June 19, 2009

American Chutzpah part II - Eggers, Nice Books and Brand

After the fine feelings stirred in me by Concord Free Press, I came across the latest example (or maybe an earlier example) of US publishing chutzpah, you guessed it, the one and only Dave Eggers. Eggers recently offered sweet succour to the US publishing industry, giving out his email address and saying that "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... If you ever have any doubt, e-mail me, and I will buck you up and prove to you that you’re wrong."

So Ron Charles of the Washington Post wrote to him and printed the reply. This morning I wrote asking further questions, but haven't actually sent the mail. It's hard not to sound sucky without sounding aggressive (for me, anyway). But here is what I thought of sending, or intended to send, or thought anyway, without sending:

"Hi Dave -

"No rush to reply to this (I'm not on the roof edge), but I read first the blog of your speech in the New Yorker and then your response to Ron Charles from the Washington Post, in which you said, '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.'

"It's an argument I've come across a lot in the music business - that in order to survive we need to be adding value over the the basic ones and noughts which make up the delivery of the music. Although I think it's easier to apply to books, which are still an analogue product, making the choice similar to that between downloading an mp3 or buying vinyl (CDs really muddy the argument as well as looking ugly).

"But I was interested in this because I thought it could be just as easily claimed that the success of McSweeney's rests on the strength and clarity of its brand rather than people finding any intrinsic value in "nice books and magazines" (and don't get me wrong, you do produce nice books and magazines). This brand in turn, relies to a large part, on your fame/celebrity (which, once again, I'm not denying you've put to good use). That being the case, though, doesn't the success of McSweeney's rest on your high profile as a mainstream published author whose books have been heavily promoted and marketed by those giant publishing conglomerates who are now laying off staff and indulging in the small joys of despair - the weeping and gnashing and pulling out of hair?

"That being the case, is there really a broader lesson that other people can take from what McSweeney's have done? Or are you an exception, much like Radiohead giving away an album (lauded for revolutionising the music industry but a useless model for mere mortals)?

"Here's hoping that you can strongly argue the opposite and convince me that all is, if not right with the world of books, then not entirely wrong either. Sorry to add to the mountain of despair you are no doubt wading through. Hoping above all that it isn't starting to get to you. You seem like a basically upbeat individual and it would be awful if you drowned in the outflow of other people's shit.

"All the best

Maybe I should just send it instead of printing it online? Oh well, too late now...

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