Away We Go, but Not Publishing, Because That's Not Going Away
Dave Eggers, like This American Life
, is someone I would like to backlash-hate but cannot because he’s just too damn good. I mean, I don’t have a huge opinion on his writing. I thought A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
was an interesting story that was well told, but not necessarily the work of genius it purported to be. I hear What Is the What
is supposed to be good. And the McSweeney’s stuff is beautiful, but I’m not particularly excited by the words lurking inside their beautiful packages.
All that being said, the thing I have a tremendous respect for his commitment to putting good things into the universe. Using his money to start tutoring centers for goods is without-question admirable. And then there’s this, from a Salon interview with Andrew O’ Hehir:
I notice that you’ve been inviting people to appeal to you for a pep talk on the future of the printed word, which we’re all very worried about. So if I were to write to you and say, “Dave, cheer me up about the future of writing,” what would you say?
Salon still exists, thank God. And I think that there’s a future where the Web and print coexist and they each do things uniquely and complement each other, and we have what could be the ultimate and I think best-yet array of journalistic venues. I think right now everyone’s assuming it’s a zero-sum situation, and I just don’t see it that way.
Our students at 826 Valencia still have a newspaper class, where we print an actual newspaper, and we do magazine classes and anthologies where they’re all printed on paper. That’s the main way we get them motivated, that they know it’s going to be in print. It’s much harder for us to motivate the students when they think it’s only going to be on the Web.
The vast majority of students we work with read newspapers and books, more so than I did at their age. And I don’t see that dropping off. If anything the lack of faith comes from people our age, where we just assume that it’s dead or dying. I think we’ve given up a little too soon. We [i.e., McSweeney's] have been working every day on a prototype for a new newspaper, and a lot of what we’re doing is resurrecting old things, like things from the last century that newspapers used to do, in terms of really using the full luxury of the broadsheet newspaper, with full color and all that space.
I think newspapers shouldn’t try to compete directly with the Web, and should do what they can do better, which may be long-form journalism and using photos and art, and making connections with large-form graphics and really enhancing the tactile experience of paper. You know, including a full-color comic section, for example, which of course was standard in newspapers years ago, when you’d have a full broadsheet Winsor McCay comic. So we’ll have a big, full-color comic section, and we’re also trying to emphasize what younger readers are looking for, what directly appeals to them. It’s hard to find papers these days that really do anything to appeal to anyone under 18, and the paper used to do that all the time. I think there will always be — if not the same audience and not as wide an audience — a dedicated audience that can keep print journalism alive.
Exactly! Exactly, Dave Eggers. You hit the exact nail on its exact head. Print will NEVER be replaced entirely by “screen.” I can see the benefit of the Kindle and I wish they would make it slightly more useful and lower the price. I do not disparage you reading my work in whatever format you choose. However, I agree with Eggers 100% that all this hoopla about the death of printed media is being generated by a bunch of old, nervous people worrying that they no longer understand how the world works.
Well, I am the John Locke at the center of the printed world future past, and I can tell you that books printed on pieces of tree will never be embarrassed out of existence. And that’s why my friends and I feel it is important to start a publishing house right now. Because now is the time when all the people who are concerned mainly about sales figures are beginning to conclude that print is not a lucrative enterprise, and they will be leaving the market to people like us who firmly believe that there is a power to reading a great story in a well-designed package. And if fewer people are buying books, it doesn’t tell me that people have lost their interest in reading … it tells me that no one is printing anything they would want to read.
So, good on ya’, Dave Eggers. Thanks for your charitable endeavors and your great work in the publishing world and for writing a movie that the totally underutilized Maya Rudolph can star in, even if it’s not supposed to be that great. (End on snark, my mentors always said.)