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World Book Night’s Free Giveaway Has Serious Impact

Edward Nawotka By Edward Nawotka Published on April 20, 2016

By Edward Nawotka

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The biggest event of World Book Day...may be World Book Night. Hosted in the UK, it aims to promote reading to those who don’t typically read for pleasure. In the UK, where the event is hosted, this is estimated to be as much as 36% of the population.

The event was conceived by UK publisher Jamie Byng, who runs Canongate, the prestigious independent publisher. The first World Book Night was hosted in March 2011, with the aim of giving away one million books to readers in the UK and Ireland; some 20,000 helped distribute the works. To date, World Book Night has enlisted 56,000 volunteers who have given away books to over 2.25 million people in total. Last year, 250,000 of 20 specially printed World Book Night titles were given out. This year — the fifth anniversary of the event — some 15 titles were chosen for distribution. These include poetry, nonfiction, romance, literary fiction and even two “quick reads.”

The titles for 2016 are:

1. Am I Normal Yet?, Holly Bourne (Usborne)

2. Band of Brothers, Stephen E Ambrose (Simon & Schuster)

3. I Can’t Begin to Tell You, Elizabeth Buchan (Michael Joseph)

4. Last Bus to Coffeeville, J. Paul Henderson (Oldcastle)

5. Love Poems, Carol Ann Duffy (Pan Macmillan)

6. Now You See Me, Sharon Bolton (Transworld)

7. Perfect Daughter, Amanda Prowse (Head of Zeus)

8. Reasons to Stay Alive, Matt Haig (Canongate)

9. Shadow and Bone, Leigh Bardugo (Hachette Children’s)

10. Someone Else’s Skin, Sarah Hilary (Headline)

11. The Baby at the Beach Café (Quick Read), Lucy Diamond (Pan Macmillan)

12. The Rotters’ Club, Jonathan Coe (Penguin General)

13. Too Good to be True (Quick Read), Ann Cleeves (Pan Macmillan)

14. Treachery, S. J. Parris (HarperCollins)

15. Whispering Shadows, Jan-Phillip Sendker (Birlinn)

Though World Book Night has had trouble expanding beyond the UK — an offshoot in the United States had to shut down after several years following its failure to find funding — it has proven to have a tremendous impact on reading awareness. A survey conducted last year by Free Thought Research in the UK found that of those who received books, 80% of said they had read more since World Book Night and 85% said they’d talked to others about books more since receiving a book, while 47% noted they had bought more books since World Book Night, and 32% had borrowed more from the library.

Additionally, it has also proven just as good to give, as to receive, with 73% of the volunteers stating they have talked more about books since taking part in World Book Night and 83% said they plan to return to the library or bookshop from which they collected their books to buy or borrow books in the future.

Sue Wilkinson, Chief Executive of The Reading Agency — which helps administer the event — underscored the impact of the giveaway, when she said: “This research shows just how effective World Book Night is in inspiring people who might not normally think about opening a book to get back into reading. We always believed that this was the case and now we have the firm evidence to demonstrate the difference our committed and energetic volunteers and partners are making. This report really does show the change that comes from being given a book.”

American journalist, editor, traveler, and believer in the power of books to change the world.