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The publishing industry sometimes reminds me of an aircraft carrier. They may send out experimental flights of fancy, like interactive websites, online book tours, and so on, but the main ship continues on its way. Any change of course appears to be ponderous and slow; a publisher would put the wheel over, and then wait a while for the effect to happen over time.

It's the 21st Century now, and the publishing industry appears to have woken up and gotten a whiff of e-ink. Recent news includes a notice from HarperCollins that they have created the position of “editorial director, digital publishing,"for the Morrow/Avon/Eos group. Margot Schupf, an associate publisher at HarperCollins has been named to the new position. Since Eos is their fantasy line, that's good news to me.

Other news is less clear cut. The UK's Richard Nash, formerly of Soft Skull Press, has written an interesting article in PW about how he is launching a new house called Cursor (how is that for a hi-tech name?), that will utilize a “social” approach to publishing. Nash plans to "establish a portfolio of self-reinforcing online membership communities. To start, this includes Red Lemonade, a pop-lit-alt-cult operation, and charmQuark, a sci-fi/fantasy community."

I'm not entirely sure what he means; it sounds as if he plans to create a business based at least partly on the large numbers of people who write, but I'm not clear on what they will get for their membership fees. Here is what he says:

"Each community will have a publishing imprint, which will make money from authors' books, sold as digital downloads, conventional print and limited artisanal editions—and will offer authors all the benefits of a digital platform: faster time to market, faster accounting cycles, faster payments to authors."

Does that sounds almost like self-publishing to you? It does to me. If you read his article, let me know what you think.

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( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 28th, 2009 07:17 pm (UTC)
I could have misunderstood the sales pitch... er article, but from what I can see, this is a business plan for making money off would-be writers who can pay for services offered (no doubt Cursor would receive plenty of advertizing revenue as a result of web traffic too), wrapped up in way that makes it sound like Richard Nash will be doing those writers a favor with his new venture.

I can see why your mind went to self-publishing.

Edited at 2009-07-28 07:18 pm (UTC)
Aug. 2nd, 2009 05:25 pm (UTC)
Not either-or
Hi folks: We're going to have to abandon dichotomies like self-publishing vs well, what? other-publishing? Each community's Editor will select books—with a great deal of input from the membership and from the larger community of agents, writers, readers—to be published in limited edition print, conventional print, digital download, and in the cloud. They will be joined, in the cloud by the writing of the entire membership. Selection is not and either/or process, and I suspect the formats in

Soft Skull Press, the company I ran for 8 years, America's Independent Publisher of the Year in 2005, began life in 1993 by publishing the novel of the founder, Sander Hicks. That was "self-publishing." And that act of self-publishing begat America's equivalent of Canongate. I'd urge folks to table suspicion until you see what actually happens.

I'd urge one other area of caution. A commenter referred to it as a sales pitch‚ a previous, much shorter article I wrote, was criticized for its failure to be specific about what I proposed. Thus I would urge folks to accept that for a proper economy to arise around writing and reading, it would be good to allow entrepreneurs to make specific proposals about what they want to do—they are, after all, putting their money where a lot of folks are putting only their mouths. And if we don't in fact give you every last detail of the business plan, it is because magazine editors want the articles they publish to be readable!

That said, criticism and feedback will be absolutely key to developing new economically viable models. So I absolutely accept and encourage thumbs' up and thumbs' down for the various aspects of the business as they are launched. It's just a bit premature to do so now.

Richard Nash
founder, Cursor
Aug. 2nd, 2009 09:36 pm (UTC)
Re: Not either-or
Thanks for commenting. I agree that the terminology will change as technology changes the dynamics of publishing. Certainly the music industry has changed radically as a result of technology. e-books, POD presses (especially in-store ones like Espresso) and the web will all have an impact.

I'll watch for news of Cursor. Good luck!
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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