Seth Godin Called On The Carpet By His Customers

Ubermarketingguruguy Seth Godin has sold a gazillion copies of his books, and has had his e-books downloaded ten gazillion times. The trouble is, according to Jeff Jarvis and Doc Searls, that they (his readers and customers) hate the format his e-books are in.

“Seth Godin is the god of listening to your customer, giving your customer what your customer wants, giving your customer something extra, making your customer feel special. But for some reason, he refuses to give many of us customers what we want: HTML. I ranted about it again and again. No response then.” (the full rant from Jeff)

“Have I made it clear I hate .pdfs? I do. Says here ‘our PDFs don’t suck.’ Because they’re beautiful and ‘a joy to read.’ Excuse me, they do suck if what they contain isn’t also on the Web in relatively ugly but open, unowned, nonproprietary, standard and non-infuriating HTML…” – (the full rant from Doc)

So, Seth does the right thing and replies, publicly. Unfortunately, he completely dissed his customer in doing so.

“Anyway, we use PDFs because they’re a lot more booklike. They read better. They stick together when you forward them. They print better. I know they’re not in HTML. There are 6 trillion other web pages to choose from if you want that.”

Wow. Translation: “I’m going to keep doing things this way because it’s better for me this way, and you, Mr. Customer, can go somewhere else if you don’t like it.”

We here at The Social Customer Manifesto would also like to humbly point out that this page is created with 100% HTML, for the convenience of those customers who prefer it.

7 Replies to “Seth Godin Called On The Carpet By His Customers”

  1. I’d be pleased if Mr Searls published HTML that would display correctly in Safari.


  2. Seth, say it ain’t so!

    Checking to see if the date is April 1st (it ain’t!?). Seth Godin, master marketer, must surely be up to something beyond just “PDF’s look prettier”?!? Seth’s Blog: Reader Mail (part 2): “Doc Searls started a little tempest re PDFs

  3. I think that there’s a big difference between giving your customers what they want, and giving them what they need. Stephen Brown outlines this concept very well in his book “Free Gift Inside”.

    In this case Seth is clear about his reasons. I must say I agree with him too, pandering to your customers every whim is not good service, and lets face it, Seth aint charging for anything, so if people don’t like it, they can go elsewhere.

    Perhaps it’s just time for the Doc to open his mind to something new…!

  4. Get off your soap boxes, you’re confused!

    So, Seth is getting dragged over the coals by Jeff Jarvis and Doc Searls for formatting his manifestos as PDFs and not HTML. That’s akin to blaming Hitler for using gas chambers instead of firing squads… if you do

  5. I think the point is valid that PDFs are meant to be more book like. And if I remember correctly, Doc just wanted to quote something and was too lazy to type it out. 😉

    But furthermore, one can agree that listening to your audience is a good thing, but what if the audience is wrong and what they want isn’t the best way to handle things? Democracy doesn’t always work and I highly doubt that a formatting issue (especially when it’s this Trivial) will stop the ideas flowing from ChangeThis.

    Let’s put it this way: Form Follow Function, but the function hasn’t changed has it?

    I’ll admit that I read many of these manifestos online or on my screen rather than printing them out. But I personally think that they did a great job not only to structure the PDF file to be easy to use, but also easier to read then ambling paragrphs of HTML text.

    Yes, there will always be people who hate PDFs. Okay, but get past it. The format here isn’t the issue, it’s about the content. And as was mentioned, if you don’t like the format or the content, then why be there in the first place?

    And one small point: I believe that while Mr. Godin has remarked about lisening to the market, I don’t think he meant to encompass the Entire Market. Indeed, his ideas target quite a bit of the market, but not everyone in the world will like it, so what about this free market stuff again?

    PDFs might also be proprietary, but the reader is free and Adobe has spent quite a bit of time integrating it into the internet culture. You want a decent presentation format other than HTML, build one. The world is just waiting for something better than a PDF to come along. But personally, I just don’t think that HTML can help the concepts of the manifestos out much more than PDF format has already done.

    Okay, I’ll end my rant here.

  6. IMHO, this isn’t about “PDF vs. HTML”…the format arcana is a symptom and not a root cause.

    What it IS about is control. Control over information. Control over presentation. Control over usage. In some ways, the format chosen for the ChangeThis docs is a blunt-object form of digital rights management.

    For someone to excerpt a salient, brilliant, cogent nugget from those documents, it becomes a hassle for the customer (and yes, the readers ARE customers of these ideas). If the price in time, hassle, or annoyance is too high, the idea doesn’t get propagated, and everyone loses.

  7. > For someone to excerpt a salient, brilliant, cogent
    > nugget from those documents, it becomes a hassle for
    > the customer

    I’m not sure I understand that comment. The PDFs are
    not protected, so you can copy and paste the brilliant
    nugget pretty easily

    Comparing two Formats

    newspaper-like (HTML)
    * headlines and subheads facilitate scanning
    * easy to clip one article
    * easy to multitask (tabbed browsing:I had 16 tabs open a while ago)

    book-like (ChangeThis PDF)
    * doesn’t scan well – forces you to read
    * easier to send the whole thing than just part
    * immersive experience (takes over the screen)

    I was annoyed be the full-screen bit, and hitting
    ESC to get out is not particularly obvious. And I don’t
    buy the bit about “easier to print” because these
    PDFs were so obviously designed for the screen.

    I do, however, agree that the format is more
    appropriate than HTML for the content and the
    reasons for writing it.

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