This Birmingham-based independent publisher aims to take the fear out of book-based crowdfunding - and give authors a sustainable slice of the pie.
Each month, The Pound Project crowdfunds to produce a new, unpublished short story from a different writer online, in audio and in pocket-sized books delivered to your door. With a target of just £500 and rewards starting at £1, affordability is a big part of the company's mission, as is transaprency, with authors paid an equal share of the profits.
"We aren't just selling books," declares founder JP Watson. "We're campaigning for the value of reading and writing for everyone. Behind every story there are hours of work and dedication. Too often this goes unrewarded. We want to change that. Is a good story worth the same as a cup of tea?"
Founder JP Watson was born in Birmingham, where he has returned to set up The Pound Project. In the interim he has lived and worked in Dublin, San Diego and London, where he was a production editor and writer for publications such as The Stage. He's also worked in education, led creative writing workshops and ran events on the power of ideas and storytelling. He is now also working closely with Birmingham City University and STEAMhouse, looking at alternative ways of approaching the publishing industry.
Assistant editor Sophie Todd& also works on rotation in the strategic teams for Wolverhampton City Council, while Helen Watson, the production manager and coordinator, has worked extensively on postgraduate leadership training. The rest of the team work on a freelance basis. Key members include Matthew Clugston who heads up graphic design, branding, and digital consultancy, and music consultant James O'Connell. The Pound Project is also developing week-long paid-for internship schemes for students in fields including English, Creative Writing, Media and Business.
In terms of authors, Watson cites "a range of (top secret) writers on our books." The current project is Dolly Alderton (presenter of The High Low and author of Everything I Know About Love), whose campaign runs 4-25 September.
What's the gap in the market?
Watson believes the project is comprehensively rethinking the way to generate funds and pay writers. Reacting against what can feel like frighteningly large targets and projects from crowdfunding campaigners, he decided to work with just one short story and one writer at at time.
"The Pound Project was built to make reading and writing more accessible for everyone," he says. "It's literature at a reasonable price. We start rewards at just £1, hence the company name. And because we set the initial goal as low as £500, people are compelled to contribute. When we break that target, they want to be part of an exclusive success story."
He's also evangelical about the need to create a fairer payout for writers - a timely topic.
"The company’s mission is to always pay its writers because it is a profession that often takes too long to reward its workers. Good writing is a real talent, and yet you often get people working for scraps and then eventually leaving the profession. It's unsustainable. Instead, we aim to put writers centre stage. The beauty of this model is that it is mutually beneficial. As each new writer shouts about their individual projects (with our support and guidance), not only are they boosting their name, exposure, and career; they also raise the profile of The Pound Project."
He also believes The Pound Project is tapping into the time-strapped market.
"People want a quick fix, something cool for their back pocket, something to lend their friends or read on their phone. Why shouldn't that be something that also helps support the greater good of the arts?"
Success so far?
To date, The Pound Project has run two campaigns, and the combined revenue - including outside sales - are in excess of £6000. It has more than 600 subscribed followers and a steadily growing social media presence.
Watson's own King Harry "validated the idea. With more than 700% funded and hundreds of new subscribers joining our movement, it laid solid foundations on which to build." The second project, an exclusive and unpublished story from Paul Murphy, a legend of the Birmingham arts scene who died in 2016, donated all profits to charity The John Hewitt Society, which helps struggling writers and artists to break ground in their careers.
Dolly Alderton's story (pictured right, credit Joanna Bongard), which launched earlier this month, is a first person piece titled Hopeless Romantic. The team expect the journalist's mainstream appeal and high profile to propel it to impressive success.
With such a small team, the decision process of where best to spend energy, money and resources can be highly pressured. "Sometimes your goal can get cloudy, your personal life frayed, when you're doing donkey work into the wee hours and you're not entirely sure of its impact," Watson admits. "However, with each project comes new learning and more stability. Aren't the challenges what we're doing it for?"
"We want talent to be valued for what it is - worthwhile. We want people to be excited about reading; excited that the arts shape who we are, and that progress can be made, beginning with £1, one story at a time."
Advice to other publishing entrepreneurs?
"Think of your idea as a solution. Identify something where you see a better, more interesting or more dynamic way of doing things and position your business as the answer. Then it will be relevant. And when people support you they are part of something meaningful; something positive."