Richard Nash in the Boston Review

The new issue of the Boston Review has an interesting interview with publishing visionary Richard Nash about the state of publishing and Revaluing the Book:

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. [. . .]

MR: Will the failure of Borders change the way the book business thinks of books?

RN: What does a person do when they want something to read? One of the big mistakes that often gets made in publishing is we focus a lot on price. We focus on how much a book costs and we decide whether it’s worth it or not. Now we’ve got a lot more books that are absolutely impoverished. The reality is that people’s decision-making process has a lot more to do with time than with money. It’s 15 hours in the inside of your head. Books are so cheap compared to the hours of entertainment they provide. The problem is, do they provide entertainment? Is it in fact a book you want to read? If after four hours you hate it, what most people say is “I can’t believe I spent fifteen dollars on this.” But what they really mean is “I can’t believe I just wasted four hours of my life on this.”

MR: Red Lemonade allows people to view free of charge complete manuscripts of books you have for sale. You’ve mentioned that having access to the full text online will help readers make up their minds and commit to buying a hard copy. This view differs from a general reluctance of publishers to post complete works online.

RN: Exactly. With the vast majority of books, the problem that most people have is they don’t know whether it’s going to be worth their time to read it. There are a tiny handful of books, in the case of each person, where they can be sure they want to read them. The reality is that I don’t think, in fact, there are a huge number of people reading our books for free online that have made a decision about whether to buy it. I mean there is probably a small number that are doing it for that reason and that number may increase, but I believe the number is smaller than has occurred to people because publishers refuse to do it. But what we’ve very clearly demonstrated by putting it for free online is that reading the book online has absolutely no negative impact on sales. Why in fact would it?

In many respects we’ve got a real Stockholm Syndrome around the model of publishing as it’s existed up until now. We just take for granted that it is the way it is because that’s a good way for things to be. And when something diverges from it we look for proof as to why it should diverge. But I’m interested in trying to reframe questions. Why do we think that a person won’t buy a print book because in theory they could read it for free online? What is it that people are buying? What is it that people want? In many respects what people want is to read it on their own terms, so in many cases, people don’t want to have to read it on a screen. Then the other thing is that people want to feel like they are spending money. It is their way of feeling good about themselves. It is their way of voting for something with their dollars.

Read the whole interview here.

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