Richard Nash on Cursor and the “F” Word

Richard Nash at Books in Browsers 2011

“It was just too damn premature. We basically spent all our time trying to explain to everybody what the problem was, leaving no time to explain how we were the solution.”

Richard Nash at Books in Browsers 2011

Richard Nash’s presentation at Books in Browsers last week garnered a lot of attention for his candid look at what did and didn’t work with his highly touted startup, Cursor, and having just watched the video, I give him credit for not simply sneaking out the back door and moving on to his next project, like so many others have already done.

While the first 15 minutes of the presentation offers some interesting tidbits — Red Lemonade effectively ends up being a mash-up of Subterranean Press and, to a lesser degree, Writer’s Digest (with a more literary slant) — you can see his body language change as he gets to the tougher part of the presentation, actually seeming to become more comfortable as he goes along, finally acknowledging his boast of launching 50,000 independent publishers was a bit too, let’s charitably call it… ambitious: “Yeah, I know; I fucked up.”

I like Nash a lot (in ODB’s words, we go back like babies and pacifiers, from our overlapping days at Soft Skull to my early critiques of Cursor), and have always thought if anyone was going to make a go of something like Cursor, he had the best shot because he was coming at it from the right place, even if the angle was ultimately flawed. Ironically, what I thought was his main advantage just might have been his downfall: he simply wasn’t mercenary enough to attract the kind of funding needed to scale Cursor beyond the literary niche experiment it arguably always was fated to be.

That said, he took an honest shot at something he believed in and, more importantly, maintained his integrity throughout the process. While neither Cursor nor Red Lemonade ended up being the “game changers” some thought they might be, one could argue (and so I will) that the publishing industry overall is stronger for the attempt, and what *did* work shouldn’t be lost in the discussion.

Kudos to Richard and his partner Mark Warholak, for their passion and hard work at a time when so many prefer to play armchair quarterback from their keyboards.

2 thoughts on “Richard Nash on Cursor and the “F” Word

  1. Thanks, Guy, for these wise observations. One thing I wanted to tease out a little is where I lacked the mercenary zeal. I’m sure you’re right, though I think it has more to do with my conviction, which I still hold, that a distributable platform is the way to go, not a single website (as with Wattpad, say). A single, clearly scalable site seems to be what the VCs fantasize about. Sure, literary seems quixotic as a place to start to prove the distributable platform case, but I’m not sure I’d’ve had the credibility in any other genre to launch a prototype.

    The prototype (Red Lemonade) might have attracted more VC attention had it a naturally larger audience, of 50K, rather than of 5K, that’s inarguably true. I just don’t think I’d a plausible alternative. But of course Plan A also turned out not to be plausible…

    Unrelated, your comment about my body language changing in the talk was FASCINATING. I think once I knew I was going through with a mea culpa, I relaxed, got the monkey off my back…

    1. By mercenary, I was referring to your not playing more to “the fantasy of disintermediation.” Your explicitly stated goal wasn’t to topple the Big Six, but rather to enable the launch of 50,000 new independent publishers (and, more interestingly, offer a new approach to copyright), but it’s the former that seems to garner the attention and funding, despite not a single truly successful example to point to. Even Open Road, arguably one of the most successful new publishing initiatives, hasn’t really disintermediated anyone.

      I wonder if the Cursor platform has any licensing potential, a la Electric Publisher? Plenty of small publishers already have their communities, but not the technological wherewithal to offer something like Cursor. Have you explored that angle?

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