Alain de Botton is a respected European writer who was ready to bite the arms off anyone standing in the way of his contract to spend a week sitting in an airport, writing a boring airport book. Writing careers suck.
A PR agency had to improve the reputation of shitty Heathrow airport in London, which, how are you going to do that? They are doing it by paying a respected literary figure to sit at a desk, in Heathrow airport, for one solid week, like a monkey in a cage, writing a book about sitting in Heathrow airport for a week, which will then be given away free to travelers at Heathrow airport. Then later if anybody has the bizarre desire to buy said book for cash money, the writer will get some (money). Sounds fun!
Consider what this says about the relative cultural strengths of the book industry vs. the advertising industry. Straight from the NYT:
1. Quote from Alain de Botton, writer: "Right from the start I said I can only do this if you don't even see the text before it goes to print...They just took a big gulp and then to their credit they said, ‘Fine, yes, you can say anything you want.' "
2. Quote from a representative of Heathrow, the ones with the money: "Alain bit our arms off to be involved in the project."
In this economy you could have Michael Chabon live in a glass coffin in your front yard for a month for a 12-pack of Michelob and four dozen donuts.