Halt called to US World Book Night

Halt called to US World Book Night

World Book Night in the US is to suspend operations after failing to secure outside funding.

The charitable event, which followed the flagship UK format in getting book lovers to hand out 1.5m free books on one dedicated night to encourage more people to read, started in 2011 and ran for three years.

World Book Night US executive director Carl Lennertz said the expenses of running World Book Night US, even given the significant financial and time commitment from publishers, writers, booksellers, librarians, printers, distributors, and shippers, were “too high to sustain without additional outside funding.”

He said: “This has been a remarkable, passionate undertaking, and it has been a success by all measures, except for one - outside funding. For three years, the publishing industry and book community have very generously footed the bill and contributed enormous time and effort, and my gratitude for all of that is immeasurable. For us here at World Book Night, this experience has been life-changing, as it has been for the givers and recipients of the books.

“Given our continued, concerted efforts, we had hoped to have more success with grant requests. But there are a lot of other worthy causes out there and only so much money available. Unfortunately, we can’t carry on without significant new outside funding.”

He added that WBN staff would be staying on hand without pay through until 1st September to maintain social media contact with the givers, and to announce the winners of the giver essay contest.

World Book Night U.S. Board Chairman Michael Pietsch said the altruistic spirit of the givers and of industry supporters involved in WBN US have reminded “us all of the transformative impact books have on people’s lives, and of the power of a book as a gift.” He thanks Lennertz for his “inspiring leadership.”

The closure of WBN in the US follows troubles with the operation in Germany, which has also found funding an issue and raises questions about the future of the UK arm.

However, Sue Wilkinson, c.e.o of the Reading Agency, emphasised that World Book Night US was a "separate entity" from the UK programme and confirmed that publishers had committed at least two years worth of support for UK WBN activity while it transferred under the Reading Agency's umbrella.

She said: "The suspension of operations in the US will therefore not affect World Book Night in the UK.  Publishers in the UK committed to two years of initial support on the transfer of World Book Night activities to The Reading Agency, and this sits alongside the extraordinary industry-wide coalition of authors, agents, printers (Clays and CPI), distributors (Yodel), private donors, trusts and foundations, Arts Council England, libraries, booksellers and, of course, the vast numbers of givers whose in-kind support, cash and volunteer help deliver the programme across the whole of the UK." She added the charity had "exciting plans" for WBN going forward, whcih would be "shaped and informed" by research it conducted with 5,700 WBN volunteers who responded to its survey.

Jamie Byng, m.d of Canongate and original founder of WBN, also dismissed any concern for the future of the UK WBN in light of the development.

He told The Bookseller: “The decision we took last year to bring World Book Night under the umbrella of the Reading Agency was a really great decision, which was borne out with World Book Night 2014. I know the Reading Agency feels incredibly positive about what World Book Night adds to it and how it encourages reading in this country.”

Byng added that he was “disappointed” the US WBN had been forced to suspend operations.  “I am sad because in the three years it was running in the US, they did a lot with World Book Night. We hoped it would have continued into its fourth, fifth and subsequent years so it is a shame.” However, he added: “In three years it did many of the things we hoped it would, which is put books into the hands of more people. I think they did that to enormous effect and that is something to be celebrated.”

WBN's former chief executive Julia Kingsford, who left the role when The Reading Agency took over the project, said: “It's very sad that World Book Night in America isn't able to continue due to a lack of external funding. Launching it in the midst of financial crisis and industry change was always going to be a challenge but its achievements in three years shouldn't be underestimated. Under the inspiring leadership of executive director Carl Lennertz, hundreds of thousands of lives were touched by the gift of books from activists in every State, from the north coast of Alaska to Hawaii's southernmost island. So the legacy will live on in fledgling readers and empowered communities who now know how powerful the gift of reading really is.”