World Book Night comes to America

The British tradition of declaring a "World Book Night" during which thousands of volunteers give out free books on street corners will come to the US for the first time on April 23, 2012.

Luke MacGregor/Reuters
In an effort to stimulate interest in reading, British volunteers have handed out as many as one million free books on World Book Night.

A British literary tradition (and no, it’s not Harry Potter) will be coming to the United States for the first time this April.

World Book Night, during which thousands of volunteers give copies of selected books to friends and family and hand them out on street corners, will happen in America for the first time on April 23, the same day the event will take place in Britain. Twenty-five books are selected by British publishers to be given out for the event.

Volunteers give out 48 books a piece – amounting to as many as one million books distributed – and the publicity involved can create a significant ripple effect on sales. Several of the books selected for World Book Night 2010 – including “Toast” by Nigel Slater and “The Spy Who Came In From The Cold” by John Le Carré – saw triple-digit increases in sales after the event. 

World Book Night was founded by UNESCO to celebrate reading, and World Book Night will also be celebrated in Ireland in 2012.

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“We’ve been working closely together on plans to our mutual benefit, as well as aspects of the campaign suited to the needs of the American market,” a statement on the World Book Night website said.

The British version of the event has already announced their 25 selections to be given away, and several of the picks, including David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas” and “The Blind Assassin” by Margaret Atwood, have already seen increases in sales. However, some British booksellers have expressed concerns in the past that the distribution of free books takes away profits for their businesses.

The board of directors for the US counterpart of the event includes executives from Barnes and Noble, Simon & Schuster, Random House, and Penguin.

The 25 American books to be given away haven’t been picked yet, but World Book Night’s website says the American list may have some choices that overlap with the British picks. 

Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.

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