World Book Night 2011: The ups & the downs

It’s been almost a week since the hype surrounding World Book Night reached its crescendo, as 20,000 givers prepared to hand out 1 million books across the UK. On the Friday before the book giving commenced, book givers received a welcome, appreciative email from Jamie Byng, Chair of World Book Night:

From the moment this wildly ambitious project to celebrate writing and reading on one night was conceived, it was the passion of readers that we always knew was going to lie at its very heart.  IF it is a success, it is going to be down to the personal passion of the givers who are sharing their love for a book with hundreds of thousands of people across the country.

I signed up to become a World Book Night giver in December, choosing to giveaway The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. With impending library closure and the general downturn trend in book buying, promoting reading seemed like a perfectly good idea. Yet, the idea quickly attracted critics like Vanessa Robertson, owner of the Edinburgh Bookshop, who called the idea ‘misguided and misjudged’. She suggested that it would ‘flood the market with free books and devalue the work of authors in the eyes of the public’. Seriously, what a load of nonsense.

World Book Night blurb
However, this attack on the book-giving event was a clever one; it hit us faithful book lovers where it hurt. It was no-ones intention to ‘flood the market’ or ‘devalue’ writing and so givers (myself included) frantically scrambled to come up with even more ingenious ideas, so that we looked as though not only did we want to spread the joy of reading, we now wanted to appease every critic and independent bookseller in the land. As more elaborate, fan-dangled book giving plans emerged, I regret being pressured into coming up with my own explicitly-book-industry-friendly plan.

World Book NightFor me, giving someone in the street a free book, or a fellow book lover for that matter, would neither ‘devalue’ writing or stop people from buying books. It could only trigger a positive ripple in the industry, whereby World Book Night recipients would not only be more likely to consider buying another book, but they would talk about books

Nevertheless, I succumbed, and one week before World Book Night on 5th March, I emailed a lengthy list of independent booksellers in Glasgow and Edinburgh (including the Edinburgh Bookshop), asking if they would like to be included in a flyer that I was planning to give away with my World Book Night books. I received just three responses to over fifteen emails.

In an effort to avoid the pressure of turning World Book Night into something that it wasn’t supposed to be, I went for a non-prescriptive approach to my book giving:

  • In a gave TEN books away to people who read my blog (because it’s also about people who DO spend money buying books)
  • I also gave away FIVE to followers on Twitter.
  • The rest… well I handed them out to people in cafes, libraries, queues and bus stops. Random acts of kindness that were very much appreciated.

And, I thoroughly enjoyed it! In each book, I included a mini Little Interpretations bookmark that I had specially printed (each bookmark had a different quote from The Prime of Miss jean Brodie on it!), as well as a flyer with the details of local independent book sellers on it. I also won a World Book Night book myself, The Life of Pi, via The Book Whisperer (thanks!).

In an effort to make World Book Night a WORLDWIDE event, not limited only to the UK, I posted books to the USA, The Netherlands and as far afield as Japan. And it was this aspect of World Book Night that was most rewarding to me.

What did you do for World Book Night?


15 thoughts on “World Book Night 2011: The ups & the downs

  1. Wow, you really went to some efforts to support the indies – what a shame they didn’t respond more positively. I love the ‘random acts of kindness’ element do it – I think the grumpy people really underestimate how much people do love to receive books; and like you, I’m sure that there’s going to be a really positive ripple effect as people start to read other books as a result.
    I have to read Muriel Spark’s autobiography in a couple of weeks for class – really looking forward to it! I read the prologue on the way home from the library and blimey, she’s a no-nonsense type of gal.

  2. I think you made a lot of effort for WBN and I’m glad you found it worthwhile in the end. Such a pity the book stores weren’t more interested.

    I liked it how you didn’t forget about the “world” in World Book Night and actually gave away books all over the place. (Thanks!) Now, in the spirit of WBN I am planning to give my book away too, I’m not sure to whom yet but I’m sure there will be an appreciative recipient somewhere.

  3. I have managed to get caught asleep that night… It went under my radar and I regret for not being involved. I think if someone thought through (like you did) and did it properly (like you did) it makes a lot of sense.
    I have to say that there is a danger that some people perceive free books (or products) as not valuable. These are the same people which do not see a problem in library cuts. They are not going to be converted with this type of action. Still there are many who will benefit and widen there horizons. Well done!

  4. Sounds like you did a great job in the end – but I completely sympathise with feeling the pressure to have all angles covered and jump through a few hoops that weren’t there when we originally signed up!

    We (with For Books’ Sake) had a film crew shadowing us, which almost turned into a PR disaster when the books didn’t arrive! We managed to rescue the situation after getting on Twitter and sounding an SOS, but it did make the experience more stressful than expected!

    Full details of what we got up to here if you want to have a nosey:

    Did your Penguin Mini Moderns turn up safe and sound?

    • Yikes! When I collected my books that week the Manager at Waterstones was having a mini breakdown as so many of the books hadn’t arrived yet! I can only imagine, I felt slightly stressed and that was without a film crew following me around :)

      Looks like you all had a great day… and a picture with Margaret Atwood! (INCREDIBLY jealous)

      I did receive my Penguin Mini Moderns, thank you so much, they are fab. I have finished reading the Samuel Beckett one and will be reviewing it soon!

  5. World Book Night sounds amazing to me; it’s a shame not all bookstore owners were on board with this. Perhaps their stores are struggling, but a free book can only encourage more reading so in the grand scheme, what a wonderful promotion to encourage literacy and reading. Thanks for hosting and posting! I love how you gave away books at bus stops; great idea!

  6. You’ve made a lovely effort – well done! I gave out my books at school pick-up time on the Monday after the big event. Amazingly loads of the Mums were keen to read my choice – the John le Carre, and I’ve had lots of nice comments back too.

    My local indie bookshop had a party on the night – and they shifted shedloads of books – so it made them money and we all had a lovely evening, couldn’t ask for more. I also bought a couple of books on the night specifically to give away on my blog too later.

  7. It sounds like you put a lot of effort into WBN. I am sorry to hear you received so little response from Independent booksellers, especially since there were so many complaints about WBN. I personally do not think that an event like this will devaluate books, I rather think the opposite, but I guess only time will tell which side of the story is true? Though I doubt you can ever measure such a thing.

  8. I’m in too remote a place to have participated. But here in New Zealand they were quite cannie: instead of personal giving, which I think is a wonderful idea, a whole of related institutions gave out altogether 1 miklion book tokens. I can’t remember the value of the tokens, I’m one of the view people in the country (of 4 million people) not to get one. But you would have to add to it – in a book shop – to get a book! @duthra

  9. I wanted to give a bookmark or card from the bookshop where I ws meant to pick up my books, but they had none. Hopefully they will also be more organised next year…

  10. Pingback: A Million Reasons to Read a Book | Intelligent Life

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