Now and again, when I have some spare minutes, such as during my morning walk, I indulge in a little fantasy. It goes something like this:
If I won a million on the lottery, what would I do? (That one’s easy – I’d buy my daughter a house. She lives in the second most expensive city in the UK in property terms, so there wouldn’t be much left.)
So what if I won five million? (The house again, some charity donations, nice gifts for my friends and extended family, which doesn’t extend very far; plus some careful, sensible investments so that none of my immediate family would ever need to worry about money again. We don’t need yachts and planes and multiple cars – just a reasonable degree of comfort and freedom to please ourselves.)
Ten? Twenty? That’s where it gets harder. The fantasy goes right up to fifty million, and that’s where it gets... well, from one point of view really hard, but from another, not too difficult at all, because with fifty million I could do pretty well anything I wanted to without giving a thought to whether it was financially viable.
I used to say I’d make the developers (remember them? We spent two years battling with them, and they threw enough money at their side of the fight to ensure they won.) an offer they couldn’t refuse in order to prevent them covering the field opposite my house with what Pete Seeger called little boxes on the hillside, but there are so many little boxes there now that it’s too late for that. So failing that, I’d build the house of our dreams in the place of our dreams, with a smaller house in the grounds for the housekeeper and gardener, who would be amply rewarded for taking care of the stuff I hate doing. And I’d make sure it didn’t upset anyone living within a mile, or anyone with strong feelings about the place I chose.
Then I’d set up a small theatre, as a home to small-scale production companies who provide high-quality work for some of the talented but undiscovered actors I used to see so many of before the local newspaper decided to ‘change its policy’ on freelance reviewers.
And then – this is where it becomes relevant to this blog – I’d set up a publishing company.
As you may know, this is something for which I have what British TV detectives call form. I’ve done it before. So in theory at least, it should be easier second time around.
Except... this would be a very special publishing company. It’s USP would be real books. Actual books. The kind made of paper and ink, not bits of computer code which make words appear on a plastic screen. The kind of books you go into a bookshop and browse, then buy if you like what you see. In fact, I might even set up a small bookshop chain as well, to make sure there was somewhere people could go to do the browsing and buying; with fifty million I could manage that. The authors would keep the rights to the plastic kind of book, so if they wanted to they could go down that route themselves, but I wouldn’t want anything to do with it.
Likewise social media. If the authors wanted to promote their work by doing whatever people do with Facebook, Twitter and the like, they would be free to get on with it; again, I wouldn’t want to get involved. I kind of think that a publishing company without a social media presence would be enough of a novelty to be a marketing hook in itself. I’d probably give in to a website; it seems that if you don’t have a website, everyone thinks you’ve died, and I wouldn’t want that.
Last time I specialized in crime fiction, and debut authors. This time there would be plenty of both, provided the right things came along, but I wouldn’t tie myself down. The only criterion would be that it’s a good story, well told. If someone well-known came along and liked the way we were doing things, I certainly wouldn’t send her/him on her/his way without checking out the work.
Would it work? Or has technology become too deeply embedded in people’s expectations? Who knows? It might just have enough novelty value to capture the public imagination. With fifty million in the bank – OK, forty million after everything else I want to do is paid for, but with that sort of money who’s counting? - it wouldn’t matter; I could just do it my way, have fun, and hang the expense.
Such a pity it will only ever be a fantasy.