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Dave Eggers and the wisdom of the readers…

November 12, 2007

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I met Dave Eggers for the first time in 1994 right after he published Might magazine which I have selected in that year as one of the most notable launches of 1994. I was so impressed (and still is) by the magazine that folded after a year or so for lack of funding. Dave tried his best to secure funding for the magazine, including sending a letter to John Mack Carter at Hearst (who was publishing my Guide at that year) asking for Hearst to be involved with Might. The response from John was negative and Dave, in a very smart move, published the letter from John in Might.
Well, times have changed and as fate will have it, Dave’s odds in book and magazine publishing have changed and he is in no need to write letters to big companies asking for help in funding his great magazine ideas. He can do it on his own (or with his wife) and in a completely different way. In the November 2007 issue of The Progressive Dave is interviewed in depth about his books, organizations and magazines. One paragraph caught my attention from that interview. It was the one dealing with Might, McSweeney’s and The Believer. Nina Siegal asked him whether he fears the corrupting influence of the mass market. Here is part of his answer (which works also as a great response to all the naysayers who continue to spread the word that no one can start a magazine in this day and age):

“With Might, we did it the dumb way. We thought we had to do 100,000 circulation and we had to have all this advertising, and it was never going to happen and no one got paid, we were all perpetually disappointed, and it folded. We found out that wasn’t the way to do it.
With McSweeny’s and The Believer we decided to do the math better, to depend on the readers, not on advertisers or anyone else. If the readers think it’s good, it will keep growing. That way, there’s no compromise. The Believer ahs a circulation of 17,000 to 20,000 and I don’t know if it will ever surpass that. And get this: Because of reader support, McSweeney’s, the literary quarterly, is able to subsidize some of the more eccentric projects we take on. It’s bizarre but it can work if you depend on the wisdom of your readers.

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9 comments

  1. [...] Mr Magazine notes some wise advice from McSweeney’s and Believer publisher Dave Eggars. Before the success of these titles, Eggars published a great failure, Might. He describes what he learned from that failure and how it helped him launch his now-successful publishing business. All in one succinct paragraph. (Might is still available here). November 12, 2007 | In Resources | Permalink | [...]


  2. Never better words spoken in a time when its obvious mass marketed magazines are the ones with their heads on chopping blocks well before the smaller guys.


  3. Mr. Magazine… Finally you write about a good magazine. Just because something IS a magazine doesn’t make it worthwhile… we MUST have some level of taste.


  4. Dave Eggers is terrific. And my publishing hat is off to him.

    On this same subject; Here is a quote from Jeff Jarvis of Time inc. fame on this subject.

    “A launch can easily cost $40 million before break-even. Entertainment Weekly, my baby, went through $200 million before turning profitable (that wasn’t my fault!). It’s a $300-million-plus-a-year franchise now. But you can bet that it wouldn’t be launched today.”

    Have you ever heard more ridiculous professional crap? One of the great beauties and lures of our business is that anybody can be a publisher. ANYBODY. And at almost any price. It doesn’t have to take 40 million or 200 million as Jeff seems to think to achieve success. Of, course it can cost that much and what a shame that there are so many corporate captains that believe that you haven’t even begun till your first 20 million is wasted. I have started dozens of magazine on a wing and a prayer and little to no money. Some of them are still being published 30 years later.

    Samir knows better then anyone else that there were over a thousand new magazines started last year. Perhaps five of them had an enterprise class superstructure budget. Dave Eggers is right. Start small and grow with your readership. The most big publishers have forgotten that it’s not the advertisers that are important to success but rather it’s the readers.


  5. [...] Eggers, on launching magazines: With Might, we did it the dumb way. We thought we had to do 100,000 circulation and we had to have [...]


  6. [...] Eggers, on launching magazines: With Might, we did it the dumb way. We thought we had to do 100,000 circulation and we had to have [...]


  7. Hi,

    I heard Dave Eggar’s very interesting interview with Elanore Wattell on CBC Radio Writers & Co. yesterday. I read Heatbreaking work of Staggering Genius when it came out, and very much look forward to What the What Is. Also very happy to know about McSweeny’s, and publishing possibilities. I’ve been procrastinating on projects, for fear of those rejection slips. The more teeny tiny the rejection note paper, the more insignificant one feels. Thank you for refreshing updates on your persistance, dedication, and success of a small company!


  8. [...] picture book, it’s the illustrated history of the San Francisco-based publishing house set up by Dave Eggars (one-time publisher of the late Might magazine) at the start of the [...]


  9. [...] a nutshell, Eggers trusts readers. He explains in the interview that the goal of the magazine is to grow with readers, or at least grow with the size of his [...]



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