By Adam Critchley
GUDALAJARA, MEXICO: Mexican editor, poet and translator Marcelo Uribe has been awarded the Publishing Merit Award at the Guadalajara International Book Fair and used his acceptance speech to call for new laws to control book prices and foment reading among the general public.
Since 1991, Uribe (b. 1953) has held the position of deputy director of Ediciones Era, a Mexico City-based publisher with an extensive catalog of literature and non-fiction, and was vice president of the Mexican Chamber of the Publishing Industry (Caniem; www.caniem.com) from 2006-2010. In 1987 he received the Carlos Pellicer Poetry Prize for his book Las delgadas paredes del sueño.
Uribe was one of the authors of a proposed book law that suffered what he described as “a mutilation” upon its passage through Mexico’s legislature in 2008, and which aimed to fix book prices to protect against inflation and arbitrary pricing by booksellers, as well as creating programs to promote reading in the country.
He described the resulting law, which mandates fixed book prices for 18 months after publication, but does not include the creation of a regulatory body to enforce the law or outline any sanctions against booksellers who modify prices, as “useless, strictly ornamental and difficult to apply.”
The number of bookstores in Mexico has been in terminal decline since 1960, and which accelerated during the last decade. According to CERLALC, the Centro Regional para el Fomento del Libro en América Latina y el Caribe, a Bogota-based UNESCO body charged with promoting books and reading in the Americas, around 30% of Mexico’s bookstores closed over the last 15 years.
Booksellers tell him, he said, that since the law came into effect they are experiencing the worst of times.
“Prices remain inflated, false discounts and not the books themselves are the method of sale, monopolies flourish and bookstores are closing down, while the bookseller that heeds the law is punished by the market and the ones that violate it are not punished by anyone. And the one losing out at the end of the day is the reader, with higher prices, deceitful discounts and an increasingly reduced supply of books available.”
“No country that operates a book law has committed the absurd error of trying to maintain discounts and a fixed price at the same time. All the effective book laws were born out of the clear and unequivocal desire to provide opportunities for books, booksellers, readers and for society to have democratic access to books, with more books that are more accessible,” he said.
Uribe called on the book law to be modified in order to make way for “a larger and healthier book market, to bring books back to the people and recreate that space for the daily encounter with books by providing an efficient marketplace that facilitates access to reading. The costs of an unhealthy market are way too high,” he said.
Regarding his work as an editor, he described the profession as one based on an artistic and cultural notion, as well as a vocation of honesty, as opposed to a studied mechanism of marketing or the desire to steal somebody else’s work.
“Real editorial teams are not improvised and high-quality work is not generated spontaneously or because of the backing of powerful financials,” he said.
Amid the libertarian practices of Mexican bookselling, where those who follow existing laws suffer and those who thwart them prosper, would stronger enforcement help save more stores from ruin? Or should the future be left in the hands of the market?