Would more people read if books were free?
The people behind World Book Night believe the answer to that question is "yes."
Leif Enger's novel is one of 30 books that will be given away for free tonight across the country.
Tonight tens of thousands of people will go out into their communities and give away free books.
The event was launched last year in the United Kingdom, and this year the United States is getting involved.
MPR News is Reader Funded
Before you keep reading, take a moment to donate to MPR News. Your financial support ensures that factual and trusted news and context remain accessible to all.
Minnesota author Leif Enger is one of the people giving away books tonight, and his book "Peace Like A River" is one of the 30 books that will be offered up for free across the country.
Enger says he'll be stopping in Brainerd first to give away a carton of John Irving's "A Prayer for Owen Meany," and he has no idea what to expect:
How will people react to a guy on the sidewalk handing out (actual) literature? Will they cross the street to get a free novel? Will they cross it to avoid one?
From there Enger will continue on to Magers & Quinn bookstore in Minneapolis, where he and author Kate DiCamillo will read from their own books and talk about the love of reading. Enger says when the World Book Night committee chose to give away his novel he was given the chance to opt out.
Who wouldn't want their work given away to thousands of readers who otherwise might never hear of it? My understanding is that this is a mammoth collaboration with everyone involved giving of their time, materials and expertise. The massive costs of printing and distributing a million books are being offset by donations of paper, ink, and shipping. Booksellers are sponsoring events, libraries coordinating volunteers, publishers forgoing profits. And authors, of course, are waiving royalties.
Enger says he finds this down-to-earth marketing campaign charming:
You have a beleaguered industry looking for a jump-start in the digital age, and there are so many other ways it could try to get attention. It could put slogans on billboards and banner ads, do something with milk bottles, hire a nine-year-old to make Youtube videos. It could shoot for offbeat, indie, clever, what have you. Instead, the book trade recognizes its best promotion is the product itself -- so they print a big bunch and they give them away. It's inspiring!
What I hope is that of the million people who go home with a book, a decent percentage will decide to give it a shot. No doubt some won't be won over, and some will like it but set it down in order to watch a little Housewives, and a few might start in only to remember that they never really liked reading and quit all over again. But hopefully, many will open those pages and get caught. Swept up. Which is good for them, and good for the Book, and good for us all.
Why is World Book Night on April 23? It happens to mark UNESCO's World Book Day, chosen due to the anniversary of Cervantes' death.
You can find out more about what's happening in Minnesota tonight by checking out Laurie Hertzel's fine article here - she's one of the volunteers giving away books tonight.