Skating With Richard Nash Toward the Future of Book Publishing
Here in Philadelphia, I’m settling back into office life after nearly a week in New York City at the annual Publishing Business Conference & Expo (PBC). And while of course I’m going to sound biased, considering I’m one of the event’s conference program editors, PBC is my favorite industry event. I always come home with a notebook full of inspiration and new ideas, and I always have the opportunity to meet and interact with some of the most brilliant minds in publishing.
At this year’s conference, one of those brilliant minds was Richard Nash, founder of the publishing start-up Cursor. I first became acquainted with Nash on Twitter, as I’m sure many have (Mashable.com named him as the “No. 1 Twitter User Changing the Shape of Publishing”), but I hadn’t met him in person or heard him speak until last week at PBC, where he led a session entitled “Skate Where the Puck Is Going, Not Where It’s Been. Monetizing Relationships, Not Content.”
I could have sat and listened to Nash speak for hours, but I was impressed with how much publishing food for thought he managed to pack into his allotted 30 minutes. One particularly memorable string of commentary involved Oprah Winfrey, who many times I’ve heard avowed as a savior of book publishing with her wildly popular book club. In a 2004 article, The New York Times deemed it—the resulting tidal wave of sales of a title after Oprah named it an official book club selection—”the Oprah Effect.” I, myself, remember reading many books for the first time along with Oprah and her book club—”She’s Come Undone,” “The Reader,” “White Oleander,” “Where the Heart Is”—as well as writing an impassioned letter to Oprah in hopes of joining my all-time favorite author, Toni Morrison, on The Oprah Winfrey Show to discuss “Song of Solomon” when it was selected as Oprah’s second book club selection. (Sadly, much like my letter to Ricky Schroder as a kid begging for an autograph, it went unanswered).
But Nash had an interesting take on the “Oprah Effect”: “Books help Oprah more than Oprah helps books,” he proclaimed. He explained how Oprah’s Book Club gave her the opportunity to expand beyond the one hour of her television show. “[It] was her way of owning mind share during the other 23 hours of the day [that her show was not on],” Nash said, allowing Oprah to be with her audience in the lunch room, in their bedrooms, even in their bathrooms.
“Publishers have to become Oprah,” Nash told a captive audience. He then went on to discuss the social component of books—”reading may be solitary, but talking about books is social”—noting that the word “book” appears on Twitter four times per second.
Nash makes a great point about publishers needing to “become Oprah,” and some are already doing just that. Simon & Schuster’s use of FourSquare—which I discussed in my editor’s note in the March/April issue of Book Business—comes to mind, as well as Algonquin Books’ recent launch of its own book club and Penguin’s partnership with BlogHer to launch both an online book club and writers conference.
Do you agree with Nash? Are there ways in which your publishing company is expanding its relationship with its customers and “becoming Oprah”?