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McSweeney's Needs Your Help
June 14, 2007 3:04 PM   Subscribe

McSweeney's is holding a big sale and auction to make up for $130,000 lost in a distributor bankruptcy. Soon we'll be adding one-of-a-kind pieces from Michael Chabon, Sarah Vowell, and Marcel Dzama—and every single thing we've got is on sale, cheap.
posted by KokuRyu (38 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
They sent a message out about this to their email list. I'm afraid. I love McSweeney's. I'll probably pick up What is the What.
posted by danb at 3:12 PM on June 14, 2007


Awesome! Thanks for posting this. I need to get on their e-mal list!
posted by spec80 at 3:18 PM on June 14, 2007


I've seen Dave Eggers speak a few times, and he is usually engaging and very funny. The most recent time, several months ago, I paid $20 and sat down beside a girl I always wanted to ask out. She was with some guy, so I acted like I didn't know her.

Dave Eggars comes out, stoned and possibly drunk. It was as if the room was spinning around him as he clutched the podium. He mumbled, stammered for a few minutes and read a couple of passages out of his Africa book, and walked off the stage abruptly after 15 minutes.

It just sort of seemed like he had seen better days.
posted by four panels at 3:20 PM on June 14, 2007


How is it that a publisher is so affected by a distributor's bankruptcy?
posted by xmutex at 3:28 PM on June 14, 2007


I assume they give product to the distributor who pays them later. Bankruptcy = no later.
posted by smackfu at 3:35 PM on June 14, 2007


Presumably the distributor owed the publishers money for magazines.

I only skimmed the article, but didn't see the distributor identified. Is it the IPA?
posted by enn at 3:36 PM on June 14, 2007


Oops. I guess not.
posted by enn at 3:37 PM on June 14, 2007


xmutex, from what I understand for most small-press publishers, that's where the money comes from. When you buy any product, you're may actually be buying it from the distributor, who passes the money, minus the cost of production, packing, shipping, etc. on to the publisher, or the publisher pays the distributor to produce and ship the product. If a chunk of expected revenue was tied up in the bankruptcy, you're screwed. If a number of 'paid for' orders never get shipped, you're screwed.

That's just a couple of things I can think of off the cuff.
posted by pupdog at 3:37 PM on June 14, 2007


I'll just open up my wallet, McSweeney. You take what you need.
posted by boo_radley at 3:39 PM on June 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


The distributor sells the books to various accounts (wholesalers, stores) and collects payment. Eventually, they pay this back (minus fees) to the publisher. But if the distributor gets in trouble, either because of poor management, or because the accounts don't pay (becuase they're crooks or going bankrupt themselves), or whatever reason--well, the publisher might get pennies on the dollar of what they're owed, if they're lucky. It's sad, but the publishing world is a financial nightmare, and most of the risk is borne by the publishers. Bookstores can always return a book to a publisher or distributor for full credit, so it's almost like they're selling books on consignment.

Dave Eggers was really trying to bring back the romance and fun to publishing that consolidation had leached out of the industry, but I'm afraid it can't work. Either you're so small that no one expects you to stay in business, or you're successful enough that you have to become a corporate whore or pay the penalty. This is the penalty. Just sad all around.
posted by rikschell at 3:40 PM on June 14, 2007


Glad somebody posted this, they seem to be pretty quiet about it, but somebody needs to get the word out.

SAVE MCSWEENEY'S!

What is the What is excellent, by the way.
posted by buriednexttoyou at 3:42 PM on June 14, 2007


I'll probably pick up What is the What.

I was thinking the same thing. Then I noticed McSweenies sale price is still more expensive than Amazon.com's normal price.
posted by stbalbach at 4:04 PM on June 14, 2007


McSweeny's is the funniest site I never read.
posted by notmydesk at 4:19 PM on June 14, 2007


Oh man, I'd love any of the Chris Ware artwork, but the auctions are already too rich for my blood.
posted by scody at 4:20 PM on June 14, 2007


I was thinking the same thing. Then I noticed McSweenies sale price is still more expensive than Amazon.com's normal price.

yet if there were no McSweeney's sale price, there would be no Amazon sale price. i'm not much of a fan, but i wish them well.
posted by mrgrimm at 4:28 PM on June 14, 2007


Soft Skull is doing it for similar reasons (though due to AMS/PGW's bankruptcy, they were bought out).

This shift in the book industry could have a huge negative effect on small presses in general, as there are now only a small handful of book distributors for companies to go through and many lost lots of cash.
posted by drezdn at 4:31 PM on June 14, 2007


"Either you're so small that no one expects you to stay in business, or you're successful enough that you have to become a corporate whore..."

Many of my comics colleagues would claim this to be untrue, but I would say this is a fair assessment of the comics biz. Unless your overhead is really, really low, it's astoundingly difficult to make a profit in comics.

Which is why most comics people who like to live in more than bare, subsistence-level poverty either do lots of art (or writing or whatever) outside of comics (I'm in video games now, for instance) or they have a completely unrelated day job.

Looks like the auction will bring them some good revenue!
posted by zoogleplex at 4:35 PM on June 14, 2007


Just wanted to thank you for posting this.
posted by lunalaguna at 4:38 PM on June 14, 2007


How much for Sarah Vowell's bathwater?
posted by ColdChef at 4:51 PM on June 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


The distributor sells the books to various accounts (wholesalers, stores) and collects payment. Eventually, they pay this back (minus fees) to the publisher. But if the distributor gets in trouble, either because of poor management, or because the accounts don't pay (becuase they're crooks or going bankrupt themselves), or whatever reason--well, the publisher might get pennies on the dollar of what they're owed, if they're lucky.

It can be even worse than that. General Distribution was one of the big Canadian distributors that smaller publishers relied on, and when it went bankrupt in 2002 the impact was so huge that the government put together an emergency fund so that the Canadian publishing industry wouldn't tank overnight.

Not only were many accounts left unpaid going back at least several months, but the unsold book stock effectively became the property of the liquidators handling General's assets. There are unsubstantiated stories of small publishers driving box vans to the General warehouses in the middle of the night to steal back their own books, but a lot of publishers never saw their stock again.
posted by chrominance at 4:51 PM on June 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


I was just googling for info on that very example, chrominance.

Here's a bit of background on the chaos unleasehed by GDS' collapse in Canada.
posted by gompa at 7:15 PM on June 14, 2007


An article about the legal and financial issues that led to the Advanced Marketing Services bankruptcy.
posted by nanojath at 7:20 PM on June 14, 2007


I don't mean to second-guess, and I respect Eggers and all he's done, but isn't he, like, a millionare by now? I know he gives a lot of money away and puts a lot into the 827 program and all that, but he's also had some really big publishing deals, right?
posted by Mid at 7:47 PM on June 14, 2007


I don't mean to second-guess, and I respect Eggers and all he's done, but isn't he, like, a millionare by now? I know he gives a lot of money away and puts a lot into the 827 program and all that, but he's also had some really big publishing deals, right?

I doubt it, even if there wasn't the 827 thing. You're confused, I think, about what a "six-figure deal" - for example - means to a writer. First, 15 percent's gone to your agent right away. Then, that "advance" is actually doled out over the book's production life, from inking the deal to the moment it hits shelves, usually in three chunks. Figure two years (at the almost-unheard-of fastest) for a novel, and a $250,000 deal is barely a six-figure salary. Add in the foreign rights and a movie option and you might be talking half a million. And then you don't see a cent on sales until the publisher has earned back every thin dime of it, and they've probably number-crunched the advance to coincide with a conservative estimate of the book's predicted sales.

The only millionaire authors are the household names, the Oprah guests, the NY Times columnists and New Yorker trendspotters whose books spend months at the top of the bestseller lists. And Eggers, though huge in indie-lit circles, is far far far from a household name.
posted by gompa at 8:12 PM on June 14, 2007


And then, a couple of months after that, we'll publish a debut novel from a writer named Millard Kaufman. This book is exactly the kind of thing McSweeney's was created to do: it came through the mail, without an agent's imprimatur, and it was written by a first-time novelist. This first-time novelist is 90 years old. His novel was pulled from the submissions pile and it knocked the socks off of everyone who read it. Millard may well be the best extant epic-comedic writer of his generation, and he stands at equal height with the best of several generations since.

This is only one of the reasons I love McSweeney's. Eggers has been a such a great, interesting, funny guy since Might and I simply don't understand how anyone can knock his genuine enthusiasm for the written word.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:17 PM on June 14, 2007


I read an article about a man with a rare psychological condition who, whenever he heard the words "Snickers" or "Mars bar," flew into a homicidal rage.

Hearing the words "Sarah Vowell" has much the same effect on me.
posted by jayder at 8:40 PM on June 14, 2007


Soft Skull is doing it for similar reasons (though due to AMS/PGW's bankruptcy, they were bought out).

There are plenty Soft Skull titles I'd love to buy at 40% off, but I can't figure out how to do it. I see a "cart," but I don't see a way to add anything to said cart. I can has halp plz?
posted by roll truck roll at 8:42 PM on June 14, 2007


Yes, what a hero Dave Eggers is, rescuing Millard Kaufman from the slush pile. Otherwise this first-time novelist would be stuck in obscurity.
posted by jayder at 8:44 PM on June 14, 2007


If anyone still loves me, get me one of those Chris Ware originals. I don't even care if it's a single letter "A". Hell, I'll take a comma.
posted by davejay at 9:26 PM on June 14, 2007


Yes, what a hero Dave Eggers is, rescuing Millard Kaufman from the slush pile. Otherwise this first-time novelist would be stuck in obscurity.
posted by jayder at 8:44 PM on June 14


yeah I bet that random house was busting his door down what with his screenwriting credits on a dozen films forty years ago plus a two sentence wikipedia entry great job you fucking sourpuss
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:30 PM on June 14, 2007


Weird. I went looking to get a copy of the brilliantly hilarious Mountain Man Dance Moves: The McSweeney's Book of Lists (we keep a copy under the counter at work), but it isn't listed on the McSweeney's store book page. Am I missing something, or do they not offer it themselves?
posted by mediareport at 9:58 PM on June 14, 2007


I think Soft Skull is by far the more interesting (thought by far the less hip) of the two presses talked about in this thread. McSweeney's is very cool, but Soft Skull is less well-branded.

I, too, wish I could figure out their damn website.
posted by OmieWise at 5:57 AM on June 15, 2007


Am I missing something, or do they not offer it themselves?

The book is actually published by Vintage, which is a Harper Collins imprint, IIRC.
posted by drezdn at 6:14 AM on June 15, 2007


Vintage is a Random House imprint.
posted by OmieWise at 6:29 AM on June 15, 2007


Damnit, I need to start drinking coffee again or something. I knew it was one of the two monolithic publishing companies.
posted by drezdn at 7:28 AM on June 15, 2007


That's what I was talking about with the publishing deals. I think several McSwy products were the subject of deals with the big publishing houses.

Also, it is 826, not 827, as I mistakenly said above. Would be cooler if it was 227 -- Eggers would have been great on that show.
posted by Mid at 10:01 AM on June 15, 2007


That's what I was talking about with the publishing deals. I think several McSwy products were the subject of deals with the big publishing houses.

I don't know if it's a standing option or something worked out author by author, but there are a number of titles where McSweeney's puts out the hardcover, and then a major releases the paperback. Eggers' You Shall Know Our Velocity was like this (Vintage did the paperback), as was Plascenia's People of Paper (Harvest in that case).
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 10:14 AM on June 15, 2007


A follow-up post, for those not on McSweeney's email list:

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, A THOUSAND THANK YOUS AND MORE

Well, we're overwhelmed.

In the past ten days, thousands of you have visited, shopped, bid, and bugged your friends to follow suit. From the first morning of the sale, we've been mindboggled by your response -- the enthusiasm, the encouragement, the stern commands to persevere. We've been sitting in our office all these days, emboldened and so happy, sharing with each other each kind note, each crazy order and new auction item, cheering at the end of each day when we tally up.

You've made a very real difference: because of your incredible response, McSweeney's isn't going anywhere. We're sticking around as long as you'll have us. The ship is damp but afloat, sails full, jib doing whatever the jib is supposed to do, and we're getting back to work. (For last-minute shoppers, we'll keep this sale going through the weekend, and the auction still includes pieces from Art Spiegelman, John Hodgman, David Foster Wallace, and Miranda July.)

All the support has been inspiring, and also humbling; working as we do on this remote western coast, running the internet equivalent of a highway produce stand, it's a big deal to see so many people swooping in. And we don't want to let you down -- we're very aware that we survive because of your trust in us and pretty much nothing else. Even beyond distributor bankruptcies, independent publishing is always a dicey business; just this week the great magazine Punk Planet announced that their latest issue would be their last. (That it lived for eighty issues is a testament to the dedication of Dan Sinker and everyone else involved.) No one's getting rich in this business, but your support can allow these labors of love to labor onwards.

Fortunately, we're clear of that for now; the wrathful creditor-filled waters have calmed a bit, and we're wiping our brows and returning to what we like best: actually making things we think you should see. In our last note, we mentioned Millard Kaufman, whose sterling first novel we'll be releasing this fall. We mentioned that the book is called Bowl of Cherries and that the author is ninety years old, but there are a few other noteworthy things about Millard that we didn't mention: He served with the U.S. Marine Corps on Guadalcanal and Okinawa. He is the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of the legendary Bad Day at Black Rock. He was awarded a special medal at the 1958 Brussels World's Fair. And: he is the co-creator of Mr. Magoo. This is true.

Also, he's a terrific guy, a marvelous writer, and Bowl of Cherries is one of the wittiest, most unexpected books we've seen in years, like a more hormonal Invitation to a Beheading told by a fifteen-year-old trapped in Iraq. Click here for more info and a look at the first chapter; the full novel will be out by October.

We've got lots more on the way, of course, but for now we mainly want to say thanks. You saved our necks this time, and we're grateful for it.

Yours warmly,
The folks at McSweeney's

posted by danb at 11:29 AM on June 22, 2007


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