The UK Publishers Association appears to be preparing a snow job for the first days of spring, with the announcement of its new Reading for Pleasure campaign, designed to highlight and coordinate with “the huge range of inspiring work being undertaken by a variety of charities in the UK to promote reading for pleasure.” Charities listed in the PA’s brochure guide to the initiative include Beanstalk, BookTrust, the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE), the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE), the National Literacy Trust, Quick Reads, The Reading Agency, Save the Children, World Book Day, and World Book Night.
Reporting of the campaign in The Bookseller, made available for free by the Society of Authors on its website, emphasizes that the campaign “aims to provide greater communication with publishers and a stronger dialogue with government” in the context of the UK House of Commons Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills inquiry into Adult Literacy and Numeracy, just convened and now holding its first hearings. Booktrust CEO Viv Bird, quoted in the article, states that: “Bringing together publishers and charities will give us a focus to come up with really good ideas that we can then have a serious dialogue with the government about.”
“Securing an interest and, hopefully, a love of reading at an early age is the best way to foster a life-long relationship with books,” says Richard Mollet, PA Chief Executive. “It can also have a critical impact on the first steps towards learning.” The PA, however, has denied that it has floated Reading for Pleasure as a specific response to the inquiry.
Anyone who considers my commentary too snippy is welcome to check out NIACE’s own report on the Quick Reads initiative launched with the help of the PA, here. But as reported, the PA has been given ample notice that its industry has an image problem. So here’s just a few suggestions for the PA and its “member companies” to adopt if it really truly is deeply serious about encouraging literacy in the UK:
- Actively declare against any attempt to implement lending limits on ebooks at public libraries.
- Make free or heavily discounted ebook editions of children’s books and basic literacy works available to schools en masse.
- Release either free, or bargain-basement discounted, ebook, or even print, editions of famous works (e.g. George Orwell’s 1984) already out of copyright in other jurisdictions with a shorter copyright term (e.g. Australia, Canada), and available for free download worldwide from those locations.
- Publicly disown any attempt to fix ebook prices along the lines of the Apple ebook price fixing cartel, or any price maintenance agreements of any kind for books.
- End DRM on ebooks.
Those are just a few ideas, and I’m sure there are plenty more. But if the PA isn’t seriously going to get behind anything like them, I can only conclude that the PA is not being honest, and that Reading for Pleasure is an image-building exercise designed to disguise many of its members’ role as monopolizers and hoarders, not disseminators and facilitators, of knowledge.