The San Francisco publishing house/literary magazine/quarterly/humor website/podcast empire McSweeney's is looking to its large community of readers for money. It launched a Kickstarter campaign today looking to raise $150,000.
"It's a big one for publishing projects on Kickstarter, it's intending to support the next slate of publications and provide ongoing support for our website," Shannon David, the development director of McSweeney's, told BuzzFeed News. The money, if they raise it, will fund a summer issue of the literary magazine The Believer and an issue of its quarterly Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, as well as support its popular humor website Internet Tendency, along with its podcast The Organist. The funds will also support its book publishing efforts.
McSweeney's, founded by Dave Eggers in 1998, announced last year that it was transitioning into a nonprofit. And that's when Kickstarter's Maris Kreizman, who works on publishing projects, got interested in hosting their effort to raise money from fans.
The rewards McSweeney's backers can receive are a perfect reflection of the quirky, positive sensibility instilled by its founder Eggers and his small army of readers, interns, and fellow authors. Backers, depending on how much money they pony up, can get the classic literary tote bag ($35), a week of email correspondence with Nick Hornby ($750), a short story by Rebecca Curtis written on homemade paper ($1,000), a short story about you by Sheila Heti ($1,000), a choose-your-own animal painting by Eggers himself ($2,500), and a letter written to the recipient of your choice by Spike Jonze on the cover page of the script of his science fiction love story Her ($9,000).
The move to getting money directly from its fans comes after McSweeney's became a sponsored project of the nonprofit arts orgnaization SOMArts, making it eligible for tax deductible donations (the Kickstarter money, however, is not deductible). "Ultimately the transition is really about a long-term vision for making this sustainable and making this place really really stick to its ambitions and keep pursuing the big projects that we've made our name on," Jordan Bass, editor-in-chief of McSweeney's, told BuzzFeed News.
"We've already been really happy to see some support from our readership, it's cool to see people really rally around us," David said. "If enough people pitch in, a relatively small contribution from a big group, we're giving people a chance to participate in what we do in a way we haven't done before."
There's never been more writing about books or a more precarious time for the people doing it. Readers can feast on free content, while publishers and writers make due with cheap web ads and donations.
"We've always been pretty open about that over the years, the viability of an independent press," Bass said. "Trying to publish an experimental literary magazine is never going to be a blue chip enterprise."
Other literary projects have successfully raised money on Kickstarter, but none with the cache of McSweeney's and for much smaller amounts. Emily Gould and Ruth Curry's feminist publishing and book selling project Emily Books or indie publisher Coffee House Press' book about cat videos were able to raise $42,000 and $31,000, respectively. The all-volunteer literary magazine Guernica was able to raise $27,000 to help pay writers, and publish e-books and special issues.
"This isn't a tip jar," Kreizman said. "It's a place where you can go and get something from the organizations you love while still benefiting them."
The campaign runs for a month, ending June 5. "We'll be biting our nails then for sure," Bass said.