Happy Independence Day – the American arm of World Book Night is no more, having failed to secure outside funding. The independent charity’s US events began in 2011, with volunteers distributing half a million free books on 23 April each year to mark the UNESCO International Day of the Book and the anniversary of the deaths of both Shakespeare and Cervantes, who died on the same day in 1616. The primary aim of the scheme was to share a love of literature with adults who don’t regularly read for pleasure or own books, and that will presumably continue with the next British event this coming April, which is as yet unaffected by these developments (as is World Book Day, its counterpart aimed at children and teenagers).
The Bookseller quotes World Book Night’s US executive director Carl Lennertz as saying:
This has been a remarkable, passionate undertaking, and it has been a success by all measures, except for one – outside funding. For three years, the publishing industry and book community have very generously footed the bill and contributed enormous time and effort, and my gratitude for all of that is immeasurable. For us here at World Book Night, this experience has been life-changing, as it has been for the givers and recipients of the books.
Given our continued, concerted efforts, we had hoped to have more success with grant requests. But there are a lot of other worthy causes out there and only so much money available. Unfortunately, we can’t carry on without significant new outside funding.
Staff are staying on until September without pay in order to stay in touch with volunteer distributors, who are awaiting the results of an essay contest.
Canongate M.D. Jamie Byng, the founder of World Book Night, has averred that the event’s future in the UK is secure for the time being, having been taken under the wing of literacy charity The Reading Agency in late 2013. Whilst expressing disappointment at its American cessation, he also points out that its efforts were not in vain: ‘In three years it did many of the things we hoped it would, which is put books into the hands of more people. I think they did that to enormous effect and that is something to be celebrated.’
He was chief hack and music editor of webzine Brazen from 2006 to 2010, and hosted Left of the Dial on Subcity Radio from 2008 to 2011.
He can be heard semi-regularly on the podcast of Scottish cultural blog Scots Whay Hae ('20th best website in Scotland!' - The List), and in 2011 founded Seen Your Video, a film and music podcast and blog based in Glasgow. He has a Masters degree in Scottish Literature from the University of Glasgow that will never have any practical application. You are on a hiding to nothing if you follow him on Twitter expecting any kind of hot publishing scoop.