By Rachel Aydt
BookExpo is nothing if not obsessed this year with the challenges of digital book publishing. The panel “New and Evolving Publishing Models: What Works,” offered a variety of perspectives from an esteemed group of boldfaced names including moderator: Brian O’Leary, Principal, Magellan Media Consulting Partners, overseen by Jeff Sharp, President, Open Road Media; Lou Aronica, Co-founder, The Story Plant; Laura Rennert, Senior Agent, Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and Richard Nash, Founder, Cursor.
To summarize: “there will be a new era of the author.” Most panelists offered that phrase in one way or another. They went on to say that as authors are having to adapt to different publishing models, they’re demanding more control over their work. Laura Rennert made a compelling pitch for her agency’s new publishing model, whereby they act heavily as Publishers, “partnering with authors to format, convert, proofread, copyedit, and of course, develop” new projects. Their take is 15% (she mentioned two or three times).
Richard Nash, the charismatic It-Boy founder of Softskull Press, spoke about his new publishing model software called Cursor, which aims to empower independent publishers with their readers and create new revenue streams. Or something like that. If the exact nature of Nash’s high profile project is still elusive, his humor inserted a fresh wave of enthusiasm from the mellow, but full, house.
This, from his soundbite-friendly contribution to the panel: “The slush [reject pile] contained our most ardent customers. It got me considering, how do we treat our most ardent customer? We took their heart and mailed it to them with a dagger in the form of a rejection letter. But if Zappo’s got an order [for shoes] and sent it back to the customer with a note that their foot was too fat to fit in the shoe, they wouldn’t be in business.” He went on to explain that his business model began to rapidly evolve once he began to understand that readers and contributor-wannabes wanted to be connected and have a conversation with his press. “When you allow that to happen, you earn their loyalty and their evangelism. They’re the best customers.”
So a theme from this year’s event: “Give ‘em what they want.” The readers want more accessibility to their writers and the writers want more power. Who knew?