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World Book Night on the runway for 2011
17.10.10 | Neill Denny
World Book Night, a new nationwide event that will see a million books given away by 20,000 people, has been given the green light by the trade. A group of 25 titles will be selected for the giveaway on World Book Night, and the whole project has secured extensive BBC support. The event will also run in the Irish Republic, and has the backing of Irish broadcaster RTE.
The initiative is led by Canongate m.d. Jamie Byng. The idea came to him during a session at last summer's Book Industry Conference, in which a break-out stream led by Foyle's Julia Kingsford was asked to think of ways to re-energise World Book Day. "The most effective way to market a book is to give it to people, to encourage word-of-mouth," Byng said. The approach has built sales of the aptly named The Gift by Lewis Hyde, which Canongate publishes. "When I was thinking about World Book Night this was in my mind."
BBC creative director Alan Yentob was approached about the project by Byng in early August, after the BA/PA gave the conference initiative the go-ahead, and he backed the project on the spot. The BBC has now committed to extensive coverage of the official launch of World Book Night on Wednesday December 1st, which will feature an appeal for the 20,000 book-givers to come forward. The corporation has also committed to significant support on BBC2 on the night itself, Saturday 5th March. Yentob recommended Saturday because viewing figures are stronger. World Book Day takes place on 3rd March.
It will be up to the givers to decide how they will distribute their 50 copies, and to whom. An initial list of 100 books will be selected by the entire book trade; letters are rolling out this week to agents, librarians, publishers and retailers, including eery branch of Waterstone's. The trade can nominate books at firstname.lastname@example.org; the process ends on October 29. The longlist will be whittled down to 25 by an editorial committee chaired by Jim Naughtie of Radio 4's "Today Programme". It will include trade Figures such as W H Smith's Rachel Russell, Amazon's Amy Worth, Cactus' Amanda Ross and Tony Durcan, Newcastle's head librarian plus others including Stephen Fry, Alan Yentob and geneticist Steve Jones.
Twenty of the final 25 books will be by living British and Irish writers, with five wild cards available for authors living or dead from anywhere. There will be a mix of accessible fiction and non-fiction. Byng said: "It will be not at all top-end literary‹that would be a disaster. The books have to be of broad appeal, but of outstanding quality." Publishers will fund their own titles if selected, although the St Ives Group and Clays have already agreed to cut prices on the print runs.
Chaired by Byng, a 16-strong trade steering committee has been established to oversee WBN, featuring representatives from many major publishers--including Richard Cable, m.d. of CCV at Random House, Minna Fry, associate publisher at HarperCollins, Faber ceo Stpehen Page and Jo Prior, Penguin m.d., plus deputy chair of WBN Martin Neild, Curtis Brown md Jonny Geller, BA president Jane Streeter and BBC executive Mark Bell. The IPG is also backing the night whilst PR for the event is through Fiona McMorrough's FMCM.
Each of the million books will have a unique reference number and a list of the other 24 titles. Recipients can upload the details of their edition to a central web-hosted database, and record further owners of the book.
A group of high-profile patrons, mainly writers, has been recruited to support WBN: Margaret Atwood, Nick Cave, Dave Eggers, Antony Gormley, Seamus Heaney, Lewis Hyde, Andrew Motion, Philip Pullman, Tom Stoppard and Tilda Swinton. Atwood said: "World Book Night is truly an astonishing vision! It mirrors the way books really do move in the world - from one passionate reader to another. But this one night will be white water rafting, with books!"
Byng approached various international publishers at Frankfurt about extending the project and he predicts that in 2012 perhaps 30 countries will see a World Book Night.