How it was told:
Last week World Book Day brought with it the annual social media assault of kids artfully immortalising their favourite literary characters.
For every impressive painstaking portrayal of the Gruffalo there is a Harry Potter with a cardboard broom and a scar hastily sketched on with a Sharpie.
But that’s the point, the annual celebration is all about getting kids (and adults) hooked on reading, whether they are big or small, rich or poor.
To coincide with the March 7 date, a report was released suggesting that parents’ classroom warfare to create the best costume had escalated to the point where families were spending more on the costumes than they were on books.
A survey by eBay insisted the top spend on a World Book Day costume was an eye-watering £100, which was higher than the £74.60 reportedly spent on books every year.
The story first appeared in the Daily Mirror with the headline “World Book Day: Parents spend more on outfits than they do on novels”.
Yahoo! highlighted how the celebration had become slightly warped in its own version of the story: “Are parents missing the point of World Book Day?”
The report also gained traction on BBC Radio 4 with listeners like Jude Scott questioning the claim. She said: “This doesn’t surprise me but I find it very sad. The dressing up goes with the books, not the other way around.”
And Karl B added: “Parents spend more on World Book Day costumes than on actual books? You’ve clearly never been to my house and the clutter of books I have to constantly tidy up.”
But should this story be taken as read?
Forget the words, it is the numbers that make grim reading in this case.
The survey said that parents forked out up to a one-off £100 for a costume, with 46 per cent of those parents quizzed buying an outfit, while only 36 per cent planned to invest in a novel.
It’s tricky to dispute those figures, but the study’s appraisal of spending on books can be dismissed as incorrect.
The £74.60 is quoted from the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) Family Spending in the UK study, which in January revealed that household spending had risen on average to £572.60 per week.
Trouble is, it is not an annual figure, it is a weekly sum to describe the average family spending on recreation and culture, including books as well as spending on sport or concerts, for example. If that was scaled up to an annual figure it would dwarf the £100 spend on a World Book Day Costume.
Instead, it is worth taking the amount of cash spent on books in the UK in 2017, £3.349bn according to Statista, and dividing it by the number of families in the UK, which the ONS counts as 27.2 million. This gives you an average spend of £123.13.
This is by no means a perfect number – it would take in-depth modelling to adjust for the number of single people buying books. But when you consider that it is only the most competitive parents who are going all-out to spend £100 on costumes, it is highly unlikely that your average family is spending more on World Book Day gear than the latest bestsellers and children’s classics.
This study is not going to rewrite the book when it comes to literacy in the UK. But figures released on the same day – the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy’s stats that showed a 38 per cent decrease in the number of books borrowed in libraries – give a greater read on children’s access to books today.