Poetry Bucks

Posted by @ 2:09 pm on Tuesday 22nd May, 2012.
Categories: Rambling on...

I guess that a lot of folk have received, or are due to receive soon, a similar letter...


"Dear Parent/Guardian,

Recently [your child's name]'s school, [your child's school] submitted some of their pupil's work for our [title here] competition...

Work has been selected for publication based on perception, imagination, expression, interpretation of poetry and use of language...

I am therefore delighted to inform you that [your child's name]'s poem, [poem title], has been chosen for publication in [title of publication]...

Each school featured in the book will receive a complimentary copy for their library, and a copy of the book will be sent to the British Library and further libraries across the UK and Republic of Ireland...

... to mark [your child's name]'s achievement we've enclosed a certificate of merit and a bookmark...

Also enclosed is a Copyright/Permission form for [your child's name]'s poem...

Books in this series will be attractively laid out A5 softbacks with a full colour cover...

Yourself, and family members, are entitled to order before publication at £15.99 per copy, and for every two copies you purchase we'll give you a third copy free..."


Leaving aside the obvious grammatical errors in the letter, the rest sounds good. My daughter's work in print, with both her name and her school's name there on the page. In truth her poem is really good, her Head Teacher is really impressed by it and I'm really proud of her. And she's in there with a chance of a reward for her efforts, but more about that later.

My daughter's obviously good at poetry, let's see how good I am at ball-park maths...

The publisher has received entries from "UK and overseas" and the books are regional collections - for example, the one offered to us covers works from pupils in Leicestershire and Northamptonshire Secondary Schools. The competition is open to all pupils aged 11-18, the latest available data from the ONS is for the year 2008/9 and shows that there were approximately 4 million eligible pupils in the U.K. (source, it's in .xls format).

Now I'll do some estimating...

Looking at the U.K. pupil stats I'll deduct 10% to account for those pupils that don't continue with English post-16. I'll deduct another 20% which is a complete guess at the number represented by schools that don't participate, and another 10% for qualifying pupils that didn't submit an entry. That still leaves 2.4 million potential entrants.

Now I'll split the maths into two parallel calculations. Why? Well, if you believe the blurb, all submissions are filtered, so the number of "Well Done" letters sent out to proud parents would be relatively low. I'll call that "Scenario 1". However, if you believe some of the accounts available on the internet (see here and here) some schools submit all of their pupils' output and these "Well Done" letters then get delivered to all of the parents of pupils concerned. I'll call that "Scenario 2". For both Scenarios I'll assume that of all the parents that receive "well done" letters 1/3 will buy one book, 1/3 will buy two and get a third book free, and the remaining 1/3 won't buy anything.

I'll also round up the book price to £16.00 to make the maths easy.

So, Scenario 1...

After filtering, the best 10% of pupil's poetry pieces (the best three pieces from each class of 30 pupils sounds like a reasonable estimate) are submitted and are proposed for publication. That would mean 240,000 "Well Done" letters and 240,000 potential sales. Assuming the 1:1:1 uptake ratio, that's sales of 80,000 @ £16 and 80,000 @ £32, I make that £3,840,000

And Scenario 2...

With no filtering, all of the poetry pieces are proposed for publication. That would mean 2,400,000 "Well Done" letters and 2,400,000 potential sales. Assuming the 1:1:1 uptake ratio, that's sales of 800,000 @ £16 and 800,000 @ £32, I make that £38,400,000

You'll have noticed that I've only done the calculations based on U.K. pupil numbers. I shudder to think of the results possible if the "overseas" element was to be included. Oh, and there's P&P to be added - £2 per order for deliveries in the U.K., £4.95 per book for deliveries anywhere else.

Now fair enough, everybody's out to make a buck these days, and I know that there are printing, distribution and other costs to be deducted from those figures before a true profit figure can be calculated, but we're still talking huge sums of money here for a publisher that has all of the content provided by kids, via schools, for free.

Talking of the kids and the schools, what do they get out of all of this, aside from getting their poetry and their names in print?

Well, the generosity of the publisher knows no bounds...


"We will be awarding £3,000 in cash prizes to 7 schools nationwide, with the best school winning £1,000. The best young writer in each regional collection will be awarded a £10 book token."


A £10 book token for each best regional writer?

Considering the amount of money in this venture, that's not a prize, that's an insult.

Did somebody at the back just mention "exploitation"?

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4 Responses to “Poetry Bucks”

  1. george says:

    We've just gone through the same thing with our eleven y.o. Its difficult to tell a kid that they are being exploited 🙁 When we received our book, it seemed as though most of the kids in my daughter's class were in the book.

    I wonder if the school gets a % back of the sales of the books, the same way as they do on the school photographs.

  2. BG! says:

    Originally Posted By george
    I wonder if the school gets a % back of the sales of the books, the same way as they do on the school photographs.

    We'll find out soon enough - I visited the school today and discussed this whole matter with the Head Teacher. Even he thought that offering a £10 book token was miserly bearing in mind the sums involved. He's going to investigate and says he'll contact me next week.

    If there are kickbacks based on sales then it would be an incentive to send in as many entries as possible, which is in conflict with the notion that only the best should be submitted.

    By strange chance my daughter has been learning about exploitation, as part of their year's study of slavery. That made it easier for her to understand why I am concerned by this situation.

  3. Mark says:

    The maths obviously has to be guesswork (10% not doing English post 16 is, I would suggest, much too low a percentage), but this seems like a scam pure and simple. And there are many other companies trying to use schools as a form of revenue and/or advertising. School photos seems like a case in point - the prices are ridiculous. We also get to buy Christmas cards printed from our children's own designs and tea-towels too, both at silly prices which involve kick-backs to the school I'm sure. I understand the financial pressures which make these offers attractive to hard-pressed headteachers and governing bodies but the morality of some schemes is questionable at best.

  4. BG! says:

    Agreed on my underestimation of pupils not doing English post-16 so I did a recalc based on removing all post-16s, I figure that if any of them do English then they probably wouldn't submit their work anyway, it being "uncool" to do such things. I've estimated the post-16 population at a round 1 million based on the same ONS data as before. Even with those taken out the calculated values are still high... £2,880,000 and £28,800,000 respectively. Lower, but still a hell of a lot more than what amounts to a mere hint of a possibility of a meagre £10 book token.

    FWIW, my daughter is rather angered by the fact that if she gets her work published then her school will get a free copy of the book but she won't. She pointed out that even if she's judged to be "Best in Region" she still won't get a free copy, and the £10 Book Token prize will never be enough to buy a £16 book! Her faith in what she believed to be a fair system has been shaken. It seems that I have a teenage daughter with high morals and strong principles!

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