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Book Jobs, Not by the Book: Jesse Potash from PUBSLUSH

Jesse Potash

Jesse Potash may not have a staid and traditional CV in the world of publishing, but boy, has his new venture been attracting some buzz in the book-biz media of late. PUBSLUSH is setting out to do a bit of what Unbound is doing in the UK, but also a bit of what TOMS has been doing on feet around the world. Trendsetter sat down with Jesse to find out more about book-business as experienced by the founder of one of the more innovative social start-ups out there.


What was your first job in book business and what were the most important things you gained from it?

My first job in the industry was working for an author to promote her new book. I was thrown head first into the role and was eager to learn; it quickly became clear, though, that my responsibilities were undefined and intangible. At the time, I was confused why the author didn’t give me more instruction, but in retrospect it’s quite obvious: She hadn’t the slightest idea more than I did about how to make her books sell, except that it involved using social media. We were both flailing around the internet hoping to find something, anything that would help. In the end, we didn’t, but the job did help me gain an incredible understanding about how authors can/should adapt to the evolving publishing landscape. I also learned about how the corporate publishing machine works and its rigidity and seemingly mindless approach to book sales. The upside: I met several fantastic and very interesting (albeit trapped) people in the process. That’s another thing I learned about publishing: It employs some of the most brilliant minds, but too often stifles and molds them in a terrible way.

What has your professional relationship been to traditional publishing houses?

I have worked with constituents of traditional publishing houses on several occasions but never in an overly significant capacity. My background is primarily corporate finance.


What is the biggest challenge in your current job? In what ways did your previous jobs prepare you for what you do here?

Well considering my extreme lack of patience, the greatest challenge has been spreading the word about PUBSLUSH. We have only been live for about 3 months and are working every day on timely, effective outreach. Our main goal is to build a user base that is bonded by a love of literature and desire to help others. Those people come from a wide array of communities, so we have to be diligent in our outreach and cultivation. I’ve gained invaluable experience from my previous jobs, but I’m sure the most valuable takeaway has been a network of unbelievably intelligent professionals.


How do you explain your job to people?

Explaining my day to day is a bit of a challenge.  Following our beta launch in September, my focus shifted a bit (perhaps overwhelmingly) to planning a red carpet benefit in New York for the nonprofit component of PUBSLUSH. Now with a team of 7, my primary focus is business development and concept enhancement. From forming an advisory board, to speaking at writing conferences, to establishing relationships with like-minded organizations (publishers, nonprofits, etc.), every day is quite a whirlwind. Nonetheless, I spend the most time fleshing out new ideas to improve the site’s infrastructure and functionality, and of course building a close knit community of users that are as excited as we are to lead PUBSLUSH out of beta and to the next level.


What value has this job brought to the way you think about book business and your own relationship to books?

Books are the most exciting business in the world and anyone that thinks books are dead is delusional. Nevertheless, I don’t look at PUBSLUSH as a publisher, because the need for publishers is becoming unclear. PUBSLUSH is primarily, besides a nonprofit, a discoverer and distributor of high quality content. While the barriers to the industry may be crumbling, there has never been a more immediate need for quality control and content cultivation. That’s where self publishing often fails. People are consuming more content than ever, but the tastes of readers are also becoming more discerning, I think. This should be exciting for traditional publishers, but because their structure lacks fluidity, they have difficulty reaping the rewards. PUBSLUSH incorporates the freedom of self-publishing and the quality of legacy publishing, while also appealing to the trending increase in active and conscious consumerism.

In regards to my own relationship with books, I’ve become keenly aware of book-buying behavior. Also, while PUBSLUSH does print physical books as a primary component of the business model, there is no question in my mind that ebooks will dominate the industry shortly. There’s just no denying the power of digital reading technology; and, while I do love printed books, the advantages of using an ereader are, to my mind, hugely superior. This is a very important piece of our giving efforts: the immense benefits (educational, logistical, psychological) of using digital books in the developing world are mind-blowing. But that’s for another conversation, I’m sure.


 Where does crowd-sourced and curated publishing fit into the future of book-business, in your mind?

Crowdsourced publishing is an obvious addition to the industry. Crowdsourcing has successfully translated across many industries including music (American Idol), fashion (Threadless), and creative projects (Kickstarter), and books themselves are perfect for this technology Acquisition editors are great at discovering great content, but the simple reality is that the amount of content being produced is too great and the industry too bureaucratic for them to be the only gatekeepers.


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