Richard Nash on The End of Publishing As We Know It

By Jeff Rivera Comment

GalleyCat readers reacted strongly to former publisher, Richard Nash’s predictions for publishing. It was also one of the most tweeted about topics on publishing of the New Year.

He said within five to ten years the large book chains would be extinct and the major publishing houses would be reduced to just two that would only produce “blockbuster” books. However, Nash‘s predictions created more questions. To find out the answers, we asked him to expand on some of his predictions. Is it really the end of publishing as we know it?

Here is what he had to say:

GalleyCat: If you see the big bookstore chains disappearing (and we know that the indie bookstores have been disappearing as well), what will be in their place?

Nash: To my mind, the chains have no future because their primary offering is selection. And Amazon has them beat there. And as more books become

digital, everyone has them beat there. Their set-up is too uniform to provide the kind of merchandising and selectivity that offers a consumer an actual service. So the role of the bricks and mortar retailer will be filled by…independents! Not a huge number, but several hundred, who will be much more efficient and focused on their key distinguishing qualities– selection and matchmaking. Especially as more of the physical book products become artisanal, the reader will want to check out the objects, and the objects, because valuable, scarce and idiosyncratic, will not lend themselves to the internal inventory management systems required to manage 1000 or even 200 locations.

I could picture operations like, say, Hudson, surviving, in airports and train stations…

GalleyCat: If there will be only a couple of major publishing houses left releasing blockbuster books, who will publish the niche books? Are there any examples of such publishers who are doing it well? What will be the new model?

Nash: There will be thousands and thousands of new operations. Oh Lordie, it’ll be lovely. And many models … The key is to think of the rest as writing-reading communities. Companies like Perseus, which are really evolving into publisher services businesses, will thrive in this environment since functionalities that would be called, with today’s vocabulary, editorial, design and publicity, will best reside at the community level, whereas distribution-style functions have always best been handled by aggregators.

You see, to step back, this whole notion that trashy books subsidized quality books is, if it were ever true, certainly not true now. In fact, publishers typically overbid for big trashy books, because they need volume, they need hits. In fact, the quality backlist is subsidizing the frontlist. And while they are still publishing midlist writers, because they do get that eventually it is those guys, not the trashy hits, that create the backlist, they actually allocate resources to the trashy books. Those midlist writers, though, are perfect for small enterprises to build with, since they often come with loyal readers.

I certainly have my own model, the Cursor model, as to how I think this will best work, but rather than predict it’ll be one of the successful models, I’ll just say that the first incarnation, Red Lemonade, ought to be speaking for itself by the end of 2010!