Wednesday 18 April 2012

Complementary World Book Night again - #WBNextra

Well, hey-ho: here I am, blogging about World Book Night again. Why the hey-honess? Because I regret that I have to repeat myself. Last year, I proposed a simpler way to achieve the same aims. WBN aims to increase readership - fabulous! The Complementary WBN aims to increase readership while also boosting book sales, and directly helping authors (not just the prescribed 25), their publishers and agents, and bookshops. Fabulouser, in my view.

The Complementary WBN idea (which I'll explain in a minute) created so much support last year that I found myself on Newsnight, and quoted in many newspaper articles. In fact, the lovely Julia Kingsford, CEO of WBN, asked to meet me later to discuss what could be done the next year. We met. And, as far as I can see, absolutely nothing was taken on board. I'm sorry, Julia, and I'm grateful to you for talking to me, but I just don't think I got through to you at all. I have logged that as one of my failures.

After I blogged last year, and after WBN was over, I was contacted by a wide variety of people high up in the book industry, who had not been able to speak out, who favoured my simpler, cheaper, more heart-warming idea. They all hoped I would do it again. Some of them asked where I was going to get funding. I have no funding. The idea at this stage needs no funding. That's one reason why it is a good idea.

Last week, I was chatting to someone in publishing, and she said words to this effect: "Sadly, it seems that the whole industry has given up and is simply going along with WBN. I hope people follow your idea though!"

The problems with WBN (bearing in mind that I love the motivation and hate having to knock it)  
  • It's unnecessarily expensive. 
  • It's absurdly unnecessarily complicated.
  • It involves a prescribed list. (I don't object to the books on the list. I object to there being a list at all.)
  • I can't see how it helps authors or publishing (except the authors and publishers of the prescribed books.)
  • It does not directly produce book-sales, which bookshops badly need.
  • It involves the special printing of a million books, rather than selling a million copies of normally printed books.
  • Therefore it is wasteful of time, money and resources.
Last year on the night itself, Twitter was full of messages such as, "Where can I get a free copy of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie?" No! If people want to read books for nothing, they should use a public library - that's what a library is for and anything that undermines that does not get my vote. This was not the aim of the initiative. 

Don't get me wrong: as before, I LOVE the energy behind the idea of giving away so many books. (Though someone always pays when something is offered "free" and I think many people fail to notice who pays.) I HATE that I have to raise a voice of any negativity against it. Again. I LOVE the enthusiasm of the organisers and the givers, and the stories of happy recipients. But I find myself shaking my head at the shocking waste of money, energy and time, when our industry so badly needs a commercial boost. The same aims could have been achieved more simply and at less cost to the industry. Actually, with gain to the industry.

What is Complementary World Book Night?
Simple! Any person buys any book of his or her choice from any bookshop of his or her choice and gives it to any person or organisation of his or her choice, after writing a simple message in the front. My suggested message is: "A Complementary World Book Night book, bought and given in the spirit of World Book Night 2012, bought from ****** bookshop. Enjoy!" And you can add any other message and your name if you wish.

WBN is 23rd April, so that's the target date for doing this.

How lovely it is to give a book. To give a book to someone who might love it, who might not otherwise have read it, or who might not have read anything, who might not have access to books. Indeed, it is. But how much better it feels to give a book that you have bought, thereby helping your chosen author, your chosen bookshop and your chosen reader.

If you'd like to do this, please comment below. Tell me where you plan to buy your book, what it might be and who or what you would like to give it to. And spread the word!

Remember, this is not an ALTERNATIVE to WBN. It's complementary, extra, a bonus. Do both if you wish! The hashtag on Twitter will be #WBNextra.


catdownunder said...

We do not have World Book Night here. I do not know why.
It is, supposedly, the National Year of Reading here Downunder. I suggested something along these lines to some local book people. Oh yes, good idea they said. Nothing has been done. I was then told not to interfere as they "have things organised".
All I can do is sympathise madly and say, "I guess we both need to try again." Sigh!

Elen C said...

I'll be in Spain that day - yay!
But I bet there'll be bookshops nearby and I bet they need support too. So, I will be buying and giving in an international way.

Rosemary said...

I agree - WBN is all very well, but the narrow range of books means that many are given out and not read - they are always turning up in charity shops. I don't think people value them very much 'oh, it was free, oh well it probably isn't very good then'. It's a much better idea for people to choose a specific book for a specific person. I am buying a copy of Harry Pearson's "Hound Dog Days" and sending it to a friend who needs cheering up.

And yes, if you want a free copy of something the libraries need support too!

The Staff Wielder said...

This sounds like a lovely idea, and as you said, so simple! I'm gonna get my thinking cap on with this one!

Nicola Morgan said...

Elen and Cat - thank you for bringing a truly international flavour to the idea!

Rosemary - yes, I decided not to mention all the stories of places where WBN books ended up last year! Thanks so much for joining in and that's a great idea to give a book to a friend who needs cheering up.

Janet O'Kane said...

I acted on your suggestion last year, Nicola, and bought a book for my hairdresser's daughter. This year I plan to buy one for a friend's baby son (because you can never start having books too early).
Complementary World Book Night is a brilliant idea and makes a lot more sense than WBN itself. Bravo for stating the case so cogently.

Jan Jones said...

Excellent, Nicola. I would have done this again anyway, this year, so I'm delighted that other people will too

Unknown said...

Nicola, you are a star. I've been ruminating on why I am uneasy with WBN - struggling to justify myself - and you have articulated my feelings perfectly. I will be buying a book from my local Waterstones in Ayr - not sure which one yet, or who I will give it to. More ruminating to do.

Inkpen said...

I'm not clear about who receives these books - though the WBN site does mention giving them out in prisons, as an example. I would like to know that books were going to someone who has no access to books at home or who can't afford the shiny smooth pleasure of a new book and I'm not sure how to achieve that in either WBN or CWBN - most of my friends already read! I enjoyed doing the Children's Book Tree at Christmas for that reason - also highlighted here, thank you, Nicola!

Sarah said...

I've just seen a link to this post on Twitter and think it is such a fabulous idea. I guess the philosophy behind WBN is that receivers might be introduced to authors they've not tried before and this should, in theory, drive future book sales. I hadn't quite appreciated though the cost of running WBN, so your idea makes perfect sense! I am taking part in WBN Events at my local Waterstones and my local library, both are promoting non WBN books and local authors. I hope to be introduced to some new reads this way. Your post has inspired me to take part in the Complementary WBN and I will be buying some books to pass as well as receiving a few free ones.

Cat Anderson said...

Thanks for raising this again Nicola. I've ended up feeling so let down by it this year - more than last year - promises to listen to booksellers were made (and kept) but not taken forward. WBN was supposed to be about introducing non-readers to books or inviting back lapsed readers to a love of reading. You only have to look on the Facebook page to see that Givers have no idea the ethos behind it and it now feels like it is back to being a jolly little party for booklovers. Great if we can highlight to those booklovers the industry plight and the importance of buying from bricks and mortar when you can (not supermarkets), but I'm not sure a 'free' book gives any such message. Why can't they take the World Book Day token idea forward? Tokens for money off a book? And where has the promotion been? I work in the book trade and WBN feels like a non-entity this year. It is so frustrating when it could be SO good for so many. So yes, I will be buying full price books from all my lovely local bookshops (not supermarkets) and giving them away with a note about where they came from.

Nicola Morgan said...

Janet, Jan and Pam - great to see you back again! Thanks for doing this. And enjoy!

Sarah - delighted that you're involved in both. Perfect.

Michael - enjoy your ruminating! I'm glad I found a way for you to be involved while feeling 100% positive about it.

Inkpen - I do agree that neither WBN nor CWBN quite nail the "books to those without access" need. Each of them can, but it depends on the individual givers. But I think that buying and giving a book is enough of a boost to the whole world of reading and book-loving, and the person you give a book to, even if already a reader. Essentially it gives power to each recipient and buyer to pass the vibe on.

Nicola Morgan said...

Cat - I have heard this same message from other booksellers. It's very depressing. And you make a good point about supermarkets - and I've got into delicious trouble with Sainsbury's i the past for waving the same flag!

I'm also interested that as a bookseller you've seen too little promotion for WBN this year. I thought it was just me missing it.

Kath McGurl said...

This is a great idea! I thought so last year but dunno what happened, I didn't actually do it. WILL DO IT this year.

Anonymous said...

I will do it this year too!

Miss McFish said...

I will do it this year too!

Anouska Huggins said...

Such a brilliant idea.

I have decided that, as well as sending one to my daughter (any excuse), I will leave a book in a random place for someone to find. Hope they enjoy it!

Debbie Viggiano said...

A lady who knows her stuff and talks a lot of common sense!

Diane Fordham said...

I like the idea :-)

Vikki T said...

I'm a World Book Night giver this year (for the first time) and I agree with a lot of what you've said, you have a great idea there......but, I'm also a BookCrosser ( so I am always buying books and then giving them to friends and family, something a lot of authors are very much against.

I'll give it a go this year, see how it goes lol

Vikki xx

Iain Broome said...

Bravo. Hooray. I'll pop something on WfYL.

Cameron said...

Add France to the list.

Lindsay said...

I was a WBN giver last year and this year and I hope next year as well. Don't knock the idea. By all means encourage the idea that people can buy and give books as well - I buy/give loads! WBN was more about reading than bookselling and my books went to people who had been homeless and were now setting up homes, people who weren't very motivated to read so didn't use libraries, people in mental health units to name a few.
Some people have never owned books let alone a new book - WBN can reach some of them.

Nicola Morgan said...

Lindsay - that's great. Believe me, I fully understand the issues, but I understand them from more sides than you perhaps realised. I am also a former literacy expert whose dissertation was on adult literacy and poor access to books and I've worked all my life to bring books and reading to ALL sorts of readers. But there are economic issues and the fact is that without a healthy industry that supports bookselling and writing, the whole idea of promoting readership becomes harder. I do think I've made it very clear that my idea is not alternative to WBN, but complementary and extra. I've made clear my discomfort at seeming to knock the idea, but at the same time I feel so strongly about the need for a strong book industry, and the need to support booksellers and writers, as well as readers and reluctant readers, that I cannot stay quiet when I see problems that i think could be addressed.

I also think that the energies of those who rightly worry about people who don't have books would be best used supporting library use and funding. Less sexy than WBN, but more valuable, I believe.

Julie Cohen said...

I did both last year, because the WBN book was one I cared about and I gave it to people who I thought needed a boost (at hospice and gyno. ward).

This year, I'll be doing only the complementary version. I plan to get a signed book at a literary festival this weekend and leave it somewhere that someone will find it and love it.

Unknown said...

I gave out copies of The World's Wife last year, wandering round our local park, pressing them on unsuspecting people. I was surprised by how suspicious many of them were, looking for the catch in a there's-no-such-thing-as-a-free-lunch (or book) kind of way. And as you point out, there isn't, somebody always pays. It was, in many ways, a gratifying experience, but I'm not doing it again this year. I'll follow your suggestion instead...

Julie Cohen said...

Did it. Blogged it. Here you go:

Anonymous said...

I bought a book at independent book shop 'Jaffe & Neale' in Chipping Norton, during the literary festival on Saturday. It's 'Kiss Like You Mean It' by Louise Harwood (who, interestingly, said she didn't want that title - or that cover - but Tesco's did and they had the final say! The supermarkets have that much power these days over books). I'm giving it away on my blog but I've also used the post to talk about Complementary World Book Night and its aims. Thanks Nicola - great idea.

M Louise Kelly said...

Enjoyed going into the Edinburgh Bookshop to buy a book to give to my local high school. Great idea, Nicola.

Sarah said...

I have bought a copy of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry from a local independent bookshop that I shall be giving to a friend who regularly takes my son to tennis.
I've always wanted to get a gift to say thank you and this seemed a perfect idea.
I am currently reading the book on my Kindle and thoroughly enjoying it.
Otherwise I'm afraid I've never heard of WBN before - I'm sure I don't walk around with my eyes closed!
CWBN is a great idea!

Evelyn said...

Necklace admirer commenting again!

Complementary is my field so I loved your idea for WBN.
My older daughter has just received a "What do you think?" book from me. Her little sister's bedroom is creaking at the seams with dark romances and I dare not add to the critical mass. For my husband, a Jo Nesbo, to transport his weary soul back to Norway for a few hours.
Woke up at 5am this morning thinking about what to blog about and domain names and blog titles. Brain fully engaged.
You and your wonderful blog site and all the cheery commentators have really inspired me. Thank you everyone!