When I got up this morning I saw several tweets celebrating World Book Day. I was confused at first, since I thought World Book Day was in April, but soon I recalled that the UK and Ireland have their own “World” Book Day. I had noticed this before but never looked into it. As it turns out, today’s World Book Day is an initiative of the British publishing and bookselling industry, and doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the UNESCO World Book and Copyright Day. The way it works is that for every child under 18 you can buy a £1 token and redeem it for one of 8 specially chosen books at participating bookstores. The reason they changed the date is so as not to conflict with school or religious holidays. You would think holidays would be the perfect time to get people reading, but perhaps they are not very good shopping days. It all sounds to me like an industry promotion, rather than a celebration of literacy and literature. The event is run by a registered charity, which also makes contributions to Book Aid International, but the funding comes mainly from publishers and booksellers.
I became even more skeptical when I saw that the Wikipedia page on World Book and Copyright Day had been edited to change the date to March 1st and featured the UK World Book Day logo and not the official UN poster. So I fixed it. I will have to keep an eye on that page to see if it gets altered again. The page already goes into great detail on the UK/Ireland “World Book Day” so they hardly need more promotion for their promotion.
After all that I must confess that I failed to recognize World Book and Copyright Day last year. It’s too bad because last year’s poster is quite interesting in that it features a laptop or netbook along with books, an obvious reference to the recent proliferation of ebooks. I wonder that they did not depict an ereader or mobile device, but it may be that in most of the world, most ebooks are read on a computer, perhaps at a library or school. In any case, it is a recognition that ebooks are a now significant element of global literary culture.
So mark April 23 on your calendars as the real World Book Day, and don’t forget World Poetry Day on March 21!