A long World Book Day’s journey into World Book Night

Claire Armitstead reports today in the Guardian that 40.8% of teens aged between 13 and 18 have read a book on a computer, 17.2% have read one on a mobile phone, and 13.3% on a Tablet or iPad.  That last number is interesting – because tablet technology only entered the mainstream a year ago.

This Thursday is World Book Day (and for the first time, World Book Night as well).  As a former chairman of WBD, I think that it’s a hugely valuable asset in our national calendar – not so much for the PR that it generates, but for the individual potential of the gift of a book to every child in the country.  I may be getting sentimental and condescendingly Victorian about this, but I believe there are few more worthwhile things one can do than introduce a child to reading.  If the child’s house is book-free, if their school is not academic, then the effort is that much more important.

The basis of the World Book Day children’s offer has been the issuance of a £1 Book Token to every child in the country, redeemable for a £1 WBD special book, or redeemable against the purchase of any other book.  A passive gift does little good, however; schools and booksellers have to work together to bring children and books together, to explore what is available and make their choices.

Now, the number of specialist bookshops is falling inexorably, and children are – inevitably – spending more time on devices and less with paper.  Supermarkets like Tesco participate in WBD, but hardly offer the service or environment required to engender a lifelong love of reading.  Amazon doesn’t redeem WBD tokens.

I hope that serious thought is being given to the continuance of the children’s WBD principle in a future where paper plays an ever-smaller role.  I’d be happy to participate.

All of this is separate from World Book Day’s ongoing efforts to attract more adult readers.  This has always felt, to me, like an entirely separate project, and I was never too happy with the muddying of WBD’s child focus with various adult-orientated ideas – postcard schemes, customer surveys etc.  The thoroughly admirable Quick Reads programme, targeting lapsed readers, is a free-standing concept that I’d love to see escape from the WBD umbrella.

This year’s adult focus is World Book Night, when 20,000 volunteers will be giving away 1m full price adult books, at a nominal “cost” to the trade of, say, £7.5m in “lost sales”.  The motives for this event, and the support it’s received from authors, publishers and the media has been admirable.

But I do worry about “free” – I don’t think something with the inherent value of a book should ever be “free”.  Children’s WBD titles are exchanged for a token with a cash value; even multibuy promotions (3 for 2 etc) require a considered purchase from the customer.  Nicola Morgan blogged yesterday about an alternative approach to World Book Night, wherein members of the public are encouraged to buy a book as a gift (an idea much closer to the original, Barcelona-born WBD).

Instinctively, I favour this approach – a gift is a considered transaction, that says something about the giver and the recipient.  However, I recognise that, to achieve “cut-through” in the media, the free splash probably has more traction.  I wonder how many of those free books will actually result in new readers?  I’ll be in Foyles tomorrow, looking for a gift…

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One Comment on “A long World Book Day’s journey into World Book Night”

  1. Philip – you echo my views. And I like to think of you in Foyles, buying a book to give to someone. I’ll be in The Edinburgh Bookshop, but I haven’t yet decided what i’ll buy or who for – the joy of browsing!