Wednesday, 2 March 2011
World Book Night
On the one hand, excitement courses through my veins like, well, sugar courses through my veins after one too many Cokes: I've signed up to be a 'Giver' for World Book Night - though that term is a bit Never Let Me Go for my liking - and am planning an afternoon of book busking in the centre of Norwich on Saturday afternoon followed by attending an event at the Millennium Library in the evening. Public celebration of books, building communities of readers, encouraging all to read great literature: these are the things I get most excited about. As a book lover its a chance for me to share some of the books I love with others, as a reader it's a chance to get my hands on copies of books I've long wanted to read but never quite got around to buying.
So far, so good. But there's a rather large BUT on the horizon. In fact, it's three huge BUTs:
1) BUT...what is the point of World Book Night?
As a major public engagement programme that a number of partners have committed serious resources too, I am amazed at how poorly the idea seems to have been developed. It seems to me that this is something that got off the ground thanks to a big idea - lets give away 1 million books! - and snowballed without anyone ever stopping to determine, or inform anyone else, what exactly the point was. There are no grand ideas that surround WBN, it doesn't appear to want to target improved literacy, introduce great books to those who might not otherwise read them, or even promote a discussion about contemporary literature. Let's give away 1 million books appears to be as far as the aims discussion ever got. The figure of 1 million books doesn't even appear to have been thought through. Why 1 million other than its a round number? Has anyone actually investigated whether there is a market for these 1 million books?
As someone who wants to be a committed cheerleader for reading, books, and World Book Night in particular, I find this lack of clarity frustrating and rather surprising.
Books can be so much more than just books. Charity can be so much more than just a free book. That there has been no effort to use World Book Night for the good of society amazes me. And that leads me on to BUT 2...
2) BUT...who actually benefits?
As far as I can see the only people who really gain are the 25 selected authors who benefit from widespread media coverage, front of store display in bookshops across the country, and an army of committed word-of-mouth fans promoting their book. And of course, that 20000 strong army of readers gets free books and the chance to give these away to people who will enjoy them. That in itself is one of the greatest joys for a reader.
But publishers who are spending thousands of pounds on printing special WBN copies of the titles receive what, except for front of store display for their books? And even more so, what of all the other authors not selected as part of WBN, who have been vocal in expressing their concern? Who is going to go out and buy, for instance, a copy of The Afrika Reich by debut author Guy Saville (published a couple of weeks ago to widespread acclaim) when there are a million books flooding the market. What reader will take a chance on a book they don't know much about when there are these 25 golden books served on a plate to them complete with the endorsement of readers throughout the land?
And what does that mean for booksellers too? It's not as if bookselling is particularly profitable at the moment anyway. That is why, on top of taking part in WBN, I will be purchasing a copy of another book (as yet undecided) from an independent bookshop - The Book Hive in Norwich - and personally matching it with someone I think will love it. If everyone did this as well as finding homes for their 48 copies for WBN, this mad project could be made to work for a far greater number of people.
This links nicely to my solution to BUT 3
3) BUT...what do I do?
So more than 20000 people have been sent 48 copies of a book they chose. What next? As with the lack of clear aims and objectives, there seems to be a whole scale lack of clarity about what exactly is the process for disseminating these million books. The much vaunted interactive website is still to go live and, as of today, Wednesday 2nd April, there isn't even a section on the current website for innovative ways for readers to get together and deliver WBN in their communities. This is a vast idea that appears utterly rudderless.
Sure, there are events taking place across the country, including a big one in Trafalgar Sq this Friday, but how is anyone to come along to such an event with a huge box of books? Trafalgar Square - billed as the biggest ever book reading - was programmed so late that few outside London will be able to attend, particularly since tickets must be collected from the local Waterstone's by 4.30pm that day.
I fear that a proportion of the one million books - and even if this is as little as 1%, that equates to 10000 books - will simply not find a home. They'll be given away slowly to friends and relatives, until everyone who wants a book has it, and then the left overs either dumped in the attic to gather mildew, or donated in their droves to charity shops everywhere. And what is the point in that?
At this point I want to emphasise that I'm not trying to knock all those who have worked hard to make this happen. Simply getting 1 million books out to 20000 givers is a logistical nightmare that I'll be impressed to see completed. But if there is ever a next time, a bit of planning, fore-thought and consideration for all those involved - whether directly participating or indirectly affected - would make for a far more effective programme.
Labels: World Book Night