Is that not the most cheerful face you've ever seen? Many pundits (myself included) talk about the need for the publishing industry to make changes in order to survive the digital transition. But at least one of them is putting his money where his mouth is.

Richard Nash, whom we’ve mentioned a few times already, is leading the way with changes to various aspects of the publishing process in his new venture, Cursor. Among these changes are shortening contracts to three years, and eliminating advances (the amount that authors are paid before their books are published, which the books then have to earn out before they get paid any more).

“I don’t know whether this is grandiose or insane or whatever, but I am trying to change about 18 different things at once,” he says. “The whole thing has to be completely re-conceptualized and re-engineered.”

Cursor is launching with its first three fiction titles next spring. The books will be published as e-books, trade paperbacks, and a more expensive limited collector’s print edition whose price could range from $40 to $400. Nash sees both the trades and e-books as advertisements, and is working on other ways that authors can take advantage of the interest these works will stir up.

“The model of $15-$25 books is a radically insufficient way to capture all the value Lynne Tillman creates,” he says. “People pay tens of thousands of dollars to do an MFA where she teaches. To my mind that’s the top of [her] demand curve.” To capitalize on some of that and to strengthen the author-reader relationship, Nash will have Tillman teach classes and workshops based on her books. He’ll also publish four of her backlist titles.

Nash says that he’s taking a lesson from tech startups and starting with the bare minimum of product required to make a viable company. Keeping the company “ultra-lean” means it will be more able to make any rapid changes necessary to survive. And Nash is planning to incorporate a strong community aspect into the company as well (as we’ve mentioned in previous coverage of Cursor).

It’s great to see a publisher trying new models, and I will be very interested in how well it turns out for him. Is the current book market different enough that these changes will bring it success? Or will it go the way of past technology startups? We’ll have to wait and see.


The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail