Nicholas Thompson

Nicholas Thompson

Editor of The New Yorker. Co-founder of The Atavist. Contributor at CBS News.

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON September 30, 2015

Discussion

Nicholas Thompson
Nicholas Thompson@nxthompson · Editor, New Yorker.com
Hi. I'm Nicholas Thompson, the editor of The New Yorker's Website, which publishes about fifteen new stories a day to go along with the pieces that run in the magazine. I'm also a co-founder of the software company, The Atavist, and a contributor on CBS, where I talk about technology. Happy to answer any questions!
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
Hey Nick! Thanks for joining us. I know you guys are hiring for developers - what's it like to be a techie in a big media company?
Nicholas Thompson
Nicholas Thompson@nxthompson · Editor, New Yorker.com
@eriktorenberg Hi! Thanks for asking. I actually think it's a pretty great job to be a developer here. They sit right with the edit team and we all spend a ton of time working through how to get people to --read---. How do you design a site that makes it easy for people to find stories and read them from beginning to end? How do you build apps that do the same thing? What other, new and exciting things can we build that present information and stories in new ways? I love our tech team ...
Nicholas Thompson
Nicholas Thompson@nxthompson · Editor, New Yorker.com
@eriktorenberg Oh, and while I'm at it, we do have two great job openings right now: http://www.newyorker.com/about/c...
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
Huge thanks to Nicholas for taking the time to chat with us today!
Jeff Umbro
Jeff Umbro@jeffumbro · CEO of The podglomerate
Hey @nxthompson - Is the Atavist business model working? What went wrong with Atavist books? Is there ever any conflicts working for The New Yorker and Atavist? What's your preference for being pitched stories for the site?
Nicholas Thompson
Nicholas Thompson@nxthompson · Editor, New Yorker.com
@jeffumbro Lots of good questions there! The Atavist is actually doing really well. September is going to be the best month of growth ever for the platform (both in percentage growth and in total number of users.) And I think August was the best month prior to that. People are using the software to make all kinds of stories and all kinds of projects.
Nicholas Thompson
Nicholas Thompson@nxthompson · Editor, New Yorker.com
@jeffumbro On Atavist Books, the project may just have been ahead of its time? I have no doubt that one day people will read complex, layered multi-media books. And the ones that Atavist put out were amazing. (Did you read the Karen Russell? https://magazine.atavist.com/sto...). But as IAC said when they closed it down, the market "has yet to emerge."
Nicholas Thompson
Nicholas Thompson@nxthompson · Editor, New Yorker.com
@jeffumbro for pitching stories, i like relatively short pitches that very clearly state what the story is and why the author is the person to write it. And, also, if i don't know the author, I need clips that convince me they will do a great job.
Jeff Umbro
Jeff Umbro@jeffumbro · CEO of The podglomerate
@nxthompson Thanks! Lot's of great answers here.
Nathan Bashaw
Nathan Bashaw@nbashaw · Head of Product at Gimlet Media
Thanks for doing this! I'm curious to hear your take on the future of ebooks. Sales have stabilized (and possibly are shrinking), and they're pretty much digital copies of paper books. Do you see ebooks becoming their own medium, and evolving away from the constraints of paper? Where do you think the opportunities are?
Nicholas Thompson
Nicholas Thompson@nxthompson · Editor, New Yorker.com
@nbashaw Thank you! You know, I'm kind of surprised by the flattening sales of ebooks. I think a lot of it probably has to do with the fact that, generally, when we try to read ebooks it's in environments with lots of distractions. If you try to read a book on a tablet, email or Facebook is just a click away and it becomes harder to concentrate. So I think a lot of people download books, realize they're not really reading them, and then stop downloading them. Will that change? Yes, i think we'll train ourselves, and i think we are, even now, training ourselves to be less distracted. And I think devices will probably get better at helping you focus. (I think Apple should build a service on an iPad that shuts off your email and social media, perhaps behind password protection like the program Freedom, that you can turn on when you read books.) As for the opportunity, I do think immersive multimedia story-telling has a bright future in the book industry. I mean, look at the Atavist magazine stories, which have great readership numbers. It'll just take a little while.
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
Welcome, Nicholas! Being the co-founder of Atavist and editor at The New Yorker, how do you prioritize along with everything else in life?
Nicholas Thompson
Nicholas Thompson@nxthompson · Editor, New Yorker.com
@rrhoover Haha. Well, my New Yorker gig is my full-time work. My co-founders, Evan Ratliff and Jefferson Rabb, run The Atavist. I can say that I wish I had more time for everything!
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
What's something you've changed your mind about in the past 6 months?
Nicholas Thompson
Nicholas Thompson@nxthompson · Editor, New Yorker.com
@eriktorenberg This is a hard question. But one issue on which my opinions have changed massively has been my view of the leadership of The Catholic Church, and of Christian leaders more generally. Watching this Pope—his love, his forgiveness, his move to situate religious belief as something that happens inside of nature and not above it—has been extraordinary.
Elle Huerta
Elle Huerta@ellenhuerta · CEO+Founder, Mend
What's your favorite (New Yorker) cartoon?
Nicholas Thompson
Nicholas Thompson@nxthompson · Editor, New Yorker.com
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
What's your latest on what you're most excited/intrigued about for 2016 elections?
Nicholas Thompson
Nicholas Thompson@nxthompson · Editor, New Yorker.com
@eriktorenberg I'm completely fascinated by how the GOP primary plays out. Right now, it's being led by three people with no political experience. My instinct is that Marco Rubio ends up being the establishment/insider/experienced GOP candidate and that he moves up in the polls and then shoots to the top once people start to vote. But unlike a lot of other people analyzing the race, I don't think it's impossible that one of the three outsiders could end up being the nominee. Nor do i think that Jeb is totally cooked.
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
You sit at a small intersection of people who are both super literary and super tech-savvy. What do literary people not understand about tech and vice versa?
Nicholas Thompson
Nicholas Thompson@nxthompson · Editor, New Yorker.com
@eriktorenberg well, I think a lot of people in the New York literary world are scared of social media and of technology generally. If you don't use, say Facebook or Twitter, they can seem like utterly inane time sinks, and they're actually amazing ways of connecting with people around the world and of organizing information. As for the tech side, I think there's sometimes a lack of respect for literature and anything that seems in any sense "old."
Andrew Ettinger
Andrew Ettinger@andrewett · 👟 @wearAtoms // ex @Twitter @ProductHunt
I've been actively submitting captions for the Caption Contest for ~ 1 year. Mine have never been selected. Is there a method/pro tips for coming up with a selection-worthy caption?
Nicholas Thompson
Nicholas Thompson@nxthompson · Editor, New Yorker.com
@andrewmettinger Keep doing it! There are over 5,000 submissions a week, so it's tricky. Here are some pro tips. http://www.newyorker.com/cartoon...
Elle Huerta
Elle Huerta@ellenhuerta · CEO+Founder, Mend
Curious what's on your nightstand (real or digital) right now?
Nicholas Thompson
Nicholas Thompson@nxthompson · Editor, New Yorker.com
@ellenhuerta I can't wait to start Larissa MacFargquhar's "Stranger's Drowning" and I just finished Ta-Nehisi Coates's Beyond The World and Me. Right before that, I finished the utterly brilliant "Savage Detectives" by Roberto Bolano, which was one of the best novels I've ever read.
Jacqueline von Tesmar
Jacqueline von Tesmar@jacqvon · Community at Product Hunt ⚡️
Hey Nicholas, What’s something you are grappling with right now?
Nicholas Thompson
Nicholas Thompson@nxthompson · Editor, New Yorker.com
@jacqvon Well, as everyone knows, people are moving ever-more-rapidly to mobile devices. So how do we optimize reading The New Yorker through them, while still making enough money to pay our writers, fact checkers, etc... How much is through apps? How much do we need to change the reading experience on the mobile web itself? What is going to happen with Facebook Instant and Apple News and Flipboard and Google Play News? We're figuring out strategies for all this, which is exciting but complicated.
Andrew Ettinger
Andrew Ettinger@andrewett · 👟 @wearAtoms // ex @Twitter @ProductHunt
What are the 3 resources that have most improved your life? (blogs, books, movies, advisors, etc)
Nicholas Thompson
Nicholas Thompson@nxthompson · Editor, New Yorker.com
@andrewmettinger I was just thinking yesterday about a variation on this: what are three technological devices that have unambiguously and completely made life better. A phone, for example, doesn't count. It does make life better, but it's also partially annoying. The same goes for almost everything. But my three winners are my Roomba Vacuum cleaner (it's just great, particularly if you have toddlers), EZ Pass, and Quinciple Food delivery. I am completely in favor of all of them!
Daryna Kulya
Daryna Kulya@darynakulya · Co-Founder @ OpenPhone | Product Hunt TO
Hi Nicholas! What would you recommend to someone who wants to become a better writer? Are there any core principles that you live by when it comes to writing?
Nicholas Thompson
Nicholas Thompson@nxthompson · Editor, New Yorker.com
Good question! One thing that has helped me when I'm writing is to focus intensely on reading people who write better than I do. When I was writing my book, I would often, while suffering from writer's block, sit down with the work of someone whose prose was amazing. (It helped in this sense that one of my two main characters was George Kennan, who's a beautiful stylist and who, in one sense, was always challenging me to write better through his own books and letters.) And I also read everything out loud, which helps. Plus I try to read Strunk and White once a year.
Nicholas Thompson
Nicholas Thompson@nxthompson · Editor, New Yorker.com
OK, I think that's it! Thank you all for the wonderful questions. This was very fun to do...