Athens Named World Book Capital as 118-Year-Old Bookstore Closes

In News by Porter Anderson

The ancient city learns it’s UNESCO’s World Book Capital 2018 and that its largest bookstore is going under.
The Acropolis' Erechtheion in Athens. Image - iStockphoto: Christian Offenberg

The Acropolis’ Erechtheion in Athens. Image – iStockphoto: Christian Offenberg

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Eleftheroudakis Staffing: ‘From 130 to 10’
In the kind of irony that holds no amusement whatever, Athens was named last week by UNESCO as the World Book Capital for 2018—only to learn that its venerable Eleftheroudakis bookstore will close on the 30th of September.

The announcement of Athens’ designation as World Book Capital 2018 came on September 14 from UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova in Paris. In a prepared statement, UNESCO praised the quality of the proposal made by Greece’s capital:

unesco-logo-lined“The proposed activity program includes meetings with writers, translators and illustrators, concerts, thematic exhibitions, poetry readings and workshops for publishing professionals.

“The aim of the program is to make books accessible to the city’s entire population, including migrants and refugees.

“Members of the Advisory Committee also praised Athens’ cultural infrastructure and its expertise in organizing international events.”

The designation of World Book Capital is made by the recommendation of an advisory committee, which includes representatives of the International Publishers Association (IPA).

Richard Charkin

Richard Charkin

Speaking to the news, the current IPA president, Richard Charkin, said, “Ever since my predecessor, Pere Vicens, proposed the idea for World Book Capital in 1996, it has been about celebrating and promoting literacy and reading culture.

“Our warmest congratulations go to Athens, which put in a fantastic bid this year.

“This ancient city naturally corresponds with the values of the World Book Capital initiative, and I am sure will deliver an outstanding program in 2018.”

Each chosen city’s tenure as World Book Capital begins on April 23, World Book and Copyright Day, UNESCO’s announcement tells us.

“Athens is the 18th city to be named World Book Capital,” the news release says, “after Madrid (2001); Alexandria (2002); New Delhi (2003); Antwerp (2004); Montreal (2005); Turin (2006); Bogota (2007); Amsterdam (2008); Beirut (2009); Ljubljana (2010); Buenos Aires (2011); Yerevan (2012); Bangkok (2013); Port Harcourt (2014); Incheon (2015); Wroclaw (2016); and Conakry (2017 ).”

UNESCO has issued its call for applications for World Book Capital 2019.

Report: More Than 400 Greek Bookstores Lost

Separately, NDTV reports, “The largest bookstore in Greece with 118 years of history, Eleftheroudakis, will be closed on September 30 due to the seven-year debt crisis.”

The announcement is said to have been made only hours after the UNESCO news was released.

Two years ago, during Frankfurt Book Fair 2014, Publishing Perspectives reported that Eleftheroudakis was emerging from crisis with a financial restructuring plan.

NDTV: “Since 2008, more than 400 small bookshops and larger chains have closed, according to the Association of Greek Books.”

There are, the report says, some 1,500 bookstores still struggling to hang on. The story cites an overall turnover in 2008 of €250 million, estimated to have fallen in 2015 to €150 million.

Sales in the Greek book market, the report says, have dropped to 50 percent of their 2008 levels, amid the nation’s wrenching austerity measures.

Sofika Eleftheroudakis

Sofika Eleftheroudakis

The store in question—the original location of which was in Syntagma Square—is reported to have had €24 million euros turnover in 2008, a figure that fell to some €500,00o last year, according to store manager Sofika Eleftheroudakis. In that eight-year period, NDTV reports, the store’s number of employees was gradually reduced from 130 to 10.

In an interview with The Bookseller’s Lisa Campbell, Eleftheroudakis says, “The current government is against all private business. The worst in this country is that laws change constantly and there is no stable environment for a business to thrive.”

She also tells Campbell that she spoke about the store’s plight to an executive of a UK-US publishing group, but “did not hear from him. My question is, do publishers want booksellers to exist or not?”

The Eleftheroudakis family tells NDTV it will return to bookselling, likely in an online format, once economic stability for Greece is regained.

Eleftheroudakis was opened by Constantine Eleftheroudakis in 1918.


The IPA’s Richard Charkin is one of the speakers coming to the Publishing Perspectives Stage at Frankfurt Book Fair. For information, click here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. Prior to that he was Associate Editor for The FutureBook, a channel at The Bookseller focused on digital publishing. Anderson has also worked with CNN International, CNN.com, CNN USA, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media.