Monday, 23 January 2012

World Book Night

Writing on Facebook, our writer J. David Simons said about the forthcoming World Book Night: I'm not sure what to think of World Book Night. Of course, it is a noble cause to get great books out there into the hands of readers. I wonder what kind of deals these already well-known writers have with their publishers - is there anything in at all for the writers apart from the proliferation of their books? [I know a couple of the writers on the list- I must ask them]. If it's all for free, could we have other such nights of free services for other noble causes? A World Boiler-Fixing Night, A World Car-Servicing Night, A World Free Banking Night, A World Free Bottle of Wine Night, A World Free Cinema Night, A World Free Insurance Night. Why does it always have to be the writers that give away their work for free?!

My own experience of WBN is limited. Last year I was a "giver" but rather than send the books to my appointed pick up point, a bookshop, WBN sent them to a library miles from where I live and work. Two buses away in fact (I don't drive). I was not keen on carrying 48 copies of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold on the buses, but I did not need to as the books never actually arrived. They are out there somewhere. I did, however, make up part of a panel at an arts association in deepest rural Leicestershire, with a writer, a librarian and a bookseller. Several of the association were givers. We had a very good discussion on all things bookish, and WBN was the trigger.

I can see David's point, but I know that he and most other writers do want to create a reading culture whereas I doubt the bloke who comes to mend our boiler wants to put boilers at the heart of public life. And, locally, some people have from time to time organised free cinema showings on giant screens for all to see. Certainly we give away some overstocks from time to time - usually anthologies lest any individual author gets upset - as freebies in, for example, Library Reading Day goodie bags.

My main concern about WBN is that as that it relies on well known writers giving their work away free (I presume it is free) it will perpetuate the dominance of those big name writers. Wouldn't it be grand if WBN also had some dosh to pay deserving writers, and deserving small publishers to enable, well, us to give away 25,000 books to help draw the reading public's attention towards, say, J. David Simons?

WBN givers often do try hard to get books into the hands of those who don't read very much, but I confess that over the last year I've got my hands on several of last year's list, introducing me to writers I'd been meaning to read. We all like freebies. I mentioned recently to Robert Chandler, the translator of Life and Fate, that I'd recently found a copy of his book in goodie bag at a Vintage event, having already bought two copies. He said that he was recently at a similar event and on leaving found his goodie bag had that book in it too.

Some bookshops have been concerned about books being devalued by being free, or taking up people's reading time to the exclusion of bought books. I don't accept that. Most book readers read from all sorts of sources, bookshops, second hand bookshops, libraries, book sales at summer fetes, borrowing from friends. But I'm interested to see how this argument develops.

1 comment:

J. David Simons said...

As a follow up to this discussion, I have been in contact with one of the authors on the WBN list. Choice of whether to put book on list is entirely with the author - no royalties involved and is seen purely as a charity donation by the author. There is some talk of the possibility that authors could offset lost royalties against tax - that sounds like a good idea especially if the books are seen as a charity donaiton. This particular author believes that for the time being at least it is a good idea but a lot depends on who the volunteer distributors are and who ends up with the books. I must confess to receiving a whole pile of WBN books from Waterstones last year in return for participating in a WBN event - I haven't read any of them yet!