Briefing: Industry pulls together to make the impossible a reality

One million books, 20,000 advocates, 25 titles and just one night - World Book Night will put the power of the printed word in the spotlight

There’s never been an event like this." Tomorrow, on Saturday 5 March, an army of 20,000 passionate readers will give away one million books in what is being billed as the largest celebration of the printed word ever imagined. The event, which is the brainchild of Canongate Books managing director Jamie Byng, will see 40,000 copies of 25 carefully selected titles given away by volunteer ‘givers’ to members of the public.

Each of the 20,000 givers will have received 48 copies of their chosen title to hand out as they see fit. The balance of 40,000 books will be distributed by the organisers to places that might otherwise be difficult to reach, such as prisons and hospitals.

World Book Night has captured the imagination of the whole book publishing supply chain, as demonstrated by the many supporters that have backed the event (see boxout). Indeed, after 29 years in the book trade, Clays managing director Kate McFarlan – the woman tasked with turning the dream into a reality – can’t recall anything like it. "There has never been an industry-wide initiative that has generated the passion and excitement of World Book Night and I’ve been involved in publishing and books since 1982," she enthuses.

"Big things in the past have tended to revolve around a single book. There’s always something big and then there was the biggest ever with Harry Potter, but that’s about just one book, one character, one author – but something like this, for the whole publishing industry and book trade to get behind, I think is incredibly positive and an interesting thing to do at the time of this great debate over whether the physical world is dying and the digital world taking over."

From concept to reality
McFarlan and her colleagues at Bungay-based Clays are grounded very much in the physical world and it was their job to turn what was a captivating idea into something that could happen within the required timeframe. "It’s a hugely exciting idea, but from conception of an idea to execution does lie something fairly complex," she says. "So the challenge was to make one million books and get them out to 20,000 as yet unselected and unsolicited people by a certain date so that those people can take their share and hand them out on 5 March."

As well as the printing, Clays provided what McFarlan describes as the "boring practical detail" at the planning stage, such as the fact that books are packed in eights, making it impractical for each giver to receive 50 copies of their book, as was initially intended. "Somebody had to turn it from a wonderful concept into something meaningful that we could actually do," she says. The next stage, once the 25 books were chosen, was to fit the 40,000 copies of each of them into Clays’ production schedule to get the books made in time, then to plan the distribution and supply chain route thereafter. "Yes, it was challenging and we had a fairly short window of opportunity from finalisation of the titles and cover designs to print, but the team at Clays is very good at organising," says McFarlan.

The 25 titles were redesigned as B-format paperbacks with a front cover that would reflect the individual identity of each book, as well as the World Book Night brand on the spine and back cover. Space has been deliberately left inside the book for the person who receives it to write notes, before passing it on to someone else and reinforcing the "community of book readers" that is the spirit of the scheme. The books were printed on Clays’ impressive battery of 16 Timson mono web presses, while the covers were printed on its Komori sheetfed presses in four colour with a gloss laminate finish. Additional printed collateral was provided by CPI, which printed 500,000 A5 leaflets and 8,000 A2 posters, as well as 250,000 stickers for the books.

Both CPI and Clays provided their services free of charge, while the paper for the books was subsidised by Holmen and Stora Enso. "The publishers have been asked to pay for the costs of the materials and we have provided our labour and machine time pro bono," says McFarlan. "World Book Night, having been conceived as an idea with a very exciting, challenging, impossible time schedule, without a million physical books would have been nothing and so we made the decision as a company that we would support the book trade in this initiative." Other sponsors and supporters included Kodak, which helped with plate production, and Random House and Hachette’s wholly-owned distribution centres, which helped with the distribution. As McFarlan says, "the whole industry has got behind World Book Night to help bring this off".

A digital future?
World Book Night, which despite officially being on 5 March actually kicks off the evening before with a public reading in Trafalgar Square that is expected to draw upwards of 10,000 people, comes at a time when the popularity of devices like the Kindle and iPad has left many questioning whether printed books have a future. McFarlan is unequivocal in her view. "Before I came to Clays I was in publishing myself, so books are my life really," says McFarlan. "There’s a huge emotional belief in books at Clays, as well as the commercial drive to keep the physical book going and what World Book Night demonstrates is that there is a real passion for physical books – talking about them, giving them, lending them – that has its place even in a digital world."

Sponsors and supporters
Book Marketing
CPI Group
Forest Stewardship Council
Hachette UK
Holmen Paper
Nielsen Bookscan
Nigel Peters Associates
Penguin Books
Pentagram Design
Proper Productions
Quo Vadis
The Royal Bank of Scotland
Stora Enso
Random House
The Booksellers Association of England and Ireland
The Reading Agency
The Publishers Association


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