Richard Nash's Gated Publishing Communities
Richard Nash, former head of Soft Skull Press, no longer believes you can sell digital books. Instead, he wants to construct online cities and tax the citizens, creating gated communities of readers and writers who have the same broad preoccupations and aesthetic preferences.

From Nash's "Publisher's Weekly" article about his new model, a system he is calling "Cursor":

"Were it not for the power of the Internet, all this talk of the social nature of reading and writing might remain just casual, useful little thought bubbles built around books. But especially in the Web 2.0 incarnation, which focuses on communication and sharing, technology has emphasized a simple truth at the heart of my new enterprise: we are what we read, we are what we write, and we organize ourselves around and connect with one another through what we read and write."

In addition to selling books while he still can, Nash wants to offer paid memberships for readers into writer communities, memberships which will let readers upload their own writing, join peer-to-peer writing groups, get access to "recommendation engines," contact established authors online and in person, and get editorial assistance in the form of both professional and peer advice. Just like Amazon's self-publishing model, except with smaller distribution.

"Other revenue opportunities include the provision of electronic distribution services to other publishers; fee-based or revenue-share software modules, especially for online writing workshops or seminars for publishers, literary journals, teaching programs; fee-based linking of writers to suppliers of publishing services, including traditional publishers and agents; corporate sponsorships and site advertising; and events and speaking fees."

A contract with a Cursor community as a writer will last three years with an option to renew, and they will get all your rights: your digital rights, your print rights, maybe even your adaptation rights.

Getting published by a Cursor imprint will be like getting elected Mayor of Booktown. You will join a community because you like the things they already publish and feel like the members are "your sort of people." Then, you will upload your work, get it reviewed and edited by peers who are also trying to build clout and credibility, and try to win the popular vote of your fellow citizens. If you manage to get elected and secure a publishing contract, then you will have unlimited access to all of Booktown's publishing resources.

Your own office! Your own secretary! Hot cha!

"The business will focus on developing the value of the reading and writing ecosystem, including the growth of markets for established authors, as well as engaging readers and supporting emerging writers."

These cities will be either built along profitable veins of rare ore (venerable established writers) or near large bodies of water (powerful, popular genres).


Things with which I respectfully disagree:

(1). Reading is social.

Reading is social like porn is social. You don't really want to hang out with people who like the same porn you do. You want to believe that the porn is for you and you alone.

(2). You can't sell digital books.

See "Wunderkammer Seeds: A Fantasia"

(3). Good writing comes from nurturing communities.

I guess this is how "creative writing" programs stay in business. But it's a goddamn lie, so one hopes that these Cursor communities will attempt to solicit outside submissions. Insular communities create insular ideas, and most good writers are natural-born outcasts, unable to persist within insular communities for very long without fucking shit up. while good writing sometimes occurs as a result of competition provoked by hate and rage generated by these communities, these are difficult elements to lock into a social network.

(4). People will pay for this.

They won't.

(5). Writers want to be Mayor of Booktown.

Writers want fame, riches, glory, and more worship than corrupt Roman emperors. They need to believe this could happen from the power of their simple stories. Sometimes it DOES happen. If you eliminate this hope, you eliminate the spirit that drives creative agony.

(6). The internet is magic.

The internet is not magic.

(7). You will be able to compete with Facebook, Amazon, and Google as an online content aggregator.



I respect Nash's insights, and I hope there will be a huge land rush for property within his special reading cities. I want him to prove me wrong; to reinvigorate publishing, create new readers, and get my generation excited about imaginative prose.

I fear that "social networking" is only a very small part of the puzzle.

Publishing companies need to build better digital products, plain and simple. They don't need new "tricks." Most likely, modern publishing companies are going to go out of business and be replaced by people who know how to write interesting and innovative code. Writers will do business with the publishers who can do the most digital voodoo with their narratives. If publishing is digital, then hackers are the new press.

Posted by miracle on Tue, 28 Jul 2009 08:51:13 -0400 -- permanent link

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