Coronavirus Worklife: In Tbilisi, Publishers Make Urgent Appeal to Government for Help

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Predicting a loss of US$3.8 million by the end of this month, the Georgian Publishers and Booksellers Association issues a list of nine urgent requests to the government.

An empty café in an April 24 shot in Tbilisi. Image – iStockphoto: Sofiia Potanina

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

Georgia’s Publishers Report Losing US$1.9 Million
Last week, Publishing Perspectives readers will recall, the British Publishers Association issued a five-point appeal to the UK government for measures that could help support and bolster publishing companies—which at the time had been left out of the chancellor of the exchequer’s 12-month business-rate exemption for retail and hospitality firms.

And in Tbilisi, a new nine-point list of demands has been put forward in an open letter to the government of Salome Zourabichvili in an open letter from the Georgian Publishers and Booksellers Association, along with some disturbing statistics about the impact of coronavirus mitigation efforts on the publishing sector.

For context, as we reported that set of demands on April 28, the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center tallies showed the UK reporting 158,353 confirmed cases (sixth in the world) and 21,158 deaths. Today (May 4), the resource center has seen the UK move up to fourth place in the world for caseloads, with 187,842 cases and 28,446 deaths. The UK is expected to soon exceed Italy’s 28,884 fatalities to present Europe’s highest death toll.

The association reports to the national government that total losses to date have reached “very dangerous figures for our small sector and comprise 6 million Georgian lari (US$1.9 million).”

By the end of May—when the association will mount its Tibilisi Virtual Book Fair—the organization says it expects the current losses to almost double, reaching some 12 million lari (US$3.8 million).

As in so many world markets, of course, the trigger for the losses, according to the association’s messaging, was the closure of bookstores as part of a declaration of emergency for the pandemic. “Publishers were effectively denied the right to operate,” the text of today’s statement reads.

What stands out as a departure from many other markets is this line: “In the beginning of April, online sales were banned as well, thus depriving the publishers of the only source of income they had left. Although online trading has officially resumed in Georgia as of April 27, the majority of our publishers still don’t have clear instructions how to proceed.” This, according to Gvantsa Jobava, chair of the association and an executive committee member of the International Publishers Association, has to do with an apparent intention on the part of the authorities to protect delivery personnel from infection. And while the measure was technically rescinded at the end of April, she says that some of the publishers still are trying to get certification to now operate online sales.

Gvantsa Jobava

Jobava says, in presenting this nine-point appeal, says, “This severe situation could be devastating for the Georgian publishing industry if appropriate measures aren’t taken and financial support isn’t provided by the government.

“This nine-point plan includes both financial support and specific project implementation, vital for the survival of the book industry today. In preparing the plan, the association has been guided by the examples of nearly 20 other nations, each of which already has had state-funded financial assistance to the local publishing sectors.”

The plight of the Georgian market is of particular concern to the association, of course, because Tbilisi has been named UNESCO’s 2021 World Book Capital, after its 2018 stint as Guest of Honor Georgia at Frankfurter Buchmesse. Planning and expenditures are always involved in advance of a World Book Capital year, and the organization, needless to say, is likely to be hobbled in its ability to focus on that designation while struggling to ensure the economic viability of the sector.

The Georgian Publishers’ Nine-Point Appeal

The Georgian Publishers and Booksellers Association has replaced its planned late-May book fair with a virtual event and has rescheduled the physical 22nd Tbilisi International Book Fair for September 24 to 27

At this writing, the Johns Hopkins dashboard cites only 589 confirmed cases of the coronavirus COVID-19, and nine deaths. The market has a population of 3.7 million, and such low numbers suggest that the government’s lockdown measures have proved to provide considerable mitigation of the threat.

The text of these points—as with last week’s UK publishers’ text—is that of the Georgian association of publishers and booksellers, with minor edits for syntax in English.

Complete exemption from corporate and personal income tax of publishers and book distributors for six months. Those exemptions are to cover all full-time and part-time employees as well as rental income amounts.

Government assistance in interest-free long-term loans for the professionals in the publishing sector. After the current crisis ends, most of the publishers in Georgia will require additional financing in order to continue their day-to-day activities. Thus, this element will be crucial.

Reduction of interest rates on current loans and long-term grace periods. In addition, it’s vital to negotiate longer than usual grace periods and revise the existing high interest rates for organizations in the book sector, with the government’s help.

Grants are needed for small publishing houses in a range of 2,000 to 5,000 lari (US$625 to $1,562). The Georgian Publishers and Booksellers Association is willing to work closely with the Writers’ House  of Georgia to develop and implement this project, by mutual consent.

A book fund renewal project for libraries, based on increased state funding. This is a traditional project of the association and because of its social impact, we believe that the implementation of this project in the current situation is vital for the sector. The association is ready to carry out this project remotely during this summer. Therefore, we believe it’s necessary to increase the state funding of this project in order to provide tangible assistance to publishers, librarians, and readers for the foreseeable future.

Increase state funding for the Tbilisi International Book Fair in order to reduce the participation costs for the participants. The fair is one of the most important sources of income for publishers and booksellers [currently scheduled for September 24 to 27, a postponement from its original dates, May 20 to 31]. Since we had to postpone the fair to the end of September, we believe that the financial situation of participants will be so severe that they’ll face serious difficulties even when paying their festival rental fees. So it’s desirable to increase funding for the Tbilisi International Book Fair, which will be fully used to partially cover participants’ participation costs.

Reinstatement of the Writer’s House of Georgia’s translation grant. We call on the Writer’s House to award its translation grant, which is the program’s traditional annual project, to promote the translation of foreign literature.

Supporting Georgian authors and provide education where needed. Obtaining state support for publishers and contemporary Georgian authors is considered an absolute necessity by the association. Having state agencies directly buy local authors’ latest titles is one of many possible scenarios, the acquired books are to be distributed to women’s and juvenile programs, ethnic minority regions, refugee shelters for victims of violence, regional schools, and in more settings.

Support for school textbook publishers. In Georgia, school textbooks for grades 1 to 12 are printed exclusively by one printing union. Local publishers demand the right to print their own textbooks. This will set a precedent in which copyright holders are able to print their own books, which is very important. Also, this action will result in the distribution of state funds to many small publishing houses, which now are directed to only one organization holding printing permission. This can provide serious relief that can help save the industry and its workers.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Georgian market is here, and more from us on the coronavirus pandemic is here.

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 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.