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A new literacy initiative

31 October 2005

The plans for next year's World Book Day, on 2 March 2006, are becoming increasingly ambitious. Gail Rebuck, CEO of the Random House UKPenguin Random House have more than 50 creative and autonomous imprints, publishing the very best books for all audiences, covering fiction, non-fiction, poetry, children’s books, autobiographies and much more. Click for Random House UK Publishers References listing Group, is spearheading the initiative and wrote recently in Publishing News about its importance: 'I am dismayed by the statistic that 33% of the population never buys a book - 26 million people have levels of literacy and numeracy below those expected of school leavers with a reasonable grade at GCSE.'

Research from the Adult Basic Skills Agency shows that seven million adults in the UK have serious problems with reading and that two million can barely read. The figures speak for themselves and are not only appalling in terms of seven million people's limited access to the world in a literate society, but also have serious implications for the book trade. Some European countries have better figures than these, the US is even worse.

The World Book Day initiative is primarily addressed at this semi-literate audience. The first twelve titles in the Quick Reads series will be launched in March, with ten more to follow in May 2007. Written by well-known writers, they will be accessible, fun and easy to read, tempting those who do not read with ease or at speed to try them.

The hope is that another audience will also be captured by these books, the large number of people who can read but don't have time for it in their busy lives. Rebuck's argument is that it is vital for the book trade to find these readers and to persuade them that they can make a place for books in their lives: 'If we can get fans of Maeve Binchy, Ruth Rendell, Minette Walters, Joanna Trollope and Conn Iggulden, for whom a 400-page novel is not an option, back into the shops and libraries, and put a Quick Read into their hands, we will remind them of the great joy of reading for pleasure and get them back into the reading habit.'

The average Briton spends 17.5 hours a week watching television and 16 hours a week listening to radio, but only seven hours a week reading. It is vital for everyone involved in the book business to stimulate more interest in reading and to develop or reinstate the reading habit. Otherwise is will remain a pleasure many people will never have had access to, or which is effectively gone for good.