Click to enlargeThe Prospect Behind Us
Part 2, page 1

ILLUSTRATION: The drawing by Soun Vannithone, based on a painting of c 1950 by Robert Dodge, was commissioned for our cover to go with the second and concluding part of 'The Prospect Behind Us'. It shows the house at 3232 Prospect Avenue (now Prospect Street) in Georgetown, Washington DC, where Jane Davidson's family lived and from which she married Alan Davidson, thus bringing into being - although unwittingly, for many years were to pass before history unfolded this particular one among the myriad consequences of the event - the editorial team which would be responsible for PPC. It was this street name which, when a name had to be found in 1979 for the publishers of the new journal, provided the inspiration for 'Prospect Books'.

How It All Worked

Alan Davidson

In Part One of this essay the author described the history of Prospect Books, from 1979 to 1993, in terms of its publications - how we came to meet authors, how external factors and coincidences conspired to shape our publishing programme, and so on. In Part Two, he surveys the mechanics of the operation. How was it funded, organized, staffed; how were books sold; and so on.

When I attended a meeting in Santa Barbara, California, to set up the American Institute of Wine and Food and its journal and publishing programme, I quickly learned the conventional wisdom about what things have to be done first in such a situation: namely deciding how many millions of dollars have to be raised in advance of any activity, and appointing a firm of fund-raisers to attend to this.

It was fortunate that I was unaware of these requirements when Prospect Books was founded, otherwise nothing would have happened. We naively thought that if the ten partners each put the same amount into the kitty we ought to be able to manage. And, given the financial situation of Partner Six, our youngest daughter (Jennifer), we reckoned that this amount had to be £5.

Of course we needed premises. So we allocated part of a broom cupboard under the stairs in our house, plus a small table in an adjacent room and a box of file cards. That seemed to be sufficient and indeed was for quite a while. There were no utility bills, as the presence of this cuckoo in our nest (as it subsequently turned out to be) did not make any measurable difference to our consumption of electricity and most of the phone calls were to people I enjoyed chatting with anyway.

By the time we needed to pay the printers for the first issue of PPC more than enough revenues had come in from subscribers. Had we stumbled on the secret of a no-capital-needed enterprise? So it seemed, but later on we discovered that publishing books did, eventually, need capital. For the record, a total of £25,000 was required by the time we passed our tenth anniversary.

To begin with, we did everything ourselves, ie my wife Jane and myself plus some daughterly help. Soon, however, we got ourselves paid help (Christine Adams was the pioneer here), starting with two hours a week and building up eventually to four days a week. Mary Gibbs was the first 'help' to work a half week, and a wonderful help she was, but she had met rather a good-looking explorer at the North Pole and went off to marry him. Felicia Freeland was with us next, fresh from anthropological studies in Indonesia, and distinguished herself by organising one of the first Oxford Symposia on Food History - including the keying in of many papers.

The Prospect Behind Us - Part 2, page 2

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