McSweeney’s Sells Its Lifetime Subscribers the Brooklyn Bridge

Sometimes, Gawker is good for something. Apparently, Dave Eggers has sent out a notice to lifetime subscribers of McSweeney’s, begging these lifetime subscribers to switch over to a normal yearly subscription.

The whole notice is available in full here. It wouldn’t be so bad, if it weren’t written in the same bullshit cheery timbre that is the worst part of the entire McSweeney’s operation. If I were to pay a Lasik surgeon to correct my vision, the last thing I’d need is some giddy douchebag jumping up and down a few years later demanding additional money for services I have already paid him for, when my vision is perfectly fine. That the douchebag is throwing in a stupid card game and a Certificate of Lifelong Gratitude for the joy of conning me of my money is even more insulting. If on the other hand, the surgeon were to come to me in all seriousness and, say, “Look, Ed. We’re going to need another operation to correct a corneal flap. It’s going to cost a few hundred. I’m sorry. These things happen. But it’s in everyone’s best interests,” then I’d probably be okay with it. (Of course, if my vision were to go to hell, caveat emptor, as they say. And I’d have to live with my shoddy vision the rest of my life. But then that’s why I took the risk in the first place.)

[UPDATE: Lindsay nails it.]

[UPDATE 2: I should probably point out, in all fairness, that since the notice was without a byline, Dave Eggers may not have been the one to write it.]


  1. Wow. And I mean: wow.

    The world has not a violin tiny enough accompany this request. Perhaps Mr. E shouldn’t have blithely ignored the couple hundred bucks we raised for him not so long ago.

    The offer still stands, bub. Just gimme some truth.

  2. I am now selling lifetime memberships to my blog. Won’t you be the first? what do you get? drink more ovaltine and find out.

  3. To play a bit of devil’s advocate is this really different from you adding your tip jar and as of yet, unutilized, ad space? At first you figured not necessary, don’t want to do it, now it would be nice, helpful if there was some money that came in, money that I think is absolutely deserved if people are WILLING to give it to you.

    Let me emphasize that word, WILLING again. No doubt, the McSweeney’s notice is oogy and annoying, but I don’t see anywhere where it says that they will cease honoring that lifetime subscription. If people are WILLING to pony up for the regular subscription, plus extras then what is the beef?

    Where is “the con?” There’s some begging and pleading, but I don’t see a con.

  4. The difference is that I have been utterly DIRECT and TRANSPARENT, without any kind of bullshit about it. Please read my post: “It wouldn’t be so bad, if it weren’t written in the same bullshit cheery timbre that is the worst part of the entire McSweeney’s operation.”

    Now if Eggers and company had said, “Look, we’re in a tight spot. We need you to help us out,” and elucidated the reasons why, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. In fact, that’s precisely what The Believer did a few issues ago: we’ve added advertising because we need to support ourselves. Perfectly respectable.

    It is a con because Eggers (once again) isn’t being straightforward here. But then that’s Eggers in a nutshell.

  5. It seems pretty straightforward. There’s nothing wrong with it, frankly. If it *weren’t* couched in this kind of lingo it would piss me off a lot more. This at least makes it seem like a soft sell not a hard sell.

    And it certainly was a bargain to get a lifetime sub for $100. But like someone said–there’s nothing saying they won’t honor the lifetime subscription.


  6. it’s straightforward, it tells you the facts, it just has a ‘playful’ tone.

    he probably feels the need to be ‘entertaining’ in everything mcsweeney’s does in the same way, so as to maintain a ‘mcsweeney’s’ tone, which is not unlike when someone is writing a novel and wants it to all have the same tone, so as to be more powerful, or if someone is opening a restaurant, and wants all the decorations to be the same and have pineapples go with mangos or whatever.

    i see completely nothing ‘wrong’ about this at all.

    attacking something by saying ‘bullshit cheery timbre’ is like attacking a black person for being black.

    being black doesn’t cause pain and suffering in the world.

    have a cheery timbre doesn’t cause pain and suffering in the world.

    if you want to attack something use facts to prove how it is causing pain and suffering in the world.

    whenever someone attacks mcsweeney’s or dave eggers i can be sure the person doesn’t think based on facts from concrete reality but mostly in abstractions, with irrational opposition to things like ‘cheery timbre’ or ‘self-promotion,’ etc.

  7. So we’ve learned that that McSweeney’s/Eggers is infallible, all possible critics being irrational, and also that you are quite unfamiliar with basic logic.

    I feel as if this has been a very productive day.

  8. More than anything I just think this is enormously tacky, regardless of the way it is written. A lifetime subscription is just that and it needs to be left alone.

    I’m curious Ed – do you know of any other literary magazine that has done something similar?

  9. So Ed’s objection is not the asking, but the tone of the asking? Yet, you claim it’s because it’s a con. These don’t seem the same to me. Intellectually inconsistent if you will.

    I wouldn’t say anyone is infallible and I agree that the tone is cloying at best and hugely irritating at worst, but maybe we should recognize that he’s not talking to you, Ed, or Mr. Rake, or me, but his lifetime subscribers, the people who presumably are most devoted to and invested in the publication. They, apparently, enjoy this kind of thing. They might actually be offended by a straightforward, non dancing as fast as I can, winky winky we need the dough type message. They may possibly take offense at that approach.

    Ed, when you reveal that the world should be ordered as I wish streak, you’re at your most fascinating as a subject for study, but at your least interesting as a commentator and critic.

    Always a fan, though.

  10. “whenever someone attacks mcsweeney’s or dave eggers i can be sure the person doesn’t think based on facts from concrete reality but mostly in abstractions, with irrational opposition to things like ‘cheery timbre’ or ’self-promotion,’ etc.”

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Dave Eggers as Jesus, AGAIN! Hysterical. This reminds me of, oh, 2001 or so, when there was a message board on the Atlantic Monthly where wannabe writers (some of whom are, now, actual writers) fell all over themselves to hush anyone who dare question anything DE or Ira Glass or their other heroes did, imagining (and even saying) that these people actually read the message board and that they could be banned from literature for life for tolerating even the mildest dissent. I laughed at them, too.

    I’m curious, Tao and May — if I’m a person who doesn’t “think based on facts”, why am I also a person who sent in what was for me a great deal of money to support a start-up literary magazine before any of the sycophants had ever even heard of it? I actually have less of a problem with the (annoying) way the request was phrased and more of a problem with the fact that this smacks of just plain greediness and disloyalty. I can’t afford tickets to the now-constant high priced 826 benefits, but I’m being asked to give up my paid-for subscription just because? I know it’s not mandatory, but the very suggestion is just plain insulting and alienating. And when I wrote to McSwy’s customer service saying I had not yet decided whether to take the option, I got this in return:

    “OK, please let me know soon. Thanks.”

    I will be letting them know soon.

  11. I find the tone grating, but the request defensible. I don’t know how their bookkeeping works, if the book publishing side affects the quarterly’s finances, but didn’t McSweeney’s, like many small presses, take a big hit with the distributor bankruptcy? I wonder how much of that precipated the need to cut costs.

    I think it’s completely reasonable for people (like Lindsay) to choose to hold them to the lifetime subscription. But I also can see how some subscribers might be willing to forgo the subscription, in order to help a small press that — grating house tone aside — is publishing some amazing books & a lot of great work that otherwise would go unpublished.

  12. …I have no interest in that outfit so will just speak generally mostly. Whenever people get robbed, or feel they may be getting robbed or are not getting what they’re owed, I think they should complain. I certainly do.

    However, considering (in my opinion and experience) the likely imminent worldwide peak of many natural resources, the severe environmental stress the earth’s ecosystems have been under for centuries, the new political crises and insanities that come up practically every other minute, the economic crises that will probably follow all this madness and other madness–that people would believe a “lifetime” promise on anything today seems utter blindness, utter rose-colored-glassesness.

    Like when buying a spoon: new “silver”ware often claims a lifetime guarantee and winds up half-corroded after ten uses. Today many “lifetime whatevers” are hardly worth even a few months, largely because the earth has been denuded of quality raw resources, but also because humans don’t value quality workmanship as much as they used to, at least in my opinion, so most things are built like shit. By now hasn’t every(adult)one noticed “lifetime” is a bogus overused term? I no longer expect anything beyond 6.5 nanoseconds.

    Did some people really believe that literary outfit would be around for their whole lifetimes? How could any business/businessperson guarantee that at any time, but especially today? If some people did believe that, I think that’s deluded; if they DIDN’T, maybe they should have demanded better-than-bogus language descriptions about the subscriptions from a, um, literary outfit (which means it should KNOW how to write clearly) before they gave that place money.

    Again, most times “lifetime” really means “lessthanlifetime,” so it could mean ANY amount of time. Why people insist on using false upside-down language is beyond me–and infinitely irritating to me.

    But maybe I should just defer to the Romans: caveat emptor.

  13. …I looked at that Gawker page…ick. That site often creeps me out–way too much meanness there. I must remember to wear finger condoms–I mean rubber gloves when surfing to certain web-parts.

  14. Interesting post from Lindsay.
    Imagine: Writers trying to ban other writers from literature for engaging in dissent!
    Unheard of. Unimagineable!
    (Please let me know, Lindsay, when you wish to exchange links with the Underground Literary Alliance.)

  15. For Lindsay Robertson: I never said you don’t think based on facts. That was this “tao lin” character who is more persona than person.

    “I actually have less of a problem with the (annoying) way the request was phrased and more of a problem with the fact that this smacks of just plain greediness and disloyalty. I can’t afford tickets to the now-constant high priced 826 benefits, but I’m being asked to give up my paid-for subscription just because? I know it’s not mandatory, but the very suggestion is just plain insulting and alienating.”

    I think you’re entitled to your reaction. I think there’s a difference between you reacting this way and Ed telling us how we should respond to it, that’s all. To me, it sounds like these cats are broke, maybe even about to go under and have pulled out all the stops to stay afloat. That whole distributor bankruptcy thing must be crushing to small publishers. I read it as more desperate than disloyal, but again, you’re entitled to your reaction. It sounds like it’ll be a moot point because without more money, there won’t be any new editions anyway.

  16. Also, I don’t know how you can associate “greed” with a literary magazine that’s clearly going under.

  17. i agree with CAAF. they asked nicely and offered something in return. for people who are really rich or who are poor but don’t plan on living for more than one year it would be something they might be interested in and might, for the poor person, benefit them, or for the rich person, benefit mcsweeney’s (something they might want to do), so now those two kinds of people have those options whereas they did not before. for people who want to keep their lifetime subscriptions they can do that. they can either do that or they can do that while also attacking mcsweeney’s, something they wouldn’t do if they like doing it, so these kinds of people are benefited to, with drama, an ‘infusion’ of drama into their lives and blogs.

  18. I can see why folks might feel betrayed, protective and/or frustrated with Tao Lin, but I don’t think anyone can deny that McS lifetime subscribers have received more than their original $100 investment back with interest, as financiers like to say. Unless, maybe, they’re illiterate.

    If lifetimers feel compelled to pay more — and can — that’s their business. It’s no different than pledging to PBS or NPR or buying art to help out a struggling artist whose work you enjoy.

    Money is only worth what you buy with it.

    I suspect this dust-up about Eggers is merely an extension of previous dust-ups about Eggers. People tend to lose their shit when confronted with uncompromised success. I’ve never worshipped the man or his writing, but I have considerable respect for all that he’s accomplished in print, online and on behalf of his literacy efforts.

    While I occasionally have work appear on the McS site, the only folks from the organization I’ve ever met were the folks working the book tent at last summer’s Bumbershoot festival. They were bright, friendly people.

    I wasn’t a lifetimer, but I went to the McS site earlier today to take out a 1-year subscription. Whether or not the mag’s “clearly going under” as May suggests (I don’t believe it is) or Eggers is sometimes too clever for his own good (could be, eh, Tao?), I have no doubt that my $55 was well spent.

  19. Eggers was a genius in two areas:
    1.) Selling a carefully constructed good guy image, overlaying the ruthless ambition of his actual personality.
    2.) Financial acumen. Contrary to how most small press people do things, Eggers manages to get his money up front. (Most small press folks are constantly waiting for money from distributors.)
    The time to make noise about this issue was at the beginning. Selling lifetime subscriptions is a variation of the Ponzi scheme. NO ONE should have believed it could or would last indefinitely.
    Why do people rush to send the outfit $55 to show their faith in the guy? Why were people sending him $100 to begin with? This wasn’t literature– it was religion.
    Note they were sending the money over a journal which was deliberately off-putting; filled with nonsense intros and inscrutable dissertations on things like basket weaving.
    The difficulty, the insrutability, the nonsense, was the whole idea.
    The targeted readership could thereby become part of an Elect group which most people would not care to join. Only those with the right sensibility to appreciate the genius of The Dave, as revealed in his famous memoir.
    I’m sure that Lindsay and Company had a special feeling after reading that volume. (Even Gessen was affected.) Within it Eggers appears as a kind of pure saint. (What a low-level charlatan like Tao Lin aspires to. Whenever you encounter a person like that, remember this simple rule: put your hand immediately on your wallet, because you’re about to lose it.)
    In another time such characters plied their trade while carrying Bibles. Now they’ve invaded the literary realm.
    Eggers was always a misrepresentation. DIY? Not at all. He got some upfront money from Simon & Schuster for his book. More important, they helped him gain quick important publicity in Vanity Fair and the New Yorker. (Famous articles, we can now say.)
    Did he receive funding from anywhere else? From the rich literati he was assiduously cultivating? We can only speculate.
    A question now: How does he keep his empire going? From where comes the funding?
    The Believer is certainly a big money-loser, which has to be made up.
    Does he receive foundational or government grants for the charitable work? (At the least it’s a tax write-off.)
    One thing we know about litfolk– the kind of people who read this blog– is that they seldom if ever ask such questions. They wish no one to burst their bubble of unreality.
    Do any of you care, for instance, that Mitch Albom is a total charlatan? He is, you know. He sells his pseudo-religious tracts not to naive sheltered college writing students, but to gullible old people, using a persona contrary to the real guy.
    What’s the bottom line?
    For starters, that most of you people are completely unable to tell the good guys from the bad guys. (Ironic that the ULA, an honest organization, is ostracized– mainly for bringing discomforting issues about the nature of the literary world and its players to light.)
    A point for Mr. Ed: I don’t care if I piss off literati. My constituency is the underground; zeensters and poets around the country. Your situation is different. You’re trying to align yourself against three literary groups, all very different in nature and scope, all of which I think you’re badly underestimating. (One should at least never underestimate Mr. Eggers.) Who do you have on your side? Mark Sarvas? Wow.

  20. wenclas, you should make a video game of the lit world. you could pick to play the good guys or the bad guys and either fight evil or goodness.

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