Federation of European Publishers: ‘How Terribly Our Sector Has Been Hit’

In News by Porter Anderson

The FEP is stressing to a European Union meeting of culture ministers that its member-states’ publishing industries face ‘a cumulative loss of some 25 percent’ so far in the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

In Paris, on April 7, a newly imposed order prohibits outdoor exercise before 7 p.m. as the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center sees France reach 98,984 cases and 8,926 deaths. Image – iStockphoto: Jacus

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

‘The Call of the Book World’
The latest appeal to governmental authorities from parts of the international publishing business comes from the Brussels-based Federation of European Publishers (FEP).

Written by Rudy Vanschoonbeek, president of the organization, an open letter has gone today (April 7) to the ministers of culture in all the nations of the European Union, plus Iceland and Norway. The message is timed to dovetail with the planned Wednesday (April 8) video conference set to emanate from Zagreb at 16:00 CEST (1400 GMT).

The New York Times’ coronavirus mapping and tracking updates reports that as of this morning, Eur0pe was reporting at least 132,000 infections confirmed.

The meeting is intended to address “the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the culture and creative sectors,” which of course are deeply disrupted by the necessary #StayAtHome orders in many of the more-than 180 countries reporting the presence of the contagion, not just in Europe. Whether termed “lockdowns,” “distancing restrictions,” “movement control orders,” or broad-based curfew controls, the good news is that public health authorities are cautiously optimistic that these efforts—which have badly short-circuited both publishing’s and other industries’ business—may be showing promise.

All such approaches simply keep people apart as much as possible to cut off  the transmission of the coronavirus COVID-19.

As Chrissy Farr at CNBC is writing, Facebook’s “Data for Good” team is working on tools that may help researchers “figure out if preventive measures, such as social distancing, designed to stop the spread of coronavirus COVID-19 are being followed.” That effort is meant to use “anonymized location data” collected from the platform’s users to develop co-location data, movement range trends, and a “social connectedness index.”

Rudy Vanschoonbeek

But needless to say, particularly with much of physical booksellers’ business closed down in Europe as elsewhere in the world, the book business is taking a tremendous hit, some retail players facing potential collapse.

“We, representing European publishers, the first cultural industry in Europe, want you to know how terribly our sector has been hit by the crisis,” writes Vanschoonbeek in his letter to the ministers of culture.

“New titles are canceled—with dramatic consequences for the authors, the translators and the editors—and bookshops are mostly closed. While booksellers are finding smart solutions to deliver books and e-sales are growing, this is nowhere close to replacing the lost sales in shops.

“The sector has already suffered a cumulative loss of some 25 percent of the estimated 2020 turnover.

“Yet, despite their serious financial and logistical difficulties, European publishers are supporting society in general as well as their communities with many initiatives during the crisis. Examples are trade publishers promoting ‘reading-at-home’ campaigns and supporting booksellers, or numerous educational publishers supporting schools with their digital content and didactic platforms, and there are many more.”

Vanschoonbeek, echoing many of the calls heard from various national publishers association, is demanding “concrete and urgent help” at a time when, of course, many world governments are struggling simply to minimize their death tolls and to somehow support and save health care workers who are taking the brunt of the nightmare for the world.

When it comes to the creative industries—which do not produce products or services that are “essential” in the same way that food, medicine, and fuel are essential—the plight of these cultural and entertainment providers is a hard but important sell. And while Europe’s cultural ministers are likely to be on the same page as publishing and other creative industry leaders, they know that life-and-death dilemmas may look more compelling to many national and local governments at this stage.

The Federation’s Five-Point Proposal

On April 6, an empty street in Delft in the Netherlands, where a ‘targeted lockdown’ approach has generated controversy. At this writing, the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reports the Netherlands has 19,703 cases and 2,108 deaths. Image – iStockphoto: Livinus

Vanschoonbeek is proposing five points to the ministries he addresses in his letter. He calls on the culture ministers to commit to:

  • Fully finance the Creative Europe Program as requested by the parliament and within it a specific budget line dedicated to books
  • Upgrade the financial guarantee dedicated to the creative sectors so as to cover the urgent liquidity needs of enterprises in the publishing value-chain
  • Ensure that any EU money earmarked to help address the crisis includes funds dedicated to the cultural sectors, including the book sector
  • Support financially the entire book value chain to help it cope with the immediate effect of the crisis
  • Step up public investments in buying books for institutions, particularly libraries, in order to restore the sustainability of the sector

The 29 member-nation associations gathered by the FEP will each be conveying this messaging to their own ministers, Vanschoonbeek says, “so that the call of the book world is heard and that concrete actions are taken toward restoring the sustainability of the sector.”

The kicker in the FEP’s message is a good one: “We often hear, ‘Books and culture are important for the future of Europe; they are a core asset of the European economy.’ Today is the time to demonstrate that the book sector is really a priority for Europe.”

What has not been part of the scenario when those “core asset” pledges were made in recent decades was a lethal worldwide pathogen. No one will want to see a diminution of the importance of cultural activities and their contributions to society. And the FEP is certainly right to make its case as forcefully as possible. But in head-to-head concerns about saving life, the inherently humanist foundation of the creative industries may mean that they have more sacrifices to make going forward.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the coronavirus pandemic is here.

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About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.