Who wants to give away a million books?
Never read All Quiet on the Western Front? Or risked buying a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel - say, Love in the Time of Cholera - in case it disappointed?
The books include The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, which features George Smiley
Ever thought what would happen if Britain's leading publishers decided to give away a million books in one day - including David Nicholls' One Day?
You'll get the answer to the last question on Saturday 5 March 2011, otherwise known as World Book Night, when a promotion will take place that will make a supermarket two-for-one on a packet of bourbons seem very unadventurous.
A million books, from a carefully selected list of 25 titles, will be handed out by members of the public to members of the public. That's the denouement, but the fun starts today.
Here's how it works: 40,000 copies will be printed of each of the titles (which also include Yann Martel's Life of Pi and Nigel Slater's memoir Toast). As from today, you can go to the World Book Night website, choose one of the titles and apply to give away 48 copies to whom you so wish.
You are asked to submit 100 words explaining your interest in that particular book and those you choose are asked to pass it on once they've read it. In case there is a rush on particular titles, you are invited to offer a second preference.
Applications will then be sent to the relevant publishers, who will whittle down the list to a final 800 (800 people x 25 titles x 48 copies = 960,000 books) primarily aimed at getting a fair geographical spread. The remaining 40,000 books will be handed out by the organisers to those they feel have restricted access to literature.
The criterion for selection onto the shortlist is a little haphazard. The judging panel, which includes publishers, agents, booksellers, writers and broadcasters, was told that the majority of writers had to be from the UK or Ireland and to be alive. There was then some wiggle-room to include "wild cards", which appear to be criteria-free, barring the desire that the selected book should still be in copyright.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is also on the list
The reason for this stipulation is that the event is not a purely altruistic act by the publishing industry; it is a promotion. The objective is to increase the market of those who buy and read books. The event could of course be done with Hardy or Dickens, but no publisher owns the copyright to their works, so the firms would not redeem the benefits should you become a fan after sampling their wares.
If the author is still in copyright - better still, alive and productive - the publishers' hope will be an enlarged fan base for their writer-cum-brand. So they don't want the market stimulation to stop with each book being given to just one person; they want to encourage the sated reader to hand it on to someone else with their recommendation.
The sheer scale of the project makes it intriguing: 1,000,000 books with a retail value of £8,390,000 given away in one night. Add to that the mass participation of the public and the ambition to roll the idea out across the rest of the world over the coming years and it starts to look epic.
The initiative has not been universally welcomed. Some booksellers are aghast that the big publishers are giving away the very product they are struggling to sell. And I understand it took some time to persuade at least one of the authors to agree to take part.
But if all goes to the organisers' plan, it could be a concept that works for all parties. The BBC has given its support to World Book Night and will be producing a range of programming and content to coincide with the event in March.