Business profile: Kirsten Grant, World Book Day director

We all know that a dog is for life, not just for Christmas, but for World Book Day director Kirsten Grant, the message she wants to spread is that WBD is for the whole year, not just for one day. Joining the charity in August 2011, Grant’s aim is to turn WBD, and its newly revamped website, into a year-round resource for teachers, parents and librarians, celebrating books as it does on WBD for the other 364 days of the year.

“I want us to be a home for children’s books, a hub for news, events and the sharing of ideas, a trusted place where people can come to find information,” she says. WBD has always worked closely with other reading charities, be it World Book Night, Quick Reads or the Reading Agency, and Grant explains that part of her thinking is about joining up all of the dots: “It is about passing the baton from event to event, saying to children, parents, teachers and librarians: ‘you can go from WBD to the Summer Reading Challenge (SRC), and then from the SRC to another event.’”

Part of that process will be about encouraging user-generated content from the people who are integral to making WBD happen. “This year on the site we launched a showcase area, because we want booksellers, librarians and parents to have a voice and be able to upload and share their ideas for events and lessons. We want to help people inspire each other all year round. We’ve also launched an ‘ask the expert’ section on the site as well—the world of children’s books can be daunting as there is so much to choose from, so we’ve taken on six different experts (including Wendy Cooling and Julia Eccleshare) who will be working with me for a year on answering questions submitted by the public. My plan is to work with companies like Skype In The Classroom, so that we are offering something to teachers year-round. We could work with publishers and offer teachers the chance to have a lesson with a bestselling author, for example . . . those are the sorts of ideas I have floating around.”

Stream of consciousness

Alongside its new website, this year’s WBD will see some other new aspects to it—The Biggest Bookshow on Earth (a free online books festival) will be streamed into 40 Picture House cinemas nationwide for the first time, “which is exciting because I don’t just want all the activity to be in London—now there will be 40 small parties happening all over the country”. Storycraft, a new series of “writing tip” videos from bestselling authors, has also been released following feedback from teachers that it would be helpful to have more “how to” resources. This year will also see WBD branch into the world of augmented reality, with children and parents able to download Books Alive, an app which will “bring to life” both the WBD tokens and the WBD £1 books with author videos and trailers, “because everything we do, all the messaging we send out, is about making sure children redeem their tokens.”

When it comes to token redemption, Grant has very clear targets for this year. She is aiming for 1.2 million of the 14.3 million tokens that are sent out to be redeemed—showing just how much token-redemption work there is still to do.

Of course, the most important part of WBD is the books themselves; Grant would like their sales to reach £1m. This year’s offerings are from the likes of Francesca Simon, Anthony Horowitz, Shirley Hughes and Lauren Child, and Grant says that the “choice of books is absolutely critical, and that was completely born through last year, we had an amazing list of authors and sales were really good; it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, it really is all about the books. I think that previously publishers were seeing it as a chance to put forward authors that they were building and WBD is just not the platform for that. Instead we’re looking at a new retail promotion for the near future, which will be about launching newer authors.”

After this year’s event Grant will start putting together a three-year plan exploring all the ways WBD can be turned into a year-round resource. “I really value the support publishers and retailers give me, and I’m excited to hear any ideas they have about what we can do together; brilliant promotions in-store that can make WBD an opportunity for all authors and illustrators, not the just £1 WBD authors. There’s room for everyone.”