May 05, 2017

In the week leading up to World Book Day (23rd April) Penguin Random House, in partnership with Save the Children, launched #ProjectReadathon Million Minutes.

Participants were encouraged to visit ReadWell.PenguinRandomHouse.com and read excerpts from 200 of the publishing house’s catalogue of books and authors for free. The time spent online reading was logged and as the minutes added up, the publishing house promised donations of books to children in communities through the US, Canada and Mexico. The more people read, the more books would be donated. One hour’s reading equated to 20 books given to Save the Children.

By the end of the week, the target of one million minutes had been reached and exceeded, and Penguin Random House now stands to donate 300,000 books. It is a great outcome, especially when you consider the following:

Firstly, this publisher is prepared to donate 300,000 of its books to charity and that so many people participated.

Secondly, it’s books that are being donated – not food or clothes or other ‘essentials’ – books.

It highlights just how important books really are. A press release from Penguin Random House notes: “The simple act of reading can have far-reaching social impact.” It is a similar train of thought to the Book Rich Environment Initiative that we covered in Publishing Matters. In that blog, it was noted that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) had identified families in HUD-assisted housing struggled to meet the costs of food or utility bills and so viewed books as luxury items. It meant the children in these households had no access to books and little encouragement to read which, in the long run, stunted their education, potential and socio-economic futures.

How amazing then that it is books that are able to break this negative cycle of disadvantage and poverty.

It is an internationally recognized fact that high-income households are more likely to read books more frequently, especially for pleasure, than low-income households. A recent reading survey carried out by German market research company GfK showed a high percentage of high-earners read books every day for pleasure and this was pretty standard across 17 different countries. In China for example 40% of high earners read every day and in the US, the figure was 35%. By comparison, in the US just 6% of high earners said they never read and in China none of the high-earners said they never read. (More on this survey can be found in our blog Reading, a World View.)  

Save the Children, tasked with distributing the books and “helping young students transition from learning to read to reading to learn”, also acknowledge the power of books to transform children’s futures. Children who find themselves in ‘hopeless’ situations can identify with similar situations in books, discover coping strategies, better understand their emotions, find ways to express themselves and have a shot at changing their trajectory of their lives.

So on the face of it, this is simply a gesture of goodwill from a publishing house, a charity and all those who participated. But when you look more closely you realise that books matter and #ProjectReadathon Million Minutes is a powerful catalyst for changing the lives of millions of children.

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