THE FATALITY RATE among literary magazines is alarmingly high. Like Burns’s snowdrops too many of them are here one minute and recycled waste paper the next – “a moment white then gone forever”. We sincerely hope this will not be the case with the Scottish Review of Books which first stuck its carroty head above the parapet two years ago.
The idea was not new – what idea is? – but while other attempts to make it a reality were stillborn this time it happened. As parents never tire of pointing out, had we known what we were letting ourselves in for we might have had second thoughts. But then who would wish their offspring unborn? Having brought the SRB into being, the next step was to ensure it would survive and thrive.
When it first appeared several pundits pondered over its editorial direction. What should its scope be? Should it be avowedly, exclusively Scottish or should it have international aspirations? Our first concern was simple, that it be well written, interesting, intelligent, inquisitive, informed and contrary. A sense of humour would not go amiss either. We saw no reason to excuse a Scottish bias. If the SRB did not properly cover Scottish books and writers who would? That did not, however, mean there would be no coverage of books and writers outwith Scotland. What we want to do is see things from a Scottish perspective. That is not parochialism; it is our base camp.
After five issues we thought it might be useful to see what you made of the SRB. The response to the survey was extremely encouraging. Hundreds of readers took the trouble to fill in the questionnaire, for which we are grateful. Around 100,000 copies are printed of each issue, 60,000 of which are included with the Sunday Herald. The bulk of the rest are distributed through public libraries, art galleries and museums, and bookshops. An increasing number of readers, both at home and abroad, are taking out subscriptions. The more the merrier, say we.
It’s estimated that the total readership of the SRB is 300,000. Two-thirds of those who replied to the survey say they read it for more than thirty minutes; 29% say they read it for more than an hour. More than half of you say you buy more than a dozen books a year, which is well above average. In short, you give every indication of being a pretty smart bunch. Please feel free to pat yourselves on the back.
We are also grateful for your comments and suggestions, some of which we would happily embrace if Bill Gates is interested in becoming involved. For example, you would like there to be increased pagination, monthly – if not weekly – publication, glossy paper, more illustrations, broader coverage. Interestingly, just one respondent said that she or her organisation would be willing to advertise in or sponsor the SRB. We think she must have had a rush of blood to the head.
Here are a few of your comments: “I’m glad it exists. Continue as a non-metropolitan voice”; “Like its readability and sobriety”; “Found quite a few books that I would not have looked at otherwise”; “Excellent publication. Well balanced. I would read it every week if it was available”; “If Scottish books are to sell successfully, Scotland needs to maintain a magazine like this”; “I read both the Times Literary Supplement and the London Review of Books and find that the SRB stands strong in comparison”; “the standard of the reviews is excellent”. As an incentive we promised £100 worth of books or the same sum in cash to the first name out of the bunnet. The winner was Duncan Tate of Glasgow should contact us to state his preference.