« Discussion

Why Not Give Away Ebooks on World Book Night Too?

By Edward Nawotka

freeYesterday, some 25,000 volunteers gave away half a million free books as part of World Book Night. The “specially printed books” were distributed at public locations throughout the United States. But here’s a modest proposal: why not give away ebooks as well.

If the promotion is indeed aimed at fostering reading, why not put just as much effort and energy into making readers aware that their smart phones are also capable as an e-reading device.

Certainly publishers wouldn’t want to give away an unlimited number of ebooks, so how about use the same force of volunteers to distribute cards printed with a one-time use code that would enable them to download a free copy of a specific title. Publishers could then limit the total number of downloads. This could be done in conjunction with giving away print titles or on its own. The logistics of sending out such cards — or even enabling volunteers to print them on their own printers — could potentially cut down on the overall expense and logistics of the promotion.

Agree, disagree? Let us know in the comments.

And if you want to set up World Ebook Night…let’s talk!

This entry was posted in Discussion and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.


  1. Posted April 24, 2013 at 4:55 am | Permalink

    This is a terrific idea. It doesn’t even need the card system that you suggest.

    A company that I work with, Evanidus Ltd (www.evanidus.com), have produced a product called Boosh which is an ebook format designed for smartphones, targeting the light / latent readers that WBN also targets. The patented technology is incredibly secure – the book can be set up to be deleted once it has been read, but it also can be set up to allow sharing of the book via social media. But the publisher remains in complete control and can set a finite cap on the numbers of shares allowed – the sharing functionality can also be switched off completely. The framework is totally flexible and would seem to answer all of the requirements above.

    For more information contact me via the website above. Also see my recent article published in bookbrunch in the uk: http://www.bookbrunch.co.uk/article_free.asp?pid=growing_the_finite_life_of_the_bookselling_pie

  2. Posted April 24, 2013 at 5:09 am | Permalink

    Interesting idea. I read on my phone and I love it (so much so that I turned down the offer of a Kindle). I like the idea of giving out codes, perhaps with a time limit for download (in case someone just drops their card in the nearest bin).
    If publishers get involved, they may be willing to give away a one copy of each of that year’s books. Volunteers could ask for X number of books in a specific genre (rather than X copies of a specific book).
    As you say, it would be cheaper that giving out print books.

    It could tie in with Read and Ebook week.

  3. Posted April 24, 2013 at 5:46 am | Permalink

    I could never afford to give that many away under any circumstances. You are fostering a culture of free ebooks on the backs of the authors who rely on sales of their books to eat. If you really want to promote literature, I would favor a cut price day, but never a giveaway unless it is to specific charities. Have some care about where the books come from, please.

  4. Posted April 24, 2013 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Many of the people we gave books to yesterday said they intended to share the book with friends and family. Hard to do with an ebook. And in the community where we gave, there were some who don’t have the resources for e-readers or expensive phones. Finally, the book was a tangible gift with weight and physical value and it was visible to others. Holding the book sparked conversation in the downtown hot dog dive where we gave out books, and literature is not a normal subject there. E-books might be an option, but not a replacement for the printed book when outreach and community are part of the point.

  5. Alison
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    re Theresa’s comment: someone (like World Book Night) should BUY copies of the ebooks to be given away for free – they buy copies of the print books, after all. It shouldn’t all be on the authors!

  6. Carl Lennertz
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    We are completely open to this debate, with one BIG question, and a modest proposal of my own. The BIG question: It is a key part of the WBN mission to get books to people, for instance, in nursing homes and shelters, as well as kids in underfunded schools. This proposal doesn’t address that part of the intended audience of WBN books. And….what we really need are a half-million free e-readers, loaded with some books. Refurbished just fine. Thoughts?

  7. Carl Lennertz
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Ereader comment was Swiftian, by the way. But I would love a discussion about the intended recipients of WBN books as i’ve stated above.

  8. Edward Nawotka
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    @Carl, I’m not sure that would be the intended audience — i.e. nursing homes and shelters. That is certainly one part of the mission, but I think a big part of WBN, or perhaps I’m wrong, is reaching out to people who are essentially “reluctant readers” — adolescents and adults who likely own phones or tablets.

  9. Carl Lennertz
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 5:54 am | Permalink

    Ed, yes, there are reluctant readers with smart phones, but the founding mission of WBN, as we’ve clearly stated since day one, are reaching those without means or access, and a majority of our intended audience do not have smart phones. I’m not saying your goal isn’t worthy; it is! It’s just a matter of how much we can do on a modest budget, and who could use the gift of a book more: a kid in an underfunded school or a college grad w/o motivation to read but certainly has easy access. Let’s talk on the phone before too long, ok? This isn’t an either/or proposition, but it is a matter of focus, budget and true need.

  • Get Publishing Perspectives in your inbox each day and stay up-to-date on international publishing.