Dave Eggers Tells Me To Cheer Up
Last month, super-hip novelist and McSweeney's-founder Dave Eggers gave a speech to the Authors Guild in New York. The literati were gathered to commend him for starting 826 National, a string of nonprofit writing centers for children in seven cities. He used the occasion to encourage his beleaguered audience: "If you are ever feeling down, if you are ever despairing, if you ever think publishing is dying or print is dying or books are dying or newspapers are dying ... e-mail me, and I will buck you up and prove to you that you're wrong."
I wasn't in that audience, but I wrote to him anyway:
"Dear Mr. Eggers,
"Staff cuts continue, advertising has fallen off a cliff, subscribers are dribbling away. As we rush to the Web, we discover that all kinds of stories that were popular in the paper (like, say, just for instance, book reviews), draw almost no interest on the Internet.
"My salary is now about triple what it was when I quit teaching English a dozen years ago, and I've secured a mortgage in a collapsing housing market based on that fragile, inflated income.
"Convince me that I shouldn't despair.
"Best wishes, Ron"
The man was true to his word. A few days later, I received this reply:
"Sorry I've been slow about responding. I don't have internet access at home, and usually only send 10 emails or so a day. So the 300 or so I've gotten from that New Yorker blog have been a bit overwhelming.
"My faith in print is buoyed by our own experiences at McSweeney's, for one thing. Our sales haven't really dropped off in the last few years, and of course we spend no money on ads or promotion. So my weird theory, or one of them, is that we need to invest in print, instead of cutting away all the value of print over the web. Seems like every time a newspaper cuts its size, its investigative budget, its art, its comics, its book review (!) we give readers yet another reason to eschew print and get the equivalent on the web.
"So I think with books and with newspapers we need to reinvest in what all the things print does best. If we give readers an actual choice -- a beautiful rich tactile experience for $1, or a comparatively sterile experience online -- then we might find that a lot of people will reinvest in print themselves...
"Does that make any sense? Maybe not, but we're sticking to that theory for the time being.
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