hollywood Studio system. I'll keep ownership of myself, thank you very much. I'll create my own across-the-publishing spectrum branding (or lack thereof). Also, a web presence is one of the least expensive and most effective ways an author can promote themselves so what is the publisher really doing for them?

Joe Wikert

Hi Seth. Thanks for tuning into the discussion here. My thoughts on your 6 points are as follows:

1. The resource investment on this initiative appears pretty modest to me, especially when you spread it across all the authors it's likely to serve. And once the site is up, as it is now, how much investment is required other than hosting fees?

2. Oy vey. Don't get me going about Typepad! Wordpress=good comparable; Typepad=awful. But if you're saying Typepad is the standard that needs to be met, well, I wouldn't be surprised to hear that any/every other blogging tool surpasses it. ;-]

3. By this point I think you're saying there could be new blog features supported elsewhere which aren't enabled on the HC solution. True, but again, I see that every day with Typepad.

4. This is where I couldn't disagree more. What's holding HC authors back from starting their own blogs on Typepad/Wordpress/whatever and mirroring their posts on AuthorAssistant? Sure, it's an extra cut-and-paste step, but who controls the content in that model? The author. By mirroring the content on AuthorAssistant they simply make it more visible. Btw, who's holding a gun to the HC author's heads? Again, they're free to create their own blog, but why not be part of a federation of HC author blogs?

5. Perhaps, but shame on the publisher if they really believe this. I mean, a blog replacing the printed book? I publish technology books for a living and even I don't buy into that theory.

6. Again, these authors are free to do as they choose. My guess is plenty of them will appreciate the benefits that HC is offering through this program.

Carolyn Jewel

Ok, I'll jump into this from an author's perspective. I can't imagine any author wanting to have their ONLY web presence tied to a publisher. That would be career foolishness. I currently write for two houses, Berkley (Penguin Putnam) and Grand Central Publishing (Formerly Warner Books) and in the past I've written for Dorchester Publishing, Harper-Collins, and St. Martin's Press. So far, I've used my real name for all the genres I write in. My name is part of the brand, if you will. Readers tend to follow authors without much, if any, thought to who publishes them. I maintain several web presences, though: my own website, Amazon Connect, MySpace and Facebook (sort of...) And if a publisher wanted to provide me web space at their site, I'd probably take advantage. Readers find you in crazy unexpected ways. What I would hope is that Harper will offer a way to minimize the workload. Sharing feeds, easy content uploads. But my main focus and effort would still be on my personal website.

Anthony S. Policastro

I agree with everyone except Seth.
The more web presence an author has the better because readers, etc. will be able to find your sites easier and faster. I think the HC sponsored blog lends credence to the author and his/her work and captures more web surfers interested in a particular author.

What HC could do to improve their author blogs is have the author's official blog automatically feed into the HC blog. So when the author places a new post on their official blog it automatically copies to the HC blog. This is the equivalent of newspaper column syndication on the electronic frontier.

I have two blogs that do this now - The Writer's Edge ( automatically feeds into the Algonkian Writers Conference website within seconds after I place a new post. Another blog feeds automatically into a forum website.

With 90 million + blogs out there, you have to do all you can to stand out.

Carolyn Pittis

Thanks to Seth, Joe and all others above for creating this conversation around author online promotion and, in particular, HarperCollins' Author Assistant tool and the author web pages it helps create on our network.

I'm a big fan of Seth Godin the author, the speaker, and the innovator. Authors would do well to pay attention to what he has to say to educate themselves about their options. I'm thrilled that our author marketing efforts have drawn his attention, and of others like Joe Wikert.

Publishers need to provide more value for authors online, in ways that are scalable and in ways that augment what authors can do on their own or in existing networks, of which there are more every day. On this I think Seth, and people like the also influential Cory Doctorow agree.

Our Author Assistant product was actually developed collaboratively with authors. It provides what I see as a new industry baseline for author marketing support online, one that has neither any strings nor any dark ulterior motives! The response from our authors has been tremendously positive. They understand that it is one marketing option for them to benefit from our growing online reach. It is completely their choice of how they want to use it--just like with other platforms that exist online today. Many authors use it to direct consumers to other sites they have or live within that have more extensive community and networking tools than we do currently. They are also using it to associate themselves for consumers with other authors who they admire or read, which we can then use to cross-market them on our site, and in our other marketing channels.

But there's lots more to do, lots more that we and other publishers can do for authors. As the poet Stanley Kunitz once said: "I am not done with my changes." Neither are we.

I'd love to continue to hear more ideas from all quarters about what publishers should be doing to help promote and market authors online today.

Carolyn Pittis, HarperCollins
[email protected]

celeste w, studio 501c

Joe, can you write more about your thoughts on Typepad? I like it lots.

Joe Wikert

Hi Celeste. My chief complaint about Typepad comes down to two r's: Rigidity and reliability. Typepad does a number of things well, or at least as well as other services, but I've had a lot of problems trying to integrate certain widgets and play with the layout. I also hate the fact that they act as if the Blackberry doesn't exist. I'd love the flexibility of blogging from my Blackberry from time to time, but Typepad doesn't support the platform directly. Yes, I could wrestle with it from within my Blackberry browser, but is it asking too much to have them create a dedicated app for it? I use one for Gmail and it's a treat.

As far as reliability is concerned, I can't tell you how many times I've tried to post or comment and the service was down. Then, sometimes when it's up, it's running at such a painfully slow pace that it's too frustrating to use. And don't get me started about the constant error messages I get when logging in! I've trained myself to quickly click through the error messages without even looking.

How's that for starters?


I felt much the same way as Seth when I first read the announcement of Author Assistant and checked out the tool. My first impression was that each page looked exactly like the page before it. But in HarperCollins' defense, I just now glanced at an author page that did pull in her latest "official blog" post via some kind RSS feed widget, and that official blog is hosted on blogspot. So maybe it is a tool that can adapt to various needs; though I would tend to think it should be treated as a supplemental channel for reaching consumers (just another hit on organic search) instead of the main event. As Carolyn points out, an author may write for more than one press, or may switch houses. As an author, you need to have a brand and web presence that's 100% portable and 100% yours. (True of everyone in every industry, these days.)

Re: Joe's Typepad woes -- I've rarely if ever received an error message when logging in - odd! They are rigid about certain things; I wonder how much of that is due to partnerships.

Anyway, very interesting conversation, thanks.

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