Venerable and influential publisher McSweeneys this week announced that they're broke. Stuck with massive debt from the PGW meltdown--the same disaster that sent Soft Skull to Winton, Shoemaker & Co (hi Richard)--McSweeneys has taken the move made famous by Top Shelf Comix and appealed directly to their readership to purchase backstock.
I have to say that I was surprised when I heard the news--McSweeneys puts out a public air of such confidence that I'd never expect them to write a letter like this. Which means it's really drastic.
Having had to write a letter like that myself, I can say it's not an easy one to write. It's humbling--you hate to admit that there's trouble--and, more importantly, you know that it's a one-shot deal--you can't do something like this twice--so you've got to make sure that this is really the time you need to throw out that hail-Mary pass. If you've established trust with your readers (and if anyone has, it's McSweeneys), it'll work to get you out of debt, but it's a temporary fix. Appeals to your readers can't be a business plan. Speaking from experience, if you don't have the next step lined up, the money's going to run out again before you know it. Here's hoping they do.
The McSweeneys letter is another sign that the trouble that befell magazine distribution in 2005/06 (though we're all still seeing the effects still today) is creeping into books at a time when the industry is truly vulnerable. And the letter is also a sign that even the most respected are on shaky footing indeed.
I wish them the best over there. The world would be a worse place without their amazingly quirky books to look for on the shelves. Support them if you can, and hope they've got Plan B ready to roll.