The Magic of Storytelling: In Conversation with JP Watson, Founder of The Pound Project
Reading is magic. Writing is cathartic. Two things I know to be true. A medicine we prescribe ourselves, more often a means of escape; in times like these, storytelling is everything that we need.
Traversing the digital landscape, our fingertips scrolling, tapping and swiping across brightly lit vistas, what stories will we choose? Downloads, bookmarks, tabs in abundance, we are surrounded by content. The good, the bad, and the ugly.
Stories have never been so accessible, so prolific, so necessary, but the ubiquitous nature of online content also holds the potential to undermine and devalue powerful, thoughtful and quality-written pieces. In monetary terms, what are we willing to pay for these stories, if anything, and how do we filter fact from fiction at a time when almost everybody identifies as a content creator?
I came across The Pound Project online, the irony of this statement is not lost on me. Founded in 2018 and based out of Birmingham, the independent crowdfunding publisher is already gaining a reputation within the literary world for its revolutionary approach and has been bestowed with The Bookseller’s much-coveted BookTech Startup of the Year Award, in a nod to their innovative publishing model.
Founded by the author and writer, JP Watson, his aim is not simply confined to selling books, but is built around conveying the true value of reading and writing, while ensuring that the authors associated with the platform are given the recognition and reimbursement they deserve for their craft.
The concept is simple: crowdfunding one story and one writer at a time. By pledging £1 you can read or listen to the piece online and from £5 you will receive the book in print. Each title is a limited edition and is only available to purchase during the campaign which, as JP explains, directly tackles the issue of sustainable content; literally and metaphorically. Using eco-friendly materials for postage and only printing the exact amount of books that have been pledged, every element of the book’s journey, from concept to doorstep has been considered.
From his thoughts on adopting more mindful consumption habits, to sourcing content worth paying for, not to mention the rather impressive roster of distinguished authors on his books, including Dolly Alderton, Pandora Sykes and most recently Emma Gannon, covering everything from authenticy, to sabotage, I was intrigued to learn about JP’s own career trajectory and why now, more than ever, he thinks the art of storytelling is so prescient.
The Pound Project, which utilises online platforms to create printed books was born out of its architects own experience as a writer. From the outset of his journalism career, JP quickly realised that, like many working in the arts, receiving acknowledgement and reward for your work would be hard to come by. Working alongside a plethora of creative, talented and engaged writers and subsequently witnessing their dreams crumble, led him to question the sustainability of existing publishing models in both the physical and online space, which seemingly offered very little to those telling and sharing their stories.
As someone who feels a mixture of wonder and apathy when trawling through the labyrinth of online content, I can relate to JP’s sentiment that somewhere along the way, the internet seemed to lose its way. “People are so willing to consume crap,” he laments. As digital-age consumers we expect content to be available to us for little or no cost, so deeply-ingrained are our beliefs towards the value of content created within the online sphere. For JP, the task is to convince people that their pound is worth investing in return for stories with depth, rigour and poignancy.
While The Pound Project founder actively encourages opportunities for creativity and conversation which have been bolstered by the existence of social media platforms, he does wonder whether we have perhaps verged too far from trusting experts, “anyone can be a blogger, I’m on board with that, but not everyone can be a writer.” For JP the fundamentals of quality storytelling and journalism should always be paid for and respected, especially at a time when we might be wise to take heed from people who know what they’re talking about.
Starting out on this venture, armed with his list of probables, possibles and dream writers that he hoped would join him on The Pound Project journey, it was a case of tapping into his existing network of creatives while also seeking out writers and authors, who like him possessed an entrepreneurial spirit. In the case of Pandora Sykes and her contribution to the project with The Authentic Lie, a book which sought to question the curation of online personas, her “no bullshit approach” and strong business mind made the collaboration a no brainer as far as JP was concerned, further cementing his belief that to succeed in this field requires authors to acknowledge the importance of their contribution and the value of their craft.
From incredibly hungover meetings in Camden with fellow Pound Project author Dolly Alderton, hashing out the concept for her book, The Hopeless Romantic, to canvassing Jordan Stephens (of Rizzle Kicks fame) and working with the much-sought after Emma Gannon on her current campaign for the project, Sabotage, JP admits that creating a community of like-minded individuals who respect the dedication and grit required to get a concept like this off the ground, is pivotal to the sustainability and future of his venture.
The beauty of crowdfunding is that it encourages authors to take risks and gives rising talent a platform to make their print dreams a reality without fear of losing money or face. JP admits that he arrived at this model for a number of reasons, primarily because it was a cost-effective way of getting The Pound Project off the ground, but it also removed the idea that someones literary success could be determined by just a small handful of influential agents. On a more personal level for him, and as many other creatives will attest to, any good idea often has its roots in some form of failure or knockback, “everyone has been incredibly disappointed at some point and in the arts that is public facing.” Perhaps then as Elizabeth Day talks so candidly about, failure is truly what makes you.
The success of The Pound Project surely lies in JP’s ability to canvass authors and writers who, as he puts it, sit in “the eye of the paradigm”, whose shrewd observations of the world around them teeter on the edge of the zeitgeist, ruminating just before the wider public experience that light bulb moment of realisation that they are not alone; someone else shares their opinions, their dreams, their fears. From considered and thoughtful commentary on the current state of affairs (don’t mention the B word), to honest and authentic accounts of love, to the hotly-anticipated publication from Emma Gannon on our innate ability to self-destruct just when we are on the cusp of something great, The Pound Project is a platform for authentic storytelling, the underdog’s best friend, and a vehicle for democratic content creation in these very troublesome and uncertain times.