The nymph never ceases to surprise me.
“I have a brilliant idea for a new campaign.” She was in a frenetic mood. “We should hand out free organic beetroot to a million people.“
I looked up from my desk in astonishment. ”Why?”
“Because in that way we can persuade people to like beetroot. And from then on they will buy it every Saturday from their local organic farmer and live healthily ever after.”
“Peirene, are you feeling ok? We sell books not food.”
The nymph settled at her desk and took out from her handbag a copy of a recent Bookseller magazine.
“I am perfectly fine” she had opened The Bookseller magazine and pushed it in my direction. “I am sure you’ve read this idea that 25 publishers will give away one million books on World Book Night?”
Of course I had heard about it. As usual Peirene was a bit behind with her Bookseller read. I nodded.
“And do you think it is a good idea?” she asked.
“I have very mixed feelings. Firstly it will only include mainstream books, secondly, it can only include big publishers because no one else can afford to print 40 000 free copies…”
Peirene interrupted me “And thirdly it won’t really encourage people to read who don’t already have the habit. And fourthly, and worst of all, it will perpetuate this modern notion that books – or lets say cultural products – should be available for free.” She jumped up from her chair. “And as you and I know, to produce a good text costs money. Writer, original publisher, translator, editor, copy-editor, proofreader, type-setter, another proofreader, cover-designer, printer, paper producer, all of these people need payment, the publisher has somehow to earn that money, but if no one wants to pay for a book …!”
She took a deep breather. “Culture is essential to human survival – it’s food for our imagination, our brain. And like food, we should pay for it.”
The nymph left the room in agitation. I heard her put on the kettle in the kitchen and I followed her.
“The problem with books in this country,” she continued, as soon as she realized I stood in the doorway, “is not that people don’t read. Everyone in the tube seems to be reading. No, the problem is that they are all reading the same crappy books. The market is not diversified enough. And a give away campaign like World Book Night is not going to help.”
Tears rolled down her cheek.
“Peirene, what’s the matter? It’s not this campaign alone, is it? There must be something else.”
She sniffed. “I am so worried you will send me back to ancient Greece because a nymph like me can’t survive in the modern culture-for-nothing climate.”
I put my arm consolingly around her shoulders. “I won’t send you back. We will make it work somehow. I am sure there are readers out there who understand you have to pay for good books.”
I stroked her head, poured her a cup of coffee and sent her back to her desk.
I am still smiling about her organic beetroot idea, mind. Even there she went for quality. If food were to be given away en masse, it would surely be wine gums or sugary sweets – mass produced food with plenty of chemicals – not life enhancing nourishment. For that there is always a price.