Sunday, March 20, 2011

World Book Night and non-readers.

Interesting comment by Annette Green at The View From Here, on the success or otherwise of World Book Night, quoting some figures. My own comment is more anecdotal. The Oxfam bookshop in our middle-class and pretty literary Didsbury was giving away two of the titles, a thriller (I can't even remember the title: you may know what it was) and Carol Ann Duffy's The World's Wife. Beforehand I talked about it to Wendy, the manager. Since one of the stated aims had been to get books to people who don't normally read, I asked her if she thought it remotely possible that those sort of people would come and ask for a book (the shop wasn't doing any kind of event, simply advertising in its window that the books would be available for collection). She told me that initially she had thought of giving the books out in the deprived area near where she lives, but the more she thought about it, the more she thought it would be a wasted exercise: so many people there aren't even literate. So she decided to give the books away in the shop instead. She said she would observe carefully those coming for the books and let me know.

Well, I went down to see myself, arriving twenty minutes after the giveaway was due to start. I saw nothing: turned out that beforehand a queue had formed right around the block, but they had cleared out of books within 15 minutes. Everyone had grabbed their book and immediately scarpered! There was just no one around! The staff told me that everyone collecting a book had indeed been your typical book-buying middle-class Didsbury type who'd have been more likely than anyone to buy the books in the first place.

So much for getting the books to those who don't normally read. Although I have to say (as an ex English teacher) that either that was a pious whitewash or those organizing WBN, who really ought to know the harsh facts about the extent of non-reading in our culture and its psychology, had better wise up quick.


Dan Holloway said...

That would be Lee Child :))

I've been saying from the moment this was announced mid 2010 (I believe I made some sort of commet on the original Guardian announcement likening it to Nestle's marketing tactics for formula and Microsoft's packaging of browsers) that this was more about the publishing industry influencing the future buying habits of those who already buy books than trying to reach new readers. Either that or, as you suggest, they're wetter behind the ears than a waterbed showroom hosting a hunt the tuna convention for local felines. Neither covers them in glory exactly.

There needs to be more research on why non-readers don't read before any more well-intentioned gimmicks deny more authors more royalties and more bookstores more sales, but I would hazard the following for consideration:

1. Maybe non-readers don't read not because they can't afford it or don't know what's out there but because what's out there doesn't interest them. So if you REALLY want new readers offer something different from what's already there

2. How about maybe involving an amazing project like ABC Tales that gives a voice to the voiceless - i've been saying for as long as I've been blogging THAT is the real problem with literary alienation - people don't just want books *about* "people like them" they want books BY and about them - regardless of whether they seem to a publisher who's nothing to do with them and has precisely zero market data to base assumptions on.

3. If money IS at the heart of the problem, then establish a linkage with the benefits system rather than having this rather clubby-huggy "giving" set-up

4. And if it's such a big deal to have free books, then make maybe even 10% of the rumpus about the thousands of ebooks that are available for free 365 days of the year (and not just self-published ones, though those may satisfy point 2 - but also out of copyright classics).

5. For the money spent, how many Kindles could have been bought and loaded with free books and given to the poorest schools and libraries?

Sadly, all of the above have one problem in common - they do not benefit the big publishers. So come on, publishers, for WBN 2012, either support an initiative like the above OR admit that you're in it for YOU at least as much as potential readers, and above all

1. do your research!!! You know, like you're always telling us writers we have to before we submit our half-baked projects to you

2. have the decency to be transparent

Elizabeth Baines said...

Great points, Dan.

Karen Millen Dresses said...
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