Publishing's Future: When Editors Eat Robots

Richard Nash onstage in Stockholm, image courtesy The Next Chapter, PubLit
Richard Nash onstage in Stockholm, image courtesy The Next Chapter, PubLit

The Quantified Self Of Richard Nash

He is a podium prowler. He moves around during a conference presentation. He sets up gazelle-graceful concepts and wounds them quickly, before you get too comfortable. Lots of articulate gestures. Give him two flashlights and he could land a Dreamliner onstage as he talked.

And his talks? They tend to work like successive trap doors, dropping audience members through one floor after the next, toward a deep, quiet truth or two.

“There’s a perception,” he said in Stockholm, “that this industry is dying a very slow, sedated, almost benign, almost comfortable kind of euthanization. My job is to be the pragmatic optimist.”

And so he talked about extinction.

“There’s a wonderful book by an American science journalist, Analee Newitz, called Scatter, Adapt, and Remember. It’s about how humanity will survive the next extinction event.

“I think publishing can scatter, adapt, and do well to remember.”

Adaptation, in fact, was already underway: “I changed my title five seconds ago from ‘Editors Beat Robots’ to ‘Editors Eat Robots,’ partially because I don’t believe in neat oppositions of editor versus robot, book versus transmedia, print versus digital. I believe in hybridization, which happens when things get combined. In a certain sense, I could say, ‘Editors Fuck Robots,’ and not in the aggressive sense but in the reproductive sense. What happens when editors combine themselves with robots?”

Like all of us who spoke at Stockholm’s The Next Chapter conference produced by Publit’s Jonas Lennermo, Nash had been asked to consider the question “where are we now?” in the digital transformation of publishing.

“Where we are now is a function of where we’ve been,” he told the Moderna Museet audience. “Before the printing press, the mere fact that you could write guaranteed you a job. It was the only time in human history when the mere fact of literacy ensured you an economically viable life.

“In many respects, it’s been downhill since then.

“The printing press, in a sense, destroyed the economic viability of the writer because it eliminated the writer as copyist — in the words of an historian of the time, ‘the writer as trained scribal laborer.’”

Nash was ready to relieve us of a few more cherished dreams of the bookish old country.

Read the full story at Thought Catalog

By Porter Ander­son | @Porter_Anderson

Writing on the Ether: Publishing’s Future: When Editors Eat Robots

Originally published by Thought Catalog at



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