Publishing/Writing: Insights, News, Intrigue


Publishing as Manufacturing and the Tribalism of Literary Communities.

Richard Nash - Publishing Entrepreneur

Publishing needs to return to the basic concept of connecting readers with writers … and get away from selling book products to bookstores.

I like this concept! …  And, it is one discussed in an interview titled Revaluing the Book with publishing entrepreneur Richard Nash by Matt Runkle in the Boston Review.

Richard Nash “has created a social-networking platform called Cursor, which allows writers to form literary communities and post their manuscripts for members to read and react to.”

The interview:

Revaluing the Book

Richard Nash, former head of Soft Skull Press, insists that book publishing needs to return to the simple task of connecting readers and writers. He has created a social-networking platform called Cursor, which allows writers to form literary communities and post their manuscripts for members to read and react to. Nash also helms Red Lemonade, Cursor’s first imprint, which publishes work selected from its site. Matt Runkle spoke to Nash recently about publishing as manufacturing, the closing of Borders, and the tribalism of literary communities.

Matt Runkle: There’s a lot of worrying about the disappearance of the book as an object. Do you see the printed book in the same state of flux as the publishing industry?

Richard Nash: If people want something, why do they think it’s not going to exist? Not to get all sort of laissez-faire capitalist about this, but I’m going to have a moment of laissez-faire capitalism here and note that if people want to read the book in its printed form, then I predict there are going to be ways in which they can ensure that they will continue to get it in printed form because people are going to be willing to pay for it.

I mean the reality is that soon enough—even right now, technically—anyone will be able to get a digital version of a book and go and get it made into a physical printed book if they want. I mean right now, whether you’re using the espresso machine or—goodness gracious—3D printing, which is very, very, very much in its infancy, any kind of manufacturing over the next 10, 20, 30, 40 years is going to be able to be done as a hobby. So if you want a printed book, you will be able to get a printed book.

It has been a fascinating phenomenon in the discussion around publishing how adversarial people get around other people’s choices. So if someone says “I like an ebook,” a person will respond “Ohhh, I can’t believe—how can you do that?” It’s like that obnoxious person who you don’t want to go out to dinner with anymore because they can’t just order what they want, they have to comment on what you’re eating as well. What’s been epidemic in this discussion is that when both camps talk about their own preferences, they have to malign other people’s preferences too, and make grandiose extrapolations about the consequences of other people’s preferences for their own. If they like printed books, they should be buying the damn things instead of whining about other people’s preferred mode of reading. So I’m tremendously optimistic about the future of the book as an object. I think the worst years of the book as an object have been the last 50 years. 

What we have witnessed over the last 50 years is the progressive shittification of the book as an object.

MR: Why?

RN: When I started at Soft Skull in 2001 we were printing on 55-pound paper. By 2005, we were typically printing on 50-pound paper. By 2008, half our books were on 45-pound groundwood. And that’s because our print runs were going down. And even with publishers whose print runs weren’t going down, they were trying to save money. Because when the book’s primary purpose was not to be an object, but rather to be a mass-produced item for sale in big-box retail, then there’s going to be downward pressure on costs. And so what we have witnessed over the last 50 years is the progressive shittification of the book as an object—a process that is not external to publishing as it was practiced over the last 100 years, but has in fact been at its fore.

If you’ve got a manufacturing supply chain, then the dictates of manufacturing are going to be the ones that drive the business. And there’s certainly going to be some ad hoc occasional efforts not to do that: certain independent publishers will try to focus on quality, and certain individual books from other publishers might be tarted up for one reason or another, for marketing purposes. But those are the exceptions. Basically, when you’ve got an industry that is pushing out $25 billion worth of physical products into a supply chain, the vast majority of businesses are going to try to cut costs and increase revenues. And the simplest way to cut costs is going to be on the production side. So if the core of the business is no longer a supply chain, but rather the orchestration of writing and reading communities, the book is freed of its obligation to be the sole means for the broad mass dissemination of the word, and instead become a thing where the intrinsic qualities of the book itself can be explored.

MR: How did you come up with the idea for Cursor?

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1 Comment »

  1. ‘Helping the book fight back’

    With the introduction of the Kindle and electronic books, here is a British invention that is helping the book fight back…from Michael Drage

    The World’s Only – Light weight, telescopic, folding book holder – allowing you to enjoy:
    ‘Hands Free Reading’, – ‘The Gimble Traveller’ – www,

    Recently launched into the market – it is now in Waterstones, WH Smith and many independent book shops in the UK selling for £6.99.

    Export has just started to Spain, Norway, Sweden and Japan
    It will soon be shown for the first time at the Frankfurt book fair and the America BookExpo.

    The Invention:
    It wraps around the outside of your book with arms that then loop around to hold the book open and keep the pages under control. Fits most paperback and hardback book sizes keeping them open at the perfect reading angle, yet pages are easily turned, altogether a more pleasurable read!…it also allows your book to free-stand, wherever you enjoy reading, in bed, on holiday, on a train or a coach, in the bath, at work, when studying or simply relaxing.  
    It also attaches on to the cover so you never loose it and you can take it with you. 
    (perfect for holidays, cooking and reference books)

    ‘Improve the comfort of your reading experience’
    The Sunday Times

    ‘I tried it, tested it, liked it and now I use it’
    Rebecca Wade
    Beyond -Travel and Lifestyle magazine

    Users comments are already coming back very positive:
    (One lady even wrote me a poem!!!)

    ‘Ive broke my arm I want to read 
    A Gimble is wot I need. 
    It holds the pages back for me 
    So that I can easily drink my tea ‘
    Ode by Barbara GODKIN

    ‘My wife, an avid reader, who has complained about the fact that she could not keep a book from folding on her unexpectedly, usually at the most exciting moment and usually with some expletive, discovered your Gimble which has been be her salvation and my ears saved from further bashing’
    Edward Elson-Jones

    Hi Mike – saw the book holder in the Sunday Times travel supplement a few weeks ago.   Suffering from a painful left thumb (arthritis), I find the book holder great for holding the pages open.   Before, it really hurt as I got further through the book.   Now, I am pain free in my hand while reading.  
    Regards – Freda (Windmill).
    Hi Mike, you asked for feedback and I have a couple of quotes for you. My daughter at present on holiday in Turkey said ‘Mum the Gimble thingy is bloody fantastic, thanks so much for giving it to me’ and my friend who likes to knit and read at the same time said ‘wherever did you get this gadget from, it’s amazing ‘.  So there you are, still have one more to give as a pressie in Oct. so will relay any more comments to you.
    Kind regards

    Comment by — 10/04/2011 @ 10:14 am | Reply

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