Friday, 25 March 2011

World Book Night: An Epilogue

World Book Night has taken me longer to write up than any event I can recall. Most of my review pieces take shape fast, organically, from clear impressions. But for some inexplicable reason I’ve found it hard to get a handle on WBN. What was that all about?

After several weeks of fruitless pondering I was approaching cerebral meltdown. In a fit of what I hope was inspiration, I decided to explain WBN to an imaginary friend – one who’d been incommunicado in solitary for a year – in order to clear my head. The conversation went something like this:

OWS: Yes, they’re calling it World Book Night. It’s new this year.
IF: That’ll be the night of World Book Day, then?
OWS: No. It’s three days later.
IF: World Book Day encourages children to read. I guess World Book Night is aimed at the world’s non-reading adults?
OWS: No. UK only.
IF: But directed at non-readers?
OWS: Not exactly. They’re attempting to give away a million books.
IF: Attempting?
OWS: That’s what they say: The biggest book giveaway ever attempted.
IF: Sounds very charitable.
OWS: Yes. And on the night before WBN there’s a grand bash for the book givers with famous writers and other celebs in Trafalgar Square. Oh, and there’ll be limited edition T-shirts, too.
IF: Sounds a lot like Band Aid?
OWS: Yes. Only this event is free and…
IF: There are no bands?
OWS: Yeah.
IF: And there’s no aid?
OWS: …I suppose… But think of all those free books. They’ll be passed from reader to reader for years. There’s no knowing how many people they’ll reach.
IF: That could fulfil the ‘World’ bit, then?
OWS: Indeed. And the 25 chosen titles will be specially printed for WBN.
IF: Specially printed?
OWS: Uh, huh.
IF: Doesn’t that make them limited edition – you know – collectors’ items?
OWS: …I guess.
IF: Won’t there be temptation to hang on to the books, maybe to collect all 25 titles?
OWS: Now you’re just being cynical.
IF: How many givers did you say?
OWS: 20,000
IF: That’s an awful lot of people in Trafalgar Square to collect their reward.
OWS: No worries. It’s limited to 2,500 pairs of tickets: first come first served.
IF: Won’t that – sort of – limit the take-up to the South East?
OWS: Possibly. But don’t forget the Antony Gormley designed T-shirts.
IF: Of course – there’ll be 20,000 T-shirts.
OWS: No. 1,000: first come first served.
IF: So… first to arrive on WBN will get T-shirts?
OWS: Ah… No.
IF: First to arrive at Trafalgar Square will get T-shirts?
OWS: Not quite.
IF: Who does get T-shirts then?
OWS: First to arrive at Waterstones in Piccadilly, the day before Trafalgar Square.
IF: Ah… That’s pretty much the book givers who work in or around London, eh?
OWS: Mmmm…
IF: And they’re planning to do all this again next year?
OWS: So it seems.

I based that fantasy exchange on a view from before the event of course.  Had I told my imaginary friend that we’d been requested to enter manually in each book a 10-digit code – received only a day before Trafalgar Square – he might well have pleaded to be locked up again. Especially given that anyone receiving a manually coded WBN book will be unlikely to have the slightest idea what the code means or what to do with it (For the record: it’s intended to make the book traceable on a website called

I should explain that, at the time of my becoming involved with WBN, I had no idea there were to be perks for the givers. I submitted my application in response to a TV advert in 2010 as one of the ‘givers’ to distribute a million books because it seemed like a good idea to encourage others to read. In short, I believed I was offering to take part in an essentially charitable undertaking.

In fairness I must add that from a viewpoint of my personal satisfaction World Book Night was a success. The Trafalgar Square event was a blast. Terrific atmosphere. Cool in every sense. And my own book-giving event cemented friendships within Verulam Writers Circle, with Radio Verulam presenter Danny Smith and with Sean, the helpful manager at Waterstones, St Albans. Yes, WBN and its precursor event proved to be fun and memorable. But what was WBN really all about?

Friends from Verulam Writers' Circle with Radio Verulam's Danny Smith at Waterstones, St Albans on WBN

Perhaps a writer with excessive imagination might liken World Book Night to the irrational convulsions of a doomed giant in denial. But I couldn't possibly comment. Anyway, worry not. If a leviathan is expiring it is the legacy world of paper publication: AKA the treebook trade. Publishing – you'll be relieved to hear – is alive and well. At least Ebooks and their authors are thriving, or so it seems.  < NB This link connects to a long piece. But it's one not to miss if you need to know the latest buzz about publishing. [CONTENT WARNING: Do, please, ignore the "monkey" link if you’re easily offended]

Penultimately, a prediction: Electronic delivery – on one platform or another – will dominate book publishing within two years, supplying our reading needs without ever completely replacing codex (paper) books. The codex book though will fast become a luxury item, a lifestyle statement saying: 'This is who I am'. When this metamorphosis is complete only the best-loved and most prestigious works will transfer to paper. Then more than ever you’ll judge a person’s credibility by checking out the spines of their Kafka and their Joyce.

So prepare for some shake-ups in the immediate future of publishing. It will still be book publishing but certainly not as we know it.  Maybe – in the fullness of time – this will prove to be what World Book Night was really all about?