Welcome to “World Book Night”

Montage of 30 books for World Book Night

It’s tonight! Monday April 23rd, is World Book Night, “an annual celebration designed to spread a love of reading and books,” in which more than 25,000 volunteers will be handing out free print books (according to USA Today). It’s “like intellectual Halloween,” novelist Anna Quindlen joked to the newspaper, “only better!”

I’m excited partly because we’re seeing the birth of a brand new tradition. The event was started just last year by the managing director of a publishing house in Scotland, according to MSNBC, so this is the first year it’s also being held in the U.S. “One of the things I love is how this isn’t just happening in New York and California,” noted the event’s U.S. executive director. “The whole country is involved!” And I love how MSNBC’s article painted a picture of the event — as a series of smaller personal events being held around the country.

Stores from Oswego, N.Y., to Hilo, Hawaii, will be helping out, but World Book Night will reach well beyond traditional channels, into military bases, prisons, ballparks and ferries. A church in Denver will give copies of Ann Patchett’s “Bel Canto” to a nearby magnet school for refugees and immigrants. Vernon Legakis, a surfer in Santa Cruz, Calif., will seal copies of Patti Smith’s “Just Kids” inside Ziplocs and hand them out at Monterey Bay. Attendees of a “Hunger Games” screening at Windsor Theatre in Hampton, Iowa, will receive editions of Collins’ million-selling novel….

True to their mission, the volunteers will be handing out some great and engaging reads, as a way to encourage a love of reading. They’ll be distributing everything from Stephen King’s The Stand to Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. There’s heartwarming popular titles like Because of Winn Dixie, and Dave Eggers’ gritty non-fiction novel about New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, Zeitoun. Besides The Hunger Games, they’ll also be distributing Orson Scott Card’s classic science fiction novel, Ender’s Game. All the authors have agreed to waive their royalties for the books,

Here’s a complete list of the 30 different books being distributed for “World Book Night”

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Friday Night Lights
Ender’s Game
Little Bee
The Hunger Games
Blood Work
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Because of Winn Dixie
Peace Like a River
A Reliable Wife
Q is for Quarry
A Prayer for Owen Meany
The Kite Runner
The Stand
The Poisonwood Bible
The History of Love
The Namesake
The Things They Carried
Bel Canto
My Sister’s Keeper
The Lovely Bones
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Just Kids
The Glass Castle
The Book Thief

It’s a cheerful event, but I wondered if it was started partly as a reaction to the popularity of the Kindle. The books will be distributed in special paperback editions created just for the event, with the costs being covered by publishers, printers, and paper companies, according to another article USA Today. The event’s official page notes it will promote not just the value of reading, but also “of printed books, and of bookstores and libraries to everyone year-round.” Riffing on that theme, a cheeky editor at the New York Daily News headlined their story: “It’s World Book Night, but Amazon isn’t invited to the party.”

They note that the event “is being sponsored by Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble, the last two remaining bricks-in-mortar giants” — and, that Amazon was not also asked to participate. They cite a quote from the event’s founder that “the philosophy behind World Book Night has been about physical books in physical places, handed out person to person.” But that may change next year – at least, if Amazon has its way.

A spokeswoman for Amazon told the newspaper, “We look forward to talking to the organizers of World Book Night about future opportunities…!”

Will Tablet Computers Doom the Bookstore?

Amazon's new Kindle Fire tablet

An alternative newsweekly near Silicon Valley just devoted a special edition to “The Trouble with Tablets.” They noted it’s been just two years since the iPad first appeared in the world, and yet nearly a fifth of all Americans now report that they own a tablet. Amazon’s making tablets even more popular with their new color “Kindle Fire” tablets — and the newsweekly also wondered if this meant still more competition for local bookstores. Their reporter even interviewed the owner of Berkeley’s Pegasus bookstores, who said “What a quaint threat chain stores turned out to be!”

I thought the article offered a fresh look at the “gloom and doom” predictions for the future of printed books — and the people who sell them. For example, the article applauded a new program from Google which allows tablet owners to buy an e-book through the web site of their local bookstore. Unfortunately, there’s not a version of that program for Kindle owners, but even then, judging from the article, most local bookstore owners find that they’re not able to sell many e-books to their customers anyways. “As soon as you figure out a way to let customers know we sell e-books, you let me know,” says the owner of Pegasus.

But there was an interesting idea in the article: maybe bookstores could sell a print book that also included a copy of its e-book edition, as a “bundle”. Bookstore customers “might be drawn to the idea of being able to have a hardcover to read in the bathtub or pass onto their children along with having a discounted, lightweight e-book…” Plus, it would finally give bookstores a sure-fire way to sell e-books.

But I thought this was the most telling story of all: one Berkeley book-seller found an innovative way to survive…by selling their printed books on Amazon. The owner of Moe’s Books has discovered she can sell rare and expensive or “collectible” books through Amazons web site, reaching more customers than she ever could through an exclusively local bookstore.

In fact, 20% of the store’s sales are now happening online!