Living through lockdown

A couple of weeks ago I was rushing out the door to get to work. I’m performing the usual wintertime house-exiting routine: dog has his coat on, check. Lights off, check. Heating off, check. Radio off, check. Hang on. The Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 is asking ‘What should we be reading if we’re forced to work or quarantine at home?’ I should listen to this.

Of course it’s another dreary selection of books. I needn’t have paused. For decades the BBC and other broadcasters have relied on authors to flesh out their news and entertainment programmes, as well as the news. I know this from pitching to producers back in my own publishing days. It’s much quicker and more cost-efficient than having to research the topic in-house, and in many ways I think this is a sensible approach to managing resources. 

But it leads to complacency. In recent years the programme schedules have become bloated with self-serving authors who often lack an authentic grip on their material or possess only a tenuous link to the matter under discussion. Sometimes they’ve been away from the action for too long. Much of this material is pumped in from the ruling handful of publishing conglomerates, but that’s another discussion. The same goes for television punditry. I’m just complaining about hearing dozens of authors and non-writers with ghosted opuses brazenly plugging their tomes (‘As I say in my book…’) every day on the radio. This is hardly enriching, and needless to say I self-combust.

When we discuss magazines with customers in Magalleria they nearly always say, ‘I only wish I had more time to read them.’ Well, here's the opportunity, and this brings me back to those lazy reading suggestions on The Today Programme and the default mindset that precludes recommending magazines rather than books. It’s particularly annoying because people forced to work at home are unlikely to pick up War and Peace to get them through the day. I would struggle to define the exact percentage, but it’s fair to say that the majority of our magazines are purchased by people looking for inspiration, more commonly in their work but also in their leisure pursuits. Magazines offer current thinking and expertise on a raft of things, delivered usefully in manageable portions so that you don’t have to put aside hours to learn something and arranged so that you can intersect with them rather than having to swallow the whole work.

And instead of having the usual suspects on speed dial, why not access the creators of magazines that provide information and inspiration? From the likes of Delayed Gratification to The Funambulist, Another Escape to The Gentlewoman, magazines and journals are published by well-placed people with their feelers out who have to think differently. I’m not knocking the likes of Marcel Proust or Virginia Woolf – they’re fine writers of course but they happen to be dead. Magazine journalism is better placed to grasp the zeitgeist to provide us with fresh insights and new perspectives that are properly thought out and agenda-free  – perfect for the enforced solitude most of us are facing, yet largely untapped.

Anyway, I’m not knocking books or the BBC (other stations are equally complicit) and most definitely not experts. It’s just that too often we hear what we know already – let’s broaden the information channels.