Saturday, March 04, 2006

Literature for the Sub-Literate


It seems that anywhere between 7-12 million readers in the UK struggle with sub-literacy and consequently never pick up a book.

Enter Quick Reads, a new series of books launched in the UK on World Book Day, and aimed at those marginal readers. The price is low at £2.99 (aboutRM20), the print large, the language plain and the covers bright and tempting. And all the books have been specially commissioned from established writers. The first batch includes works by Ruth Rendell, Minette Walters, Richard Branson. More titles will be added in May. Boyd Tonkin in the Independent welcomes the intiative, but likes some ot the titles much better than others.

Quick Reads are not only good for emergent readers, they're good for the book trade, tapping into a market thus far completely untapped. If there's a low profit margin on Quick Reads, booksellers will be more than compensated by return customers who've suddenly discovered the power of the book.

And of course, there should be a lesson in here for booksellers and all those with a stake in adult literacy here in Malaysia where the greatest need is to grow a readership is given much lip service to, but no-one seems quite sure what to do about it in practical terms. If such a high proportion of native speakers struggle to read in their first language, what more of many Malaysians for whom English is a second?

13 comments:

Walker said...

£2.99 might sound cheap but isn't it a little expensive to appeal to the kind of person who rarely reads. If anything, the price needs to be more on par with a Dover Thrift Edition (0.75p) than a CD single or a DVD rental.

Again, £2.99. £2.99! £2.99 for a "Quick Read"! Embrace my exclamation marks and consider the price of a Wordworth classic. Approx £1.00-£1.99 depending on where you buy.

Cynical me...eh?

bibliobibuli said...

It's a funny thing, £2.99 sounded dead cheap to me when i typed it ... but when i converted it to m'sian currency i thought that's not so cheap after all ... i was picking up good hard backs at the warehouse sale the other day for the same price and cheaper and novels for less than half the price ...

clearly my head has currency exchange problems! that's why i always overspend when i get home

and i agree with you that to be really effective the books should cost much less ...

Lydia Teh said...

Sharon, I had a look at it at their website. Each book is just over 100 pages. Reminds me of those little books : women's weekly romance titles which I used to devour when young.

Dollar-for-dollar, if publishers here can price such small volumes for RM3 (can they?!), I say it's very very cheeeep. Even if its RM5, it's still cheap.

Chet said...

Sharon - the trick is not to convert! Just take the price at its numbers, and don't worry about the currency sign in front of it. If you do (and if I did), we'll never go out when overseas (except somewhere cheaper than Malaysia).

Years ago, when I was studying in England, a friend and I had lunch in Chinatown London one Sunday. We ended up choosing the cheapest item on the menu, which was fried rice for £2.50. I nearly had a heart attack when I converted the money and realised we'd just paid RM10.00 for a plate of nasi goreng each. After that, I tried not to do any currency conversion when overseas.

(sorry for this long semi-post).

Walker said...

£2.50 for egg fried rice in London? Cripes, it's a quid more than that here up in the North West. ;)

Sorry for all those exclamation marks Sharon...I was a bit misleading and the price isn't ridiculously expensive from a British POV I suppose -- even for a good quality paperback. Contemporary paperbacks can cost up to £7 pounds, depending on how recently they were first published.

I do, however, think that books of approx. 100 pages are unlikely to sell for £2.99 to people who wouldn't normally read -- certainly given the music and film addictions they could feed with a similar amount of money. And I'm inclined to think this another publisher's marketing gimmick. Surely those those Quick Reads by Ruth Rendell and Minette Walters will appeal and sell more to their already-reading fans.

bibliobibuli said...

chet's dead right, walker ... we should just ignore the sign in front of the figure ... i paid £7 for a utthapam in london!!!! (okay translation - that's a sri lankan rice flour fermented pancake thingy eaten with dahl) - we would pay only -what? - RM2? (30p) here for one which is much much more delicious ... nearly died when i converted the price ... britain is horrendously expensive and the food is nowhere near as good ... when are you coming here, walker?

lydia - yes, what's needed are our own quick reads by local writers which should be priced very cheaply ...

i was thinking i'd like to buy those books myself - especially the ruth rendall - she writes such good short stories. it could be a marketing gimmick, but then let's keep an eye on it and pray for some evaluation of the whole scheme (with all the other initiatives running side by side with it)

Chet said...

walker - the £2.50 fried rice was back in 1987. That's 19 years ago.

Walker said...

I bet it's £22.50 now chet. ;-)

And Sharon: I'll probably make it to Malaysia before autumn 2007. I'd actually like to visit a few countries in that part of the world (Singapore, Thailand, etc.) before heading out to Australia to visit an old Uni friend. I'm hoping to take a month out for this if I can make a career move over the next eighteen months.

Totally fell of the topic didn't I? ;-)

bibliobibuli said...

that's great! i can take you on a tour of kl bookshops! (and if you need a place to stay ... you can sleep in my library)

Anonymous said...

It's yet another gimmick. Too many gimmicks, not enough content. The world suffers from not so much a lack of books as a lack of good books.

Anonymous said...

"what's needed are our own quick reads by local writers which should be priced very cheaply..."

Sorry, but low price implies high volume, and where are you going to get the volume over here ? I (or anyone I suspect) would more than gladly write a few if the volume was guaranteed :) all I can say is.. if there's so much as a _ten_ thousand copies sold, anyone would want to write one cheaply.

Anonymous said...

..and I thought only his wife ate Dahl (but maybe his readers as well.)

Walker said...

Oooh, what an offer. Thanks Sharon. I'll take you up on that tour, but I'm afraid you'll wake up to no Walker and no books if you let me sleep in your library. ;-)