28 July 09 | Chad W. Post

The new issue of PW, has a lengthy article by Richard Nash about his new venture (in collaboration with Dedi Felman), which is called Cursor:

After months of work, with Dedi’s help I outlined my vision for a new venture at this year’s BookExpo America. Then called Round Table, now tentatively called Cursor, it represents a new, “social” approach to publishing. To call Cursor “niche” or another “independent” publishing enterprise would be a poor approximation, because those terms fail to capture the organic gurgle of culture at the heart of the venture, the exchange of insight and opinion, the flow of memes and the creation of culture in real time that is now enabled by the Internet.

My business plan is now out with investors—I will spare you the P&L numbers and just offer the broad strokes. Cursor will 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.

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. 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. But the greatest opportunity is in the community itself. Each will have tiers of membership, including paid memberships that will offer exclusive access to tools and services, such as rich text editors for members to upload their own writing, peer-to-peer writing groups, recommendation engines, access to established authors online and in person, and editorial or marketing assistance. Members can get both peer-based feedback and professional feedback.

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. Yes, I envisage Cursor obtaining a larger basket of rights than is the industry standard, but that will be in exchange for shorter exclusive licensing periods. Our contracts will be limited to three-year terms with an option to renew.

The Cursor business model seeks to unite all the various existing revenues in the writing-reading ecosystem, from offering services to aspiring writers far more cheaply than most vendors to finding more ways to get more money to authors faster. It also will create highly sensitive feedback loops that will tell each community’s staff what tools and features users want, what books users think the imprint should be publishing, how the imprint could publish better.

It’ll be interesting to see what this looks like once it launches, and how it evolves. And I’m sure we’ll be writing more about the implications of this business model in the future. One thing that strikes me about Richard’s idea—and this definitely comes through in talking to him about publishing and the future of the book business—is that he has a strong interest in the social aspect of reading and believes that the primary value of publishing houses is their ability to connect writers and readers (through marketing, through distribution chains).

That’s not to undervalue the editorial knowledge present in publishing houses, but he tends to shy away from a publisher as a creator of a particular editorial vision. Or at least as the only player creating a particular editorial vision:

An indie press’s distinctive voice is a profoundly collective thing, set by its authors, its fans, its casual readers. The publisher’s role, my role and the role of the staff are to be conduits, advocates, enablers, to serve the readers and writers—to be the grease. Toward the end of my Soft Skull tenure, however, it occurred to me that we’ve all—indie and corporate—fallen victim to the notion of ourselves as gatekeepers. Perhaps that is to compensate for, well, the lack of other compensation. But in the past couple of years, sustaining the gatekeeper mentality has been hard as the pressure has grown from within and without.

This does seem to be a new model for publishing—one that might not replace all existing models, but will definitely complement them. As to whether it will “save” publishing, Richard has a nice bit about that idea:

Cursor is not designed to “save publishing,” but simply to offer the kind of services that readers and writers, established and emerging, want and the Internet enables. I believe especially strongly that the model must be viable in a world where the effective price of digital content falls to zero, and paper becomes like vinyl records or fine art prints. After all, the world is littered with things that people won’t buy at the prices their producers want to charge—like, say, the contents of remainder bins.


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