The ideal publisher in the age of e-community? The e-community itself.
With his next venture, Round Table, former Soft Skull Press publisher Richard Nash began with the idea that the supply chain model of traditional publishing “has run out of steam”: supply was a 20th century problem, but the 21st century is about demand. In other words, with a twelvefold increase in the number of books since 1990 alone, “who the hell is going to read all this?”
Nash and his partner Dedi Felmen, formerly a senior editor at Simon & Schuster, believe the answer is in endlessly spawning, ever-growing reader communities, most of which are online. Nash and Felman’s plan is to connect those groups through a new kind of publishing house, one that embraces all platforms (especially digital) while giving authors and audiences an equal footing and unprecedented access to each other.
In a panel titled “The Concierge and the Bouncer,” Nash and Felman outlined their push back against the outmoded idea of publisher as cultural gatekeeper. Nash didn’t realize until after he left Soft Skull, where he was “locked into this lefty, punky, quasi-anarchist, multi-interned model,” that it was the dreaded slush pile—not the publisher-author-reader hierarchy—that kept the business alive: “you have to keep accepting unsolicited submissions, because those people are our readers.” The key is a shift from a caretaker mentality to a service mentality, from a linear supply-chain model to the idea of a free-floating, non-hierarchical “ecosystem” of readers, writers and authors.
Felman outlined the concept in more detail: using a subscription system, Round Table will bring to the social networking platform not just finished content, but many aspects of the publishing process—including, for authors open to the idea, peer editing. The idea is that feedback and crowd-sourcing can dramatically enrich the editing, authoring and reading process for all involved—not to mention expose potential talent among members of the community (“In our formulation,” says Nash, “readers are writers”).
The Round Table site would also act as a community hub for any number of new and already extant reading groups and conversations, giving book clubs and message boards a way to maintain their individual identity while increasing inclusiveness and visibility, as well as access to resources.
These ideas, Nash asserts, are nothing particularly new: “There’s not one original idea in anything we have said, we’ve just sought to be magpie-like, taking what appears to be working in different media universes and slapping it together.” Combining them, however, makes ingenious use of current audience trends toward participatory media experiences—not just a decrease in reading and an increase in creative writing, but a seemingly unstoppable appetite for social networking and reality television. Counting on “people’s desire to write as much as their desire to read,” Nash and Felman’s idea of Publishing 2.0 could make a semi-professional reader, writer, editor and critic out of anyone with the desire.
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