Seth Godin on Commission

Image representing Seth Godin as depicted in C...

So I was going through my normal hundreds of morning emails and although I generally breeze through Seth Godin's posts (I've found them to be the equivalent of Tweets, short, uninformed, the internet equivalent of a sound bite without substance) this particular post made me pause:

Everyone gets paid on commission

Beyond the fact that it's about 5 lines long I have a number of issues with what Seth is proposing here:

  1. Being paid on commission implies that every function is customer facing. In any company there are support, infrastructure and secondary functions which make an organization actually work. How would you propose calculating their commission. Generally Seth, these are referred to as bonuses.
  2. Not every post, article or piece of news media is directly measurable. Example: Sunday Morning Political Talk Shows, they have a very low directly measurable audience. However their influence through syndication, media discussion is substantial. Should these shows and their hosts be measured on commission?
  3. Doing great work does not neccessarily mean that there is a definable B2C conversion rate attached to it. You often mention branding, customer loyalty and the like in your books and blog. Now you seem to contradict yourself by saying every action must have a measurable conversion to a sale.
  4. In the world of journalism it isn't always about appealing to public appetite. In fact it is about the media informing the public, in your world I would predict that many journalists would simply write what is convenient to increase rating (or traffic).

Those are a few of my reasons that Seth Godin is way off base here. Seth, take a couple of hours off and watch Glen Gary Glen Ross then think about your post, your position and the fairly shallow insight you provided. Is that thought leadership?

Unless of course you meant bonuses and incentives rather than commission.


  1. says

    In reading Seth’s post, I think the point wasn’t so much that everything is currently measurable and employees should be held to a strictly commission- based compensation model, but rather that the model for good work and employee value is changing as effectiveness can be more accurately measured in today’s digital world.

    I think that Seth would agree with you that the not-so-easily-measurable facets of a business, like branding for example, remain an essential part of a successful business model, despite their intangibility.

    However, t the facets of a business that are readily measurable (like traffic to a certain journalist’s blog posts) should receive compensation through a commission-based structure.

  2. says

    I agree with your observations Jeff but on the last point (and his major point) I strongly disagree that Journalists should be compensated based on a commission structure.

    My point being that the profession of Journalism would degenerate into a morass of self serving populist drivel designed to feed the masses.

    Although it could easily be argued that this has already happened.

    • says

      You certainly seem to be advocating it (my emphasis):

      In fact, in a digital world where everything can be measured, we all work on commission. And why not? If you do great work and it works, you should get rewarded. And if you don’t, it’s hard to see why a rational organization would keep you on.

  3. says

    This is the path that journalism is taking and has been taking for a long time. Back when TV news was just a cost center and not it’s own P&L, they didn’t have to make a profit, and the news was *generally* more independent and unbiased. Print journalism is even worse. Its ever polarized take on the news is evident, and what Americans celebrate is people who can hit a ball with a stick or starlets who wear short dresses with no panties. What happened to journalistic ethics? Many countries subsidize the press; and for a country who’s basic rights include freedom of the press, we should get back to the business of reporting facts and not sensationalizing every story. Popularity (i.e., eyeballs) does not equal conversion to sales. Creatives, including journalists, should understand basic marketing as an adjunct to what they do, but marketing people are supposed to drive traffic to great products, while those that make great products should focus on continuing to develop good work.

    That said, journalists have to understand that their industry is changing and the old guard needs to really embrace web 2.0. Writing for online entities is different than print. Finding news on sites like twitter and aggregating/distilling that for the reader is going to be a big part of that future. Being able to make sense of that noise, genuinely participating in a dialogue with readers, commenting, and being part of the community will become valuable skills (but only in a world where Management thoroughly understands and rewards it – huge disconnect now). Journalists who don’t get it, won’t be working for much longer.

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