Wednesday, 9 February 2011

World Book Night

“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.

23 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

I really hate the fact that our world values movies so much more than books. They don't have a world movie night where they give millions away for free.

Leigh Russell said...

How about a day on which everyone can have a free visit to the optician, Charles. That would encourage us all to pay to have our eyes tested the next time, wouldn't it? Crazy.

Anonymous said...

i criticised this plan when ti first came out. as a very experienced bookseller/publisher/librarian/writer and reader too, i saw a sozen serious drawbacks. at first I felt likespunding off abotu it, but then I realised it would fail of its own accord, though I have a suspicion that its organisers will not recongise failure, and if they do they will only worry about the appearance of success. My main misgivings in teh order the come into my head:

it devalues books
no oen can give out 48 or25 books or however many itturns out to be, in one eveningl It cant be done, You wont find enough willing takers. the only people who could give out that many books are teachers who foist them o ntehir classes.
the books will clogthecahrity shops. the secondhand trade wont touch them, only the charity shops are ignorant enough to not know what these bo oks were.and my guess is that at least haklf of themn will stay in bixes under thebeds ofthose who volunteered to give them out.
the authros will sufer. there are too many of them for the media to talk about more than a few of them.
the books are nearly all old fuddy duddy over exposed books already. how does it help the book trade if people are given this old stuff AGAIN?
the whole wheeze is to dish out some free money to the bigger publishers who dont usually get governmet grants. What will the result be? Even these presses will be less independent.
i heard the authros were co-erced. I heard one author didnt want to join in, but was made to.
As a bookseller I would be much less happy if I didnt think the whole thing will entirely falal on its face.

Sally Evans

Leigh Russell said...

Thanks for taking the time to comment here, Sally. It's hard to see who will gain from this.

Mia said...

I've heard this argument about not fighting piracy, too. "Well maybe the person who stole my last three books will buy the new one." Nope, once a thief, always a thief.

You get the value that you place on it. If you feel a book is worth nothing, then it is. This will not "save" the book business. It will only make it worse.

Of course, I believe that what has already made it worse is people like Rupert Murdoch who only view a book in relation to the profit. A book is more than that. Yes, it is part of the profit driven corporate world we live in, but it is not only that.

Leigh Russell said...

I agree, Mia, you get the value that you place on it. Free books...

Star said...

Yes, but I think you've missed the point Leigh. I thought the idea of giving away a free book was to encourage someone to read instead of watching TV. I think we are supposed to pick the book we liked the best ourselves and give it to someone who would not otherwise have bought it or read it. The assumption would then be that they would go out and buy another book and leave the TV alone for a few hours.
Another thing is: speaking as a reader not a writer, not everyone can afford to buy books because not everyone has a job. Yet it is not fair to say that those people shouldn't have access to a good book or a book that is reasonably new. When I am not working, I use the charity shops a lot and I return the books afterwards. I don't see the point in keeping books on the shelf forever unless they are reference books. When I pass them on, am I not 'giving them away' - yes, but with the idea that someone else will enjoy them. Perhaps, as in your case, a new reader will enjoy it and go and buy the next one.
I hear what you're saying, but it isn't the whole answer.

Leigh Russell said...

Hi Star - no, it's not that simple, is it? I really just wanted to start a discussion about books and their value. But of course people who can't afford books are welcome in libraries (while we still have them.) Libraries need support too, and lend books for free. Maybe these million free books represent a million fewer borrowings from libraries, which benefits no one, least of all libraries.

Star said...

I agree with you that books are valuable, very valuable. We can learn from them, live in them and savour them over and over again. I still have books I had when I was a child - aren't I lucky. I particularly treasure my 'Wind in the Willows'.
I can so well understand how you feel. Your books are your babies and you want each and every one of them to go to a good home? Am I right? However, just like our children, I suppose we have to learn to let them go.
After all the work you put in writing them, you deserve and need to get the monetary reward.

Leigh Russell said...

Star - yes, of course you're right, but I'm not thinking here about my own books. This is a far more important issue about books in general. All books - or perhaps no books.

Pat said...

'A generation ago children writing stories at school would often accuse their classmates of copying a plot from a book. That never happens now'

Off topic I know but Julian Fellowes has recently been accused of copying plots from 'Mrs Miniver', 'Upstairs Downstairs' and goodness knows what else for his TV series 'Downton Abbey'.

Leigh Russell said...

Hi Pat - I'd imagine it's probably quite hard to think up totally original plots for something like that? Not like murder stories... mwah hah hah (that's supposed to be an evil laugh)

Lynette said...

This giveaway seems like the sad, but logical, outcome in a world that doesn't value writers and the difficult work that they do. There are a ton of ways that writers are expected to give their work away. This is just another.

Crystal Jigsaw said...

As a writer, it worries me a little that our generation of online reading is growing at an incredible rate and giving away free books, even though encouraging reading, doesn't help the writer who, as you rightly pointed out, works immensely hard on their ms. Books are always worth buying in my opinion, and in most cases the film that has been taken from the book, wouldn't ever be a fraction as popular if the book hadn't been written in the first place.

CJ xx

Anonymous said...

I just finished reading 'Cut Short' and loved it! I'm in the UK this week...are you doing any signings this week I could make it to?

Leigh Russell said...

Yes, Lynette. It worries me that readers are being encouraged to expect books for free. I'm not sure why. I don't recall a 'book a free plumber' or 'a free trip to the dentist day' - but writing takes skill too!

Leigh Russell said...

Hi Crystal - there are some fantastic films, and some brilliant films of books, but I agree it's rare for a film to match the book.

Leigh Russell said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed Cut Short, my anonymous visitor. I'm afraid I've had to cancel all my bookings for this month due to temporary ill health. I'll be posting about the experience here soon.

Leigh Russell said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed Cut Short, my anonymous visitor. I'm afraid I've had to cancel all my bookings for this month due to temporary ill health. I'll be posting about the experience here soon.

Anonymous said...

books- educate, free books give people the chance to read books they would never have read...which helps increase their passion and expands their horizon to purchase other books. so yes free books may cost you all today but in the long run it may help people like you. Unless you just like writing for a ceratin type of customer and are not willing to expand your horizons about the type of readers who pick up your book.

Pat said...

Hope you are better soon Leigh. Have you been overdoing it?

Leigh Russell said...

Hi Anonymous - yes, that is certainly a strong argument and to be honest, I'm not sure whether giving away so free books is a good idea or not. Of course anything that generates interest in reading has to be supported, I just worry that it will lead people to consider books as worthless.

Leigh Russell said...

Thanks for your good wishes, Pat. I'm on the mend and will soon be up and about - and no doubt rushing around again...