Last month I went to see author Rob Macfarlane do a reading of his new book ‘The Old Ways’ at the London Review Bookshop. I had been lucky enough to get an advanced copy of the book and had read most of it before hearing him speak eloquently about a series of walks he had taken around the UK and the book’s central themes of landscape, self and storytelling.

But discussion wasn’t limited to the book and through his asides and the  generous 20 minutes of questions afterwards, I felt like I learnt a lot about Rob, his insomnia, the thousands of words which had been edited out of the final edition, his reading habits and the relationship with his students at Cambridge. I even saw the good nature with which he spoke to the people who had paid to hear him talk and request his signature afterwards.

More than that though, I found as I read the final 100 pages of ‘The Old Ways’, that I could almost hear Rob speaking the words I was reading. The final chapters, in which he returns to England having been walking abroad, were some of the most enjoyable in the book because I could hear his accent, intonation and turn of phrase. It was like he was giving me a personal reading. And it dawned on me that this was very powerful. Not only did I enjoy the book more having heard Rob talk but I was probably more likely to buy his two previous books on the same loose topic of place and person (although I would have done so anyway, just with less haste).

I recalled an occasion, back in 2006, when I went to see The Times‘ chief sportswriters Simon Barnes speak with Olympic gold medallist Matthew Pinsent and author Lynne Truss about the meaning of sport to promote his book of the same name. I had only really read Barnes in The Times up until that point but, having him speak so passionately about Federer and the Olympics and his love of horses and birds, I went and bought his other books, namely ‘How to be a Bad Birdwatcher’ and ‘The Horsey Life’. Both through his written articles and his spoken words, I became quite loyal to Simon, instilling him as one of my favourite writers and putting him on my Freshers t-shirt in the first few weeks of university where it asked for my favourite author (all the other English undergraduates had Keats and Austen so I had to do lot of explaining in those early weeks).

Now I can’t be the only person that has experienced this kind of relationshop with a writer, of reading, then hearing, of added enjoyment, then loyalty and then stumping up some cash. Hey, it happens in the music industry all the time – you hear an album, you like it, you go to a gig, you like their previously unheard old stuff, you buy that too and become loyal fans. So why don’t journalists speak more in public? Why is it that they only come out and talk when there is a book to promote? (which I have no problem with, by the way) The main arguments are probably one or a combination of a) not interested, b) not comfortable speaking and c) not enough time.

My point, though, is that there appears to be a lot to gain if a media organisation can get journalists and readers in the same room – as I showed, there’s a greater inclination to pay for that writer’s work but also to tolerate mistakes from that person or the brand they represent, whether it be customer service or otherwise. (NB: clearly this is a hunch and I have no stats). It may well be The Guardian, with their Open Weekend concept, that do this first and best. Whoever it is though, that idea of hearing from a journalist on top of having their thoughts mediated through words, has substantial implications, for Fresher’s Week t-shirts if nothing else.