Richard Nash on Blurb's 'Dream Team'


Image - iStockphoto: ShanenK
Image – iStockphoto: ShanenK


“To help connect writers…with all the institutional stuff”

We need some kind of system to help connect aspiring writers — writers who for one reason for another operate outside the traditional publishing structure, by choice or necessity — with all the institutional stuff, with all these people who used to have day jobs in publishing and are now freelancers.

Richard Nash at Frankfurt Book Fair | Courtesy Frankfurt Book Fair 2014

Richard Nash is one of our Big Idea speakers at The FutureBook Conference on Friday. Nash is also one of the industry’s best-known and most influential voices in innovation, a serial entrepreneur. His projects have included Small Demons, Cursor, Red Lemonade, and the iconic Soft Skull Press.

In this instance, he’s speaking to me as a special consultant to Eileen Gittens, ceo of Blurb, a San Francisco-based self-publishing and marketing platform undertaking a remarkable pivot in its stance.

Many of us initially became aware of the new turn for Gittens’ nine-year-old company during February’s London Author Fair, at which Gittens joined Authoright’s Gareth Howard and me onstage to describe her direction of Blurb’s sea-change — from a respected producer of family albums and gift books to a new presence today as an enabler of the full range of self-published work. To date, the company has more than 8 million titles in play.

In a move that illustrates Gittens’ interest in seeing Blurb authors produce high-quality self-published projects, she has engaged Nash and Molly Barton, formerly of Penguin, the founder of its seminal Book Country reading-reviewing community. Their task has been, in an initial stage, to pinpoint some of the best author-services specialists available.

Gittens calls these specialists her “Dream Team” of collaborators. And she offers the group of some 50 or 60 people — curated by Nash and Barton — free of charge. You can see the lists of these collaborators here, broken down into groups: editorial, art, and design.

“This is something we thought about a little bit at Cursor,” Nash says. “Periodically, we’d have conversations somewhere in the world in which someone would say, ‘Well someone should do this.'”

That trademark Nash laugh catches up with him on cue, then he points to a very real reason that getting this kind of roster together hasn’t happened in this way before: “The hassle,” he says, “is that it would be hard to do it on its own because you’re a servant of two masters. To get enough supply of designers and editors, you need to corral a bunch of demand. So it’s a chicken-and-egg problem.

“And even apart from the chicken-and-egg problem, there’s the fact that [you have to decide] who’s your priority? Who are you really serving? If you say, ‘Oh, I’m not involved, I’m just a marketplace,’ it can create different types of moral hazards. Or if not moral hazards, there can at least be sloppiness. And you see it on CraigsList…If nothing else, it’s almost impossible for the acquirer of services to really know how good this person is.”

Gittens’ model at Blurb — in which the platform takes no cut of a transaction between author and Dream Team specialist — “basically means that the user is the most important person.”

Blurb is effectively saying, Nash says, “What we’re going to do is just find people we know are good, and make them available to you.” Read More

By Porter Ander­son | @Porter_Anderson

The FutureBook: ‘All the institutional stuff’: Richard Nash on Blurb’s ‘Dream Team’

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