robert cottrell north star david perell

The Secrets of Reading – Robert Cottrell (Founder of “The Browser”) on the North Star Podcast, Hosted By David Perell

Check out the North Star Podcast Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • Just because an article or book is new doesn’t make it better (read more of what’s stood the test of time)
  • Avoid reading breaking news—there’ll almost always be a more detailed—and better—story about the event the following day or week
  • The greatest virtue of a writer is honesty
  • With audiobooks, authors are able to convey more emotion, include bonus content, and add background music, all of which can’t be done through static text
  • The moment you stop enjoying a book, movie, article— whatever it may be—DROP IT
    • Remember: If something doesn’t start well, it almost never gets better
  • Eventually, translation technology will reach a point where people will be able to read articles and not tell what language the article was originally written in

Intro

Books Mentioned

  • Robert used to think physical books were superior to audiobooks until he listened to James Joyce’s Ulysses—he found himself more involved in the drama, and better able to retain the information
  • David really enjoyed listening to the audiobook version of Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life
  • Great books, like the Harry Potter series, can’t be summarized—they must be experienced
    • “If a book can be summarized, it shouldn’t be a book” Robert Cottrell

Robert Cottrell: The Most Well-Read Person in the World?

  • Robert considers himself one of the most well-read people in the world
    • “I try to look at at least 1,000 pieces of writing each day” – Robert Cottrell
      • And been doing this for 10 years! (meaning he’s glanced over ~3 million articles)
      • But this doesn’t mean Robert completes every article he reads—he stops reading as soon as he notices something isn’t a quality piece. Sometimes, he’ll stop halfway through the article; other times, he’ll stop after an article’s headline.

The Browser Shares Articles with Lasting Value

  • Robert’s goal with The Browser is to find articles with lasting value; he avoids pieces that’ll seem dated within a few days/months—especially breaking news
    • Why avoid reading breaking news? – There’ll almost always be a more detailed—and better—story about the event the following day or week
  • The opening rate of The Browser’s newsletter is over 50%!
  • 🎧 Just because an article is new doesn’t make it better; think about other art forms, such as books or music—the older creations are often superior than the more recent ones
    • Robert wishes publications could hire an archivist to share the treasure trove of great works from their past
  • The best predictor for the quality of a writing piece? – The writer
    • For this reason, Robert doesn’t care whether certain writer publishes a piece with the New Yorker or The New York Times—he’s interested in the writer, not the publisher

Writers Will Become Unbundled from Publishers

  • 🎧 Robert believes journalism is the most under-valued and under-priced form of creative work today
    • The best journalists earn $5-10 per word, or a few thousand dollars for a week’s worth of work, which is quite low when you compare it to the pay of top creatives in the music and art industries
  • Robert imagines that, in the future, readers will be able to directly pay writers for their work without any middleman
    • This will also allow writers to build more authentic and personal relationships with readers
      • “I think a lot of the economic problems would be solved if the writers were to sell directly to the readers” – Robert Cottrell
      • (Most top-tier writers now publish their own newsletters in an attempt to build a relationship with readers and monetize their audience; Robert subscribes to ~50+!)
  • Sometimes, bundling subscriptions subtracts value from readers
    • For instance, Robert enjoys reading the European Politics section of The Financial Times, but doesn’t care for the ‘Shipping’ section—he would prefer to only pay for the sections he reads

The Best Writers Are Honest Writers

  • The more articles Robert reads, the more he believes that the greatest virtue of a writer is honesty
    • To be an honest writer, you need to have all the facts, be interested in the material, and have experienced the situation or the writing topic
      • For example, there’s a huge difference between a prisoner writing about daily life in prison, and a journalist writing about the same thing, despite never having spent a day in jail
  • “If you find the right writer, any topic can be interesting” – David Perell
  • The problem with the current state of journalism: Too many publications focus on the number of articles published, rather than the quality
    • Robert’s advice: Journalists should write fewer articles, only and focusing on topics they specialize in and care deeply about 
      • “Conserve your powers until you find the story that is worthy of them; if you can manage that and produce one crackerjack story, then it’s going to go everywhere” Robert Cottrell

Audiobooks Are Overtaking Ebooks (And Physical Books)

  • Nowadays, Robert doesn’t see much of a distinction between reading a book and listening to one 
    • That said, he used to think physical books were superior to audiobooks until he listened to James Joyce’s Ulysses —he found himself more involved in the drama, and better able to retain the information
    • David really enjoyed listening to the audiobook version of 12 Rules for Life
  • David’s method of reading: Read quickly, stop and reflect, then go back to reading
  • Robert recently read that in the next year or so, audiobook sales will overtake ebooks
    • One thing facilitating this: The massive popularization of wireless Bluetooth headphones
  • With audiobooks, authors are able to convey more emotion, include bonus content, and add background music, all of which can’t be done through static text
  • 🎧 Life tip: The moment you stop enjoying a book, movie, article— whatever it may be—DROP IT.
    • Remember: If something doesn’t start well, it almost never gets better

Translation Technology

  • Eventually, translation technology will reach a point where people will be able to read articles and not tell what language the article was originally written in
    • Once this happens, many more foreign publishers will gain spotlight in the U.S. and other English-speaking countries
    • “We’re going to discover a lot of wonderful writing that we just didn’t even know about” – Robert Cottrell
  • David and Robert both love reading the German publisher, Spiegel
  • Translation technology will one day become so advanced, that people will be able to wear Bluetooth headphones that translate audio near-instantaneously
    • This will allow a whole new level of conversations to happen 
  • Sidenote: Bluetooth, like AirPods, are getting smaller and smaller—they’ll eventually be near-unnoticeable 

Additional Notes

  • Robert is a fan of the service, Pinboard
  • The best articles have just ONE central idea
  • Great books, like the Harry Potter series, can’t be summarized—they must be experienced
    • “If a book can be summarized, it shouldn’t be a book” Robert Cottrell
  • Around 54% of Latvia is forest
North Star Podcast : , , , , ,
Notes By Alex Wiec

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