Reader Profile: Seth Godin

Seth Godin has been one of the most influential people on the web for at least 20 years. In 1999, his book Permission Marketing redefined digital marketing. 17 books and 7,100-plus blog posts later, he remains one of the most thoughtful and interesting writers about how humans communicate and connect in the modern age. It’s especially impressive because he largely eschews social media and remains committed to blogging and book publishing. Though his blogging has gone from a superhuman five posts a day to a merely heroic once a day, he remains one of our favorite writers. We asked him about where inspiration comes from, how modern marketers have abused his ideas, and where the next Seth Godin might come from.  For your April Fool’s joke this year on your blog, you pretended that you were out of ideas. That’s obviously not going to happen any time soon, but seriously, where do you get your inspiration- whose writing gets you excited these days? Who do you read to get your creative wheels turning? The joke was a terrible backfire. I fooled too many people, and I’ve thought a lot about why. I think it’s because folks think we need inspiration to be creative. I don’t believe that this is true. No one gets plumber’s block. They simply do plumbing. Creativity is work, it’s not the muse, or lightning or the result of burning incense. I write daily because I’m a professional, and this is what I do.Okay, so this is obviously a leading, self-interested question, but where does RSS fit into your life? How do you compare the RSS model to the way social media works? RSS is tragically overlooked. It’s an endaround to get past the giant companies that want to dominate your media life. It is snoop free, ad resistant and fast. It can’t be filtered or otherwise squeezed. RSS gave us podcasts, and it gave us a useful way to consume an endless series of blogs. I’m still angry at Google for building a trap that took the wind out of RSS’ sails. But Google has moved on, and the rest of us, if you care about information and freedom and access, you can go get an RSS reader.How have you resisted the pull of Twitter and Facebook? Would you advise other people to take the same non-engagement approach to social media? Can the rest of us really live without social media? If you use those services, at the very least, you’re the product. You’re being sold. And that’s okay, if you’re getting something out of them. What are you getting? Are you building an asset? Confronting useful fears? Making a difference for anyone? I spend zero time wondering if I should be spending time on social networks instead of doing my work.You’ve said that even if nobody read your blog, you would still blog every day. What is the value to the pure act of blogging? Every day, I have to stand for something. Notice something. Put it down for all to see. The act is clarifying. It requires me to be a bit less of a hypocrite. And on a good day, it’s generous. That’s a pretty great combination.Has blogging been good for your mental health? Should more people do it, or are you somehow ideally suited to the medium?Well, I have no control group… But I think given how much it helps others and how little it costs, it might be a great experiment. Do it for thirty days. If daily blogging doesn’t make your life better, I’ll give you a full refund on what you spent reading this!It seems like an important moment for you was when you stopped worrying about your online reputation. Is that a precondition for people to be persistent in the face of failure in the contemporary world? Worrying is the key word. I haven’t stopped building trust, haven’t stopped contributing, haven’t stopped trying to push the envelope. I simply stopped worry, measuring and checking. My work got better instantly. So did my life.You use the word privilege a lot- in fact it’s in the definition of permission marketing. Is there a sense that online marketers have been overlooking the privilege part of the equation? That too many are trying to capture audiences and not earning the privilege?  Right! Humility is in short supply in the marketing world (did I mention I’m getting inducted into the Marketing Hall of Fame in May? I’m practicing being non-humble to get ready for it…)The thing is, we’re truly privileged. Someone taught us how to read. We’re healthy. Many of us grew up with people who believed in us. We live in a house. We have a wire that connects us to 2 billion people. Etc. etc. If you steal someone’s attention just to make a buck, I fear you’ve wasted all that’s been given to you. If you lie or hustle or scam because you’ve got a story in your head that you deserve it… what a waste. Empathy and humility are at the heart of successful marketing. We ignore that our peril.What’s happened to the concept of permission marketing? What is your take on current online revenue models for publishers and platforms? I remember feeling so excited about the idea of permission marketing but I have a creeping feel

Reader Profile: Seth Godin

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Seth Godin has been one of the most influential people on the web for at least 20 years. In 1999, his book Permission Marketing redefined digital marketing. 17 books and 7,100-plus blog posts later, he remains one of the most thoughtful and interesting writers about how humans communicate and connect in the modern age. It’s especially impressive because he largely eschews social media and remains committed to blogging and book publishing. Though his blogging has gone from a superhuman five posts a day to a merely heroic once a day, he remains one of our favorite writers. We asked him about where inspiration comes from, how modern marketers have abused his ideas, and where the next Seth Godin might come from. 

For your April Fool’s joke this year on your blog, you pretended that you were out of ideas. That’s obviously not going to happen any time soon, but seriously, where do you get your inspiration- whose writing gets you excited these days? Who do you read to get your creative wheels turning? 

The joke was a terrible backfire. I fooled too many people, and I’ve thought a lot about why. I think it’s because folks think we need inspiration to be creative. I don’t believe that this is true. No one gets plumber’s block. They simply do plumbing. Creativity is work, it’s not the muse, or lightning or the result of burning incense. I write daily because I’m a professional, and this is what I do.

Okay, so this is obviously a leading, self-interested question, but where does RSS fit into your life? How do you compare the RSS model to the way social media works? 

RSS is tragically overlooked. It’s an endaround to get past the giant companies that want to dominate your media life. It is snoop free, ad resistant and fast. It can’t be filtered or otherwise squeezed. RSS gave us podcasts, and it gave us a useful way to consume an endless series of blogs. I’m still angry at Google for building a trap that took the wind out of RSS’ sails. But Google has moved on, and the rest of us, if you care about information and freedom and access, you can go get an RSS reader.

How have you resisted the pull of Twitter and Facebook? Would you advise other people to take the same non-engagement approach to social media? Can the rest of us really live without social media? 

If you use those services, at the very least, you’re the product. You’re being sold. And that’s okay, if you’re getting something out of them. What are you getting? Are you building an asset? Confronting useful fears? Making a difference for anyone? I spend zero time wondering if I should be spending time on social networks instead of doing my work.

You’ve said that even if nobody read your blog, you would still blog every day. What is the value to the pure act of blogging?

Every day, I have to stand for something. Notice something. Put it down for all to see. The act is clarifying. It requires me to be a bit less of a hypocrite. And on a good day, it’s generous. That’s a pretty great combination.

Has blogging been good for your mental health? Should more people do it, or are you somehow ideally suited to the medium?

Well, I have no control group… But I think given how much it helps others and how little it costs, it might be a great experiment. Do it for thirty days. If daily blogging doesn’t make your life better, I’ll give you a full refund on what you spent reading this!

It seems like an important moment for you was when you stopped worrying about your online reputation. Is that a precondition for people to be persistent in the face of failure in the contemporary world? 

Worrying is the key word. I haven’t stopped building trust, haven’t stopped contributing, haven’t stopped trying to push the envelope. I simply stopped worry, measuring and checking. My work got better instantly. So did my life.

You use the word privilege a lot- in fact it’s in the definition of permission marketing. Is there a sense that online marketers have been overlooking the privilege part of the equation? That too many are trying to capture audiences and not earning the privilege?  

Right! Humility is in short supply in the marketing world (did I mention I’m getting inducted into the Marketing Hall of Fame in May? I’m practicing being non-humble to get ready for it…)

The thing is, we’re truly privileged. Someone taught us how to read. We’re healthy. Many of us grew up with people who believed in us. We live in a house. We have a wire that connects us to 2 billion people. Etc. etc. If you steal someone’s attention just to make a buck, I fear you’ve wasted all that’s been given to you. If you lie or hustle or scam because you’ve got a story in your head that you deserve it… what a waste. Empathy and humility are at the heart of successful marketing. We ignore that our peril.

What’s happened to the concept of permission marketing? What is your take on current online revenue models for publishers and platforms? I remember feeling so excited about the idea of permission marketing but I have a creeping feeling that there are too many selfish marketers dictating the agenda. 

Among brands and individuals that want to race to the bottom, it’s a footnote, easily ignored. They scam and hype and hustle. But among those that want to earn trust and make a difference, it remains the fundamental building block of connection.

How do more writers make a living? What is the most sensible business model to make web publishing sustainable? What practical advice would you give to a 20-something Seth Godin trying to make his name  today? 

To quote myself, “I’m still trying to be pretty good at being ‘this’ Seth Godin, so I wish people who want to be the next one a lot of luck. There’s never been a next Elvis Costello or a next Jill Sobule. There wasn’t even a next Chuck Berry or a next Charlie Chaplin … I think the most productive thing to do during times of change is to be your best self, not the best version of someone else.”

Can you make money writing articles or books? Not easily, not out on the long tail. The opportunity is to build yourself a niche, a place where you and you alone are the one to copy.

Do you ever get the entrepreneurial itch? Will we see you starting a new company again? 

I learned a while ago that saying never is a good way to become a hypocrite.

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