Saturday the 5th of March has been designated (by whom? I’m not entirely sure) World Book Night. I think World Book Day comes just before it – who knows. Anyway, it consists mainly of a mass give-away by selected volunteers of a million free books, all donated by the publishers. These free copies will spread far and wide, given to friends or strangers, and will (hopefully) open the world of literature to people who either read little or who haven’t picked up a book since they were forced to do so at school. So far, so commendable.
Except … who really benefits from this. The publishers? No – they’re spending tens of thousands of pounds printing and distributing books for free. The authors? No – all the selected authors aren’t getting paid. The bookshops? No – they’ve been mostly cut out of the loop, and independent booksellers are worried that it’s going to affect their ability to sell titles at the RRP if people become habituated to the idea that books can or should just be given away. The readers? Probably – a lot of people are going to get a free book, and what’s not to like there? The writer Nicola Morgan has come up with an alternative to this plan though, a book promotion scheme that would actually benefit everyone involved in it, from the authors to the publishers to the bookshops to the people who end up with a nice book to read, for free. (Here’s a link to the article in the Guardian, and here’s a link to Nicola Morgan’s blog.) The central idea is simple: instead of distributing dozens of free copies of one particular title to all and sundry, you buy one book, either direct from the publisher or from an independent bookshop, and give it to someone you know will like it. Everyone in the industry gets a boost, and you get to give a book with rather more discrimination to someone you actually care about. The only problem I can see with this plan is the dearth of decent independent bookshops around, but where I live I can think of Hyndland Books up on Hyndland Road, and even (at a push) John Smith and Son at the University, and in any case, ordering online from the publisher cuts out the middle man and benefits the publishers directly.
Everyone should do it, this week. Buy a book from one of these sources, and give it to someone you love. Or even just someone you vaguely like.