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Dave Eggers and Forward to the Past

In Entertainment, Technology, Uncategorized on April 26, 2010 at 8:24 pm

Dave Eggers collects hyphens.

Novelistjournalistmemoirist.

And then there’s

publisherscreenwriterphilanthropisteditor.

And, this past Friday, he reinforced one of them — prize-winner.

This time, it was the Los Angeles Times.

They honored Eggers at their Festival of Books with the  Innovators Award, which ‘recognizes the people and institutions that are doing cutting edge work to bring books, publishing and storytelling into the future, whether in terms of new business models, new technologies or new applications of narrative art.”

The award goes on to say that:

“He is exactly the kind of person the Innovator’s Award is intended to honor: a forward thinker who is not afraid of print, but also not afraid to look ahead to the future, and who is drawing a new generation of writers and readers to the written word.”

The funny thing is that what Eggers is being honored for — being “a forward thinker” —is actually less about forward thinking and more about mixing a commitment to the past with real business smarts.

It’s as the award says, his “refreshing disregard for conventional wisdom” that makes Eggers so important.

Because, while you have people like Michael Wolff who makes money stealing content from newspapers and then goes around predicting their death (here’s a story about one of his predictions of doom; I won’t link to his site because I don’t want to give him any traffic — even typing his name causes pain) it’s very refreshing to have Eggers.

In their coverage of the awards ceremony, the LA Times quotes Eggers offering what could be seen as a rebuke to Wolff.

“It’s the best time in the history of the printed word to be a publisher or a writer,” he said. “People want to declare the death of the printed word. It’s always our tendency to assume something is dying. It’s a fun thing to do, but it doesn’t always make sense.”

In the article, Eggers offers up part of his philosophy as a publisher.

“I’m actually quite a traditionalist,” he says. “We’re trying to make the business model rational, scalable, reasonable.”

And that really may be the key — not every media outlet has to be everything to everybody. You don’t need to own a chain of papers, or a baseball team, or television stations and real estate holding; to be a successful publisher, maybe you just need to keep things in perspective.

As Eggers told The Onion’s AV Club earlier this year:

“The paper-based media really has to work within a rational scale, and if they do, they’ll be fine. There’s plenty of room, people really care, there are magazines that people will fight to hold onto. You might not be able to operate your own LearJet and have an unlimited expense account, but if you have a reasonable expectation for a print-based product, whether it’s a newspaper or a magazine, you can certainly exist.

“Your readers will make sure you exist.”

Hallelujah.

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  1. Dave Eggers is a contemporary hero who happens to live in the realm of literature. I don’t know him personally, so this posting comes from my heart. The dark side of my brain thinks about wrongful convictions and other depressing matters almost 24/7. Hence my True/Slant blog “In Justice.”

    But I find salvation for my brain by doubling as a professional book reviewer and generalist commentator about book-magazine-newspaper-television-radio-Web journalism culture. Within that culture, Eggers is one of the most brilliant–and giving–individuals alive. His books and magazines are important and innovative. Even better, his philanthropy that focuses on educating teenagers and pre-teens about the wonders of reading/writing appears, to me at least, selfless.

    Thank you, Colin Miner, for helping spread the word about Eggers.

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