Red Lemonade/Cursor Debuts

For those who have been following Richard Nash’s long post-Soft Skull buildup to his new venture Cursor, last week brought the long-awaited unveiling. Richard Nash has now opened Red Lemonade for business.

There are still a number of unanswered questions, as a look at Cursor Corp’s URL makes clear It’s a little difficult to tell just what’s going on. But this is about as clear and concise a description as I’ve seen:

Cursor is the platform, Red Lemonade is just the first publisher to use that platform. If Red Lemonade isn’t quite your style, we want Cursor to be a platform that can be used by people to start their own publishers or start their own author collectives. What I want Cursor to do is the engine that powers the new writing and reading economy

OK, except then you go to Red Lemonade’s website, and it looks more like the community Cursor wants to be than a publisher. In addition to RL’s debut titles by Lynne Tillman, Vanessa Velka, and others, there’s also an entire library of manuscripts uploaded by whoever the heck wants to (current titles including books by Samuel Beckett, Albert Camus, and scores more).

The About page offers some explanation (as well as a cute four-image graphic that explains the general idea):

To read a Red Lemonade manuscript, just start at the Library. There you will find an array of work by community members which you can read at your leisure and which you can annotate on comment on simply by commenting on the home page of the manuscript or by highlighting a word, or sentence of paragraph.

To read a book picked for publication by Richard Nash with the input of the Red Lemonade community, see our Featured Books. These are available to be read in their entirety, for free, on this site, but also downloadable from our store [coming soon!] and all eBook retailers, and purchasable as trade paperbacks from our store [coming soon!] and from most book retailers, and case-by-case available in fabulous artisanal editions we’ll let you know about as they become available.

Also available in our Library are a selection of excerpts from the Evergreen Review, perhaps the most influential cultural magazine of the 20th century, run by Barney Rosset, founder of Grove Press. We offer these excerpts, by writers such as Samuel Beckett, Frank O’Hara, Marguerite Duras and so forth to give some context to our efforts to be creating and supporting the independent publishers of the 21st century.

Essentially, this seems something like a cross between a traditional publisher and the liberal community/political blog Daily Kos. Essentially a managed space that is hoping to attract a large community of users to build it up by providing content and daily interaction.

This is an interesting idea, and clearly Richard Nash is a smart guy who has thought this all through, but I wonder how it will all work out. I think the closest model here would be the web community that has sprung up around National Novel Writing Month, but that’s a very different beast in a lot of ways. Does your average book-reader/buyer want to be involved in wading through reams of manuscripts and commenting on them? I don’t know.

And then, presupposing that Red Lemonade’s community gets going, how exactly does having a thriving community of writers translate into sales and income for Red Lemonade/Cursor?

And perhaps most of all, what will happen with Nash’s choice to offer all of Red Lemonade’s content for free in perpetuity on the website? (And while I’m commenting on this, do yourself a favor and read some of the stories from Lynne Tillman’s newest book.) It’s a bold move, and I don’t think I’m the only one to admit that I have no idea what this will mean for the sales (electronic and print) of Red Lemonade’s books.

Let’s sum up: clearly the idea here is to engineer a new publishing model by combining a traditional publisher with a web community that generates a lot of online activity, along the lines of websites like Facebook, Twitter, Daily Kos, etc. My doubts here would be as follows: 1) I don’t know that readers want a web community where they can share their writing and critique others’–in short, I don’t know that this will catch on in the same way that a Daily Kos or Facebook has; and 2) Unless RL eventually gets heavily into advertising and merchandising, I don’t see how having a thriving community contributes that much to RL’s bottom line, even if it generates substantial amounts of publicity.

But these are questions that I’m sure Nash has done a lot of thinking about, and I’ll be interested to see, as we surely will, the answers that he has imagined for them deployed on his websites going forward.

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Scott, thanks so much for this! To respond to your key questions because these are indeed things we’ve been thinking about:

1) I don’t know that readers want a web community where they can share their writing and critique others’–in short, I don’t know that this will catch on in the same way that a Daily Kos or Facebook has

Within the narrow context of Red Lemonade, the universe of people who’ll be attracted to the aesthetic principles therein expressed, is probably in the low four figures. Which isn’t surprising, that’s about what one would expect the average sales of books to be from a publisher like Red Lemonade. So it’s not aiming to be the size of a Kos, and certainly not a Facebook—pretty much every writing community thus farhas topped out at around 10K users.

But, within the broader context of all the communities Cursor could power: the number exceeds Kos but are less than Facebook. There are many thousands of publishers in the US whose typical title might sell 2500 copies, and they’re who Cursor aims to support.

2) Unless RL eventually gets heavily into advertising and merchandising, I don’t see how having a thriving community contributes that much to RL’s bottom line, even if it generates substantial amounts of publicity.

Advertising is unlikely. The kind of traffic we get—small number of users by web norms, though big numbers again by web norms for page views per user and time spent on site per user—makes advertising unattractive.

Merchandizing—very much so, especially if you consider that selling books is a key way to merchandize against a writing/reading community. Given that a typical publisher these days has low single digit operating margins, and declining print unit sales, and increasing digital unit sales offset by declining revenue-per-unit, a publisher can use all the help it can get! So incremental revenue from sales of books from the site (fancy limited editions, regular paperback, cheap digital downloads) as well as revenue from other sources, especially online writing workshops which we plan for the summer, is very very welcome. Could indeed, be the difference between success and failure.

So Cursor aims to offer these community management and revenue-generating tools as a complete package to all the independent publishers in the world, as well as to institutions like colleges and niche websites in serious nonfiction. We’ve garnered a lot of interest from publishers and others in North America and Europe, but it’ll take a while to get the platform to where it can be used by others. By the end of the year, I hope, perhaps even sooner?


Thanks for these responses. Obviously you’ve given this all a great deal of thought, and if this concept can work, someone like you will be the one to do it.

I don’t think anyone expects RL to get to the size of Kos or Facebook, and I suppose that this is part of my critique of the idea. Facebook succeeds by sheer mass–that space has so much inertia right now that it seems hard to stop. Momentum begets momentum, etc, etc.

By contrast, a space like Kos is orders of magnitude smaller, but is still big enough to develop those super-users that keep the site dynamic, community standards enforced, etc. In my opinion, those things are necessary for a successful web community, and size is a big part of generating those users. My question would be if a web community of like 10K users can sustain those sorts of things.

    Aha, I get you, yes. Right, yes, you’re dead on, effectively that’s (one of) the key underlying bets I’m placing here, that these small commuties are big enough to offer concentric circles of user intensity. Probably the best reason I have for believing that it will is the stakes are high for so many users—you’ve spent, say, two thousand hours writing this book. My instinct is that, in most areas of culture, the magic number is higher. I think, in books, because of the massive commitment involved in reading and writing, that magic number is smaller… But your basic apprehension is clearly shared by many—it’s why most sites that have arisen aim to be a single site. And it’s why what I’m doing is a gamble. At least, though, it is a gamble in which the only loser will be me as all the writers’ work is totally portable…


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