A Q&A With Carl Lennertz About World Book Night

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This April 23 — the International Day of the Book — the United States will join for the first time in World Book Night. That night, 40,000 book givers across the country will distribute specially printed, not-for-resale, free paperbacks at a place of their choosing. Book givers will pick up their books from their local bookstore or library.

The U.S. World Book Night will build on the huge success of the U.K.’s inaugural World Book Night last year. In spring 2011, World Book Night (WBN), a U.K. charity dedicated to the promotion of books and reading, organized an event where 40,000 people gave away one million books.

Bookselling This Week spoke with U.S. World Book Night Chief Executive Carl Lennertz about plans in the works for the inaugural U.S. event on April 23, 2012.

BTW: World Book Night was a huge success in the U.K. What are your hopes for it stateside?

Carl Lennertz: Indeed, it was. Not only did they give away a million free paperbacks, sales of the regular editions soared 60 percent during the weeks following World Book Night! Our goal for the U.S. is the same.

BTW: Can you give BTW readers an overview of the event?

CL: On Monday night, April 23, 2012, 40,000 volunteer book givers will go out into their communities to a place of their choosing: a coffee shop or hospital, church or community center, an after-work party or commuter train home, and give out 25 free paperbacks. These paperbacks will be specially produced, not-for-resale World Book Night editions, and there will be 25 titles for the givers to choose from. WBN editions are not intended for frequent readers; we are not encouraging taking the 25 free books to a reading group, for instance.

BTW: Will there be anything new and different for the U.S. version?

CL: Not different in spirit, just the scale. The U.S. is a huge country so the logistics will be on a much vaster scale. But Ingram will be helping us, and we have many more bookstores and libraries here, and that will be a big, big difference.

BTW: How is support developing for World Book Night?

CL: ABA has taken a lead role in bringing World Book Night to the U.S. from the start, and I’m working closely with Oren [Teicher, ABA CEO] and ABA staff on ensuring the American version will be a big success. AAP is already on board, as are several publishers. I am in the process of talking to all publishers right now, but everything I’ve heard so far has been very positive.

BTW: How can independent booksellers get involved?

CL: The indies are key! The free books are not sent to each volunteer’s home, but to a store of their choosing. This will be a tremendous foot-traffic booster, and we hope each store will do a World Book Night display of the 25 trade editions for sale. And I hope hundreds of booksellers sign up to be volunteer book givers themselves! I’m sure they will.

BTW: What kinds of resources will there be for booksellers? Will there be a blog or newsletter?

CL: Stay tuned; lots to come on that front. But social media in general will be a huge part of this — from us, and hopefully from booksellers and authors. And our U.K. friends are providing us with a fantastic web and blog template.

BTW: Will World Book Night have a presence at the regionals?

CL: You bet. The ABA and regional association tables will have a one page handout, and someone from ABA or myself will be speaking about it at any forum we can arrange with each regional exec. And we want as much feedback as possible, to make this the biggest success possible.

BTW: Anything else you’d like to add?

CL: Yes, first, that we are talking to the ALA as to how libraries can be involved as book drop-off and pick-up points, and second, that Barnes & Noble has also volunteered to have their stores serve as pick-up points. The more the merrier, and they see the benefits, as I’m sure every independent will, of increasing foot traffic and sales.

The World Book Night mantra is “physical books in physical locations.” No e-books. And I hope every independent bookseller embraces this chance to increase reading, the giving and sharing of good books, and continuing to champion the importance of community, as you have been already. Lastly, the indies will have a large role in selecting the list of 25 World Book Night books, as will librarians, so stay tuned on that front also! Here we go!!