8 Questions for Julia Kingsford [INTERVIEW]


Julia Kingsford began her career in the marketing department at Random House and used to manage Foyles’ events before becoming Head of Marketing and Communications. She chaired the brainstorming session at which the idea for World Book Night was first born and became its CEO in 2011. Julia will be our speaker at BookMachine Brighton, so Sarah Ann Juckes interviewed her, to find out more.

1. World Book Night is about reaching those who do not regularly read, so how have you altered your communications strategy to make sure you’re reaching this difficult sector? Has this included more digital marketing than your work with Foyles?

At Foyles we focused our marketing in reaching those who love books but also took the view that loving books should never be exclusive – we wanted everyone to love books as much as we did. So the strategy at World Book Night isn’t altogether different, we’re still looking to ensure in everything we do that reading is seen as the amazingly fun, engaging, enjoyable activity it is, which is open to everyone, a universal right. We work really hard to recruit passionate readers and book lovers to be our on the ground activists so a lot of our communication needs to be aimed at them. It’s then this army of people who go out into their communities to engage new readers. Digital is a really key part of how we operate and our website, email communications and social media is the primary way we interact with people. We always have to remember though that 18% of people in this country never or rarely use the internet and these people tend to be in the must vulnerable parts of society particularly the poor and the elderly who also partly correlate with those who read less. At WBN we don’t want these people to be left behind.

2. World Book Night has received some great endorsements from publishers and authors, as well as from the givers and readers they have helped. How important is it for World Book Night that these stories are collected? And, how useful is new technology and social media to help you do this?

It’s vital to WBN and it would be impossible without new media. The ability for people to semi-spontaneously and with very little effort tell us about their experiences and for us to be able to so easily share them, creating a perpetual cycle of experiences is amazing. As well as enabling us to get a clearer picture of what’s happening on the ground it enables everyone to get an insight into all the different experiences that are being had.

3. A lot of events take place across the UK on World Book Night in association with the scheme; have you found these particularly helpful to reach difficult sectors?

Yes and no. Some events we work very hard on local outreach to ensure that those who have never attended a book event before do so. But whilst our primary aim at WBN is to engage the 35% of the country who don’t read, we also work to more generally celebrate books and reading in a mainstream inclusive way and the events are really important to that. A lot of people who don’t read feel excluded, like its not for people like them or they feel like its boring and unsociable. Fun inclusive events that don’t operate how perceptions of a ‘literary’ event do, help a little to transcend that. And its also great to be able to do something celebratory for all those who have made WBN possible.

4. As World Book Night mainly represents one day, April 23rd, how do you ensure you are continuing to achieve your goals throughout the rest of the year? Has this changed much since its launch?

This is something we constantly work on. Our focus is on a single day but we do want to be able to do more year round. In April we launched a book of the month to enable us to share our favourite new books with our book loving community. We’re currently working on some new plans which see some substantial changes to year round activity and engagement which, we hope, will mean that we’re constantlly engaging and enthusing people with books and reading.

5. I imagine that with 20,000 givers, the logistics of World Book Night are more than a little complex! How do you manage this efficiently but also ensure that your givers are engaged?

Mostly by trying to keep the engagement and the logistics as far away from each other as possible! We have 70,000 people on our database and each year about 25,000 people apply to participate in WBN, approximately half of whom are new to us and half have taken part before. We want to make sure they all have the best possible experiences but obviously there are always going to be some things that don’t go perfectly for some people whether its an issue with books going missing or, more commonly, vital emails getting stuck in spam filters. One of the most fascinating things has been learning about how people interact with us and the fact that the most highly literate aren’t necessarily the most digitally literate. Each year we get people who complain our website is too hard to use and people who complain it’s too basic.

6. What might we expect to feature in the future of World Book Night. Is there a plan to expand into the giveaway of ebooks as well as printed?

It’s something we look at every year. 46% of 16-24 year olds don’t read for pleasure and we know they’re a really key group to target digitally. But there are some issues as well. A printed book is a universally accessible device – you don’t need to have the right hardware or software, its not proprietal, it doesn’t need to be charged, all you need to use it are your eyes and your imagination. The gift of it and its physicality are part of what give WBN its power and that would be very different with an ebook. But the digital landscape is constantly changing and we will keep looking at all of the options. At the moment we’re also working on ways to widen access to WBN and make it easier for more people to participate.

7. As someone who has worked in publishing and bookselling, do you think there are any lessons the book industry can learn from World Book Night and the stories you have heard from readers and givers in the last few years?

Everyone who works in the book trade is just trying to do one simple thing which is connect readers with writers. Historically we’ve made an awful lot of presumptions about readers, who and where they are and what we think they want. One of the exciting things World Book Night does is give us really direct and personal contact with readers as well as empowering them to take responsiblity for co-ownership of the reading landscape. If you look at football, its something that has always relied really heavily on grassroots participation. You have the FA and the major clubs (publishers), the players (authors) and of course you have the fans – the equivalent of readers. But beyond that you’ve got everyone from the Sunday league referees to the people who cut up half time oranges for the local kids matches – and football would fall apart without them. What WBN is trying to do is build that volunteer infrastructure, empower readers to be more than just private participants and to take an active role in shaping and promoting reading culture. Listening and involving readers as genuine stakeholders is, in my opinion, the most powerful thing we can do to ensure the trade continues to thrive.

8. And finally…Brighton Rock or London Fields?

Brighton Rock. I’m afraid I don’t think Amis is a patch on Graham Greene!

Sign up to hear Julia talk about World Book Night at BookMachine Brighton.

Related Articles

Sign up to our Newsletter


* indicates required

BookMachine Ltd. will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing. Please let us know all the ways you would like to hear from us:

You can change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or by contacting us at hello@bookmachine.org. We will treat your information with respect. For more information about our privacy practices please visit our website. By clicking below, you agree that we may process your information in accordance with these terms.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp’s privacy practices.