Surprising Truths From Richard Nash’s Publishing Talk

Richard Eoin Nash (formerly of Soft Skull Press) has a talk available on that’s well worth a watch:

Wired editor Chris Anderson calls this the “best speech (he’s) ever seen on book publishing”. My eyebrows went up at that, and so I sat down for a listen. Anderson was right. Here are the best ideas from that speech; or at least, the ones that struck me as most surprising.

“We are a small industry sitting atop a huge hobby”

I’m not sure if Nash means reading, the hobby, or writing, the hobby (I suspect the latter), but I’d never thought of the publishing industry like this. An implication: publishing may become a hobby, just like how reading is part of the writing hobby, or computers are part of the programming hobby. A little far-fetched, I know, but something to keep in mind.

“(Writers) are not happy about being published. They want to connect. (…) They don’t write to stay alone. They write stuff so they can get out and connect with people who read their stuff.

We’ve known this for some time, of course. My contention is that writers want two things the most: a) to write, and b) to talk to readers. Anecdotal evidence suggests this to be true – Keren Wehrstein has a lovely guest post up over at Becka’s writing blog, where she talks about her shift from being a traditionally published writer to a online one:

When I first decided to do this, I emailed Alexandra Erin to pick her brain. She told me that she thought the biggest adjustment for me, switching from traditional to online publishing, would be dealing with immediate feedback in comments, and that it might be tough. My feeling was—are you kidding? That would be like nirvana! I did have a little trepidation—the net abounds with trolls, for one thing—but mostly felt I’d enjoy getting immediate comments.

The social component of people responding to your fiction, online (or anything of yours that is online, really) is incredibly addictive. Think of Facebook, and how much a timesuck that is.

“We’re in the writer-reader connection business. If our supply chain doesn’t do it (connect writers and readers well) we should abandon it.”

I found Nash’s articulation of the ‘publishing problem’ very elegant. My assertion – that publishing is a solution to the problem of distribution – seems obfuscated in comparison.

“Currently, publishing has products in the $10 – $30 price range. What about below $10? We have no products there. Or what about above $30? Say: $100? What products do we have there? Like perhaps a meeting with an author? We’ve not met all the demand at all the price points we might have possibly met.

This applies to big-name publishers, of course, but the idea that there are price points on the demand curve that are not yet addressed is worth looking into.

“The 20th century was about supply management. The 21st century is about demand management. You have to own the community.”

Nash’s thesis is that publishers no longer need to manage the supply side of things – there is more content now than at any other point in time in the history of publishing. He contends that publishers now have to ‘manage demand’. That they have to find, and build audiences, or at least create digital systems where communities of readers get to pick what books they’d like to see published.

“The absence of audio and video in long form text is a feature, not a bug.”

This is something I’ve been saying for a bit, but never have I seen it expressed so … succinctly. Nash has a real talent for ideas like this – I’m keeping an eye on him, and I think you should, too.

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Category: Publishing