Independent publisher Joe Pearson of Design for Today who lost £100,000 worth of stock in the Croydon warehouse fire has been “astonished” by an online funding campaign raising almost £25,000 from well-wishers.
Thousands of books belonging to the collector and writer on mid-century lithography went up in flames in the fire at the self-storage warehouse on New Year's Eve including around his own personal collection of 5,000 vintage Penguin books, spanning the last 30 years, as well as stock from his own publishing company.
Pearson founded Design for Today in 2015 to work with designers and illustrators to create limited edition books and cards, emulating the working model of the 1940s where illustrators had more control over the final product, as well as offering “printed pleasures for the discerning collector and enthusiast”.
The former teacher was inspired to launch his own press after spending years specialising in lithographic books, particularly 1940s books, such as the Puffin picture book series and recently entered into a distribution partnership with Central Books. “I thought it would be fun to make an equivalent of those 1940s books. I wanted to do something different to other publishers… and have illustrators have the same strong input into the books as they did in the 1940s,” he told The Bookseller.
He had been gradually building the business up when the fire hit the warehouse in Purley Way, which needed 120 firefighters to tackle the blaze. Pearson said: "The first few years you are losing money and you start breaking even and getting towards making profit and then when this fire happened you think ‘you’re back to the start’.”
Design for Today works on a co-operative model so illustrators receive a share of the profits rather than the advance, meaning the fire has affected six artists whose copies were stored there at the time as well as Pearson.
“I kept most of the books in the warehouse. So when the fire happened we felt doubly guilty – because not only had we lost the books but we’d lost the share of the profits for the illustrators too.,” he said.
The print runs vary between 1,000 and 1,500 and often include expensive, specialised techniques such as spot colour rather than printing, Pearson said. This means each book can cost around £8 just to print and with 6,000 or 7,000 titles in the warehouse, as well as Pearson’s own personal collection, the damage is believed to be around £100,000. The standard compensation by the warehouse’s insurance company only offers £2,000 and does not cover “items of sentimental value” which other customers of the 1,198 units are also reportedly contesting, according to the BBC.
However a week ago, to Pearson’s “utter amazement”, his daughter Rebecca secretly teamed up with illustrators Alice Pattullo and Emma Lewis to launch an online funding campaign raising almost £25,000 so far - with many of his thousands of Instagram followers also offering support.
On the fundraiser, he said: “It was a bit behind my back and I had no idea. I thought it might just be a few friends but it was absolutely astonishing. I felt a bit numb first of all and the I thought that it was a nice gesture, I thought it would just be a few friends and maybe a few hundred pounds. I didn’t think I would be able to reprint any of the books... I can now reprint the illustrators’ books so I can put them back into the world so they won’t be lost. It was a dreadful situation, thinking they had been completely lost."
Pearson, who lives in Balham, has decided to charge ahead with his publishing programme rather than dwell on his loss, with four books being published this year. Forthcoming titles include contemporary retelling of 'Hansel and Gretel' by poet Simon Armitage, illustrated by Clive Hicks-Jenkins as well as well as White Horses, the reimagining of the Puffin Picture Book that British artist Eric Ravilious had been working on in the autumn of 1939 and 1940.
“I’m not going to sit and mope, I’m going to carry on full-steam ahead,” Pearson said. “I’m going to think about the collection I lost and if I will replace everything – some things take time so long to find It, like the Puffin storybooks and I don’t think I would find them again.
“Now I have some backing I can say to illustrators ‘I can either give you the amount of what your books would have earned or we can start on another project with you.”
He added: “In a strange way, it makes you more determined because you have all those levels of support, you think I can’t let those people down.”