Television's ability to sell books extends beyond Oprah, judging by the BBC's Big Read project, now cranking up sales all over the U.K. Since the beginning of April, BBC television and radio stations have been exhorting the nation to vote for their favorite book of all time. A top 100 has been compiled from the thousands of fiction titles nominated in the BBC online poll, with passionate readers casting over 140,000 votes.
All 100 books are now being promoted in an extravaganza of reading events and promotions that booksellers hope will lead to a frenzy of book buying between now and the next round of voting for the top 20 in September. Celebrity advocates will be making the case for their picks in a series of BBC television programs in the runup to the September vote. Other promotions connected to the project include special Big Read reading groups and community projects such as the Reading Families Millennium Award, which offers up to £3,500 for novel ways to get ordinary people reading.
Great British institutions are also joining in the literary party. The British Library is hosting a series of debates over the summer with a panel of experts discussing groups of titles from the Big Read Top 100, gathered together under broad topics such as the Great Escape, Grand Passions and Coming of Age. Literary festivals across the country are being held to stimulate further passion as advocates for certain titles attempt to influence the public. Every local library in Britain is using the Big Read promotion to encourage reading and literacy. The Book Trust is forging links between reading groups and Readers in Residence in their own Bookscape project.
The actual list presents a mix of childhood favorites and classics, and there is a preponderance of bestselling modern titles. The first four J.K. Rowling novels made the cut, but the top authors were Charles Dickens and Terry Pratchett, creator of the Discworld comedy fantasies, with five books apiece on the list.
The impact on book sales was seen immediately after the announcement of the list at the end of May. In the first week of the Big Read, the 40 biggest-selling titles sold nearly 73,000 copies, and only two of the 100 did not make it into Bookscan's top 5,000 sellers. In the two weeks following the launch, Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist sold 3,446 copies and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird sold 2,507, with children's books and modern classics all seeing a rise at a traditionally quiet time of year. In the first month Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca and Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things quadrupled their sales. Booksellers are talking about the Big Read Effect, as backlist titles and classics are moved to the front of the store.
Penguin has the largest number of books of any publisher in the Big Read with 45. Joanna Prior, Penguin's publicity director, is delighted with the impact on sales. The Catcher in the Rye has been a particular success with sales doubling in May, to 13,500. Another star performer is Love in the Time of Cholera, whose sales have soared from 828 copies in April to 9,228 in May.
High Street retailers are all offering multi-buy deals for the featured titles. Ottakars and Waterstones are offering three for two on the top 100, and Borders is currently selling all 100 at 20% off. WH Smith is trying to attract book buyers back into its stores with a Little Reads promotion, featuring the first chapter of 50 Big Read books. Special promotions are expected to peak in September with the announcement of the top 20.