Jay Shirley

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Book Review: Purple Cow by Seth Godin

Published: 27 Jun 2011

I read Purple Cow on a quick trip. During the trip my wife went to a Japanese book store in LA that sells used books for $1 each. In the pile of books she found The Complete Manual of Suicide and immediately had to buy it.

This book is an example of a Purple Cow. Something remarkable that compels certain people to evangelise the product. In this case the book also caused a furor. My wife was a teenager and wasn’t able to buy it or even read it. Through word of mouth alone she wanted it. She desperately wanted it but it wasn’t available for 18 years.

The book just contains a very encyclopedic list of suicide methods. Success rates, pain, etc. As she was telling me about her excitement in finding the book I questioned her motivations. I knew that it was the Streisand Effect and she really had no interest in the information. Her interest was purely in the word of mouth marketing and controversy.

That interest kept hold and as she entered a book store 18 years later she felt compelled to buy it. And it was only a dollar.

The primary message I got from Purple Cow is:

To be exceptional, and building a successful company is exceptional, the product must be remarkable. A remarkable product is created from the beginning to be remarkable. This requires every person involved in the engineering, sales and marketing to be involved in product development.

As for the book itself, I felt the book was too repetitive. Fantastic message and explanations but it was hard to churn through. There were many chapters that were rehashing previous examples. These chapters usually had some nugget of wisdom buried that was easy to overlook. The very last chapter was the best, as it just quickly isolated various companies and products and how they were (or weren’t) remarkable.

All in all, the book was far too long. I doubt any publisher wants to bind a 30-50 page book and sell it for the same price as a 150 page book.

And a minor digression.

This is the problem with the literary and publishing world is that we have blogs. Previously when a subject or story was too short for a book, people wrote filler. Now they cut more fat out and it turns into a blog entry. The happy medium is eBooks, which can be nice and short but still organized like a proper book.

I think the self publishing revolution will give us this, and it will be the biggest gift of all.

Self publishing is also a Purple Cow. It is a remarkable product. My business manifesto I’ve been writing for months? Self Publish. It isn’t a book, not nearly long enough and I won’t pollute it with fat. Even if I do put it on my blog it will be scattered into several sections.

Even just 2 years ago there was not a feasible way for me to take that collection and clean it up then publish. Now in a weekend I could have an ePub and by the next have it available on Amazon.

Life is amazing for those individuals who do remarkable things.

It’s hard for me to recommend people read Purple Cow because I believe the message is very simple. The book just beats the dead horse. Like Brother Ali says, Beating a dead horse isn’t killing it. Seth makes excellent points everybody should really think hard about but the book itself is not remarkable. Oh, the paradox. Oddly, I wrote this a few weeks before it was announced that J.K. Rowling would be self-publishing her next series.