Cader’s Media Meal

What began as a humble “public service” snack is swiftly plumping up to a full-meal deal for Michael Cader, the book packager and compulsive web-surfer behind Publishers Lunch, a free daily email news digest for the book biz. Launched last April and based at, the service has already been promoted as the publishing industry’s “essential daily read,” has spurred inquiries from interested partners, and appears likely to spawn that fateful document known as a business plan. “It’s endlessly expanding,” Cader explains, “which is why at some point it needs to turn into a business.”

Though subscriptions are not currently being “monetized” (the number of subscribers is in the “low four figures”), the daily email known as “Takeout Lunch” has become a hit with its quick takes on top book news and links to media stories, which are culled from some 30 web sites that Cader surfs every morning and then puts into digest form on the train to work. The whole idea, he says, is to serve up a sophisticated and frequent alternative to the existing book media, and do it in a way that could exploit the web as a community-building tool. Or, as he explains on the site, his ambition is to become “the electronic equivalent of the old-fashioned publisher’s lunch; a place where all of us can swap completely unsubstantiated but dead-on stories, news, deal information, and insights.”

Actually, before Lunch became a public service it was sort of a self-administered tutorial. “I ended up doing Lunch in my head for a while before I did it live, as part of an ongoing effort to transform myself into more of a web-based person,” says the 38-year-old Cader. Then, after regularly enjoying Jim Romenesko’s MediaNews site (, which compiles a daily digest of links about the news media, he decided to plunge in with a similar book-based venture. The business plan may not yet be fleshed out, but his communitarian goals have at least paid off with plenty of uncensored emails: “People don’t hesitate to hit reply and let it fly.”

But partners have come calling, among them, whose users will receive a daily stream of deal news and international updates, repackaged as Publishers Lunch International, with a special message from Subrights at the top. Lunch will also be served on the Subrights site, while Subrights will include Lunch in a promotional mailing going out to 9,000 publishers worldwide. Cader expects to replicate such arrangements with other partners, on the long-term model that Lunch will be underwritten by its sponsors.

All of which has clearly cut into time devoted to that other business, Cader Books, which he launched in 1988 after five years at Workman. The packager focuses on “high-profile, high-concept commercial nonfiction,” with a specialty in parody. There’s In the Kitchen With Bill (50 recipes for chowing down with chief Clinton) and Bad As I Wanna Dress: The Unauthorized Dennis Rodman Paper Doll Book (produced for Crown). “As a rule we’re not a pretty-books publisher,” Cader says by way of explanation. The company also did Hyperion’s Who Wants To Be a Millionaire book in a pinch last fall so the publisher could rush it to accounts by Christmas, and such novelties as “Recipeasel” books for Chronicle, which extract cookbook content as laminated recipe cards collected on handy stovetop easel stands. Then there’s a series of “Procrastinator’s Guides” that will be the basis for half-hour shows on PBS (it’s a kind of Dummies series for TV), and a project is brewing with the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Museum, due out in 2002 from Harper. With about 200 trade books on the backlist, Cader is now mulling over ways to combine his multimedia interests with the packaging business as electronic packaging projects, and is doing more e-publishing consulting. But keeping the two ventures separate, he says, has a certain logic: “In an ironic way a lot of packaging is waiting for things to happen. Lunch provides a regular diversion to fill up the gaps.”