World Book and Copyright Day (also known as International Day of the Book or World Book Days) is a yearly event on 23 April, organized by UNESCO to promote reading, publishing and copyright. The Day was first celebrated in 1995.
The connection between 23 April and books was first made in 1923 by booksellers in Spain as a way to honour the author Miguel de Cervantes who died on that day. This became a part of the celebrations of the Saint George's Day (also 23 April) in the region, where it has been traditional since the medieval era for men to give roses to their lovers and since 1925 for the woman to give a book in exchange. Half the yearly sales of books in Catalonia are at this time with over 400,000 sold and exchanged for over 4 million roses.
In 1995, UNESCO decided that the World Book and Copyright Day would be celebrated on this date because of the Catalonian festival and because the date is also the anniversary of the birth and death of William Shakespeare, the death of Miguel de Cervantes, Inca Garcilaso de la Vega and Josep Pla, the birth of Maurice Druon, Vladimir Nabokov, Manuel Mejía Vallejo and Halldór Laxness.
Although 23 April is often stated as the anniversary of the deaths of both Shakespeare and Cervantes, this is not strictly correct. Cervantes died on 23 April according the Gregorian calendar; however, at this time England still used the Julian calendar. Whilst Shakespeare died on 23 April by the Julian calendar in use in his own country at the time, actually he died ten days after Cervantes, because of the discrepancy between the two date systems. The apparent correspondence of the two dates was a fortunate coincidence for UNESCO.
In the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland, World Book Day is held annually on the first Thursday in March. Although it might be argued that this makes it more a 'UK and Ireland Book Day' than a World Book Day as such, it was decided to avoid the established international 23 April date due to clashes with Easter school holidays. In 2010 it will be held on Thursday 4 March.
World Book Day UK began in 1998, launched by Prime Minster Tony Blair at The Globe Theatre in London. Several million schoolchildren in Great Britain were given a £1 special World Book Day Book Token (€1.50 in Ireland) which could be redeemed against any book in any UK bookseller. A specially created WBD anthology priced at £1 (€1.50 in Ireland) was also published. All World Book Day point of sale and the £1 book carried the special World Book Day logo to help unify the initiative through all outlets.
Since then, World Book Day UK has followed a similar pattern, gradually growing each year to encompass more initiatives, such as Spread The Word, Quick Reads Initiative and Books for Hospitals. Every year, the number of children receiving a free £1 World Book Day Book Token has increased.
In 2000, instead of a single £1 special anthology, four separate £1 books were published, covering a wider age-range. Since then, each year has seen a new set of special £1 books published.
In 2006, World Book Day began its support of and association with the Quick Reads initiative for adult emergent readers.
In 2007, World Book Day celebrated its 10th anniversary with the publication of 10 £1 books.
In September 2007, World Book Day announced the revamp of the Spread the Word promotion for 2008 into an on-line book group featuring a number of adult books which would be suitable to book Groups. A short list of 10 titles was announced on 1 February 2008, and the winning book, Boy A by Jonathan Trigell (published by Serpent's Tail) was revealed on World Book Day 2008, 6 March 2008. World Book Day 2008 was declared by The Bookseller magazine to be more successful than any previous World Book Day
World Book Day is a registered charity. It does not raise funds for itself but does support Book Aid International and Readathon as its nominated charities, encouraging schools to hold special fundraising events for children less fortunate than themselves. World Book Day is not funded by the British Government although the Quick Reads element does receive support from ACE, DIUS and NIACE. The funding for World Book Day activities comes principally from the major sponsor, National Book Tokens and the UK book trade (publishers and booksellers).