“It's very easy to take more than nothing.” (Alice in Wonderland)
How much disposable income do you have? If your post office was about to charge you for a dozen stamps then offered them to you free, which offer would you accept?
Since the net book agreement was scrapped just over ten years ago, there has been an insane rush to reduce the price of books. Supermarkets sell them for less than the price of a glossy magazine (crammed with advertisements), online suppliers are constantly reducing prices, and offers are now standard in bookshops which display tables stacked with offers to buy 3 for 2, or buy one get one half price.
World Book Night is the logical conclusion of this trend, with publishers giving away a million books. Do they think recipients will respond by putting their hands in their pockets? Of course they won’t! If they aren't already book buyers, those given free books will simply wait for the next free book. It won’t be far behind. Why buy something you can get for free? As for those who already buy books - well, that will be one less sale to them. A double whammy.
World Book Night devalues the concept of books as something authors, editors, publishers, designers, proofreaders, have spent months, in some cases years, planning, researching, writing, revising, discussing and editing. Time and money has been spent producing books and publicity for World Book Night, a “celebration of adult fiction” which will sadly further undermine the industry.
Why wasn’t that time and effort devoted to promoting book sales to inject urgently needed funding into the industry? The books donated to World Book Night are wonderful works of literature. If each recipient of these million free books had been persuaded to part with the price of a couple of cups of coffee in exchange for their book, it would have injected millions pounds into the struggling book industry.
The concern over the future of books masks a deeper issue. Shakespeare only invented one plot but the 20th century placed a premium on originality. A generation ago children writing stories at school would often accuse their classmates of copying a plot from a book. That never happens now. Today, children take their stories from films or, increasingly, from computer games.
But one thing children today appreciate is the value of money. They could teach the publishing industry a thing or two.