Coronavirus Impact: Spain’s Publishers Open a Two-Front Strategy

In News by Porter Anderson

The Spanish publishing industry has gained new clarity on where it stands with the Pedro Sánchez government and is ratcheting up its demands for recognition and assistance in the pandemic.

June 26 at Platja de la Nova Icària in Barcelona, shortly after Spain’s main lockdown period ended. Image – iStockphoto: Martin Silva Cosentino

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

A Campaign for Readers; Tougher Talk for Government
Two new lockdowns in Spain have coincided with today’s (July 6) news of a double-pronged approach by book publishers there to the market’s anticipated losses of some €1 billion (US$1.1 billion)—€800 million (US$906.2 million) in the internal book market and €200 million (US$225 million) in the external market.

As BBC News reported on Sunday, the northwestern region of Galicia is undergoing new restrictions on some 70,000 people because of a new outbreak triggered, officials say, by transmission in bars. Those facilities and restaurants are being cut back to 50-percent capacity, as reports cite 258 COVID-19 cases in the area. And in the hard-hit Catalonian region, 210,000 residents are under lockdown conditions around Lleida, where a “sharp rise in infections” has been detected.

Having brought its pandemic struggle largely under control—and now demonstrating how quickly new outbreaks can occur—the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center still places Spain at ninth in the world for its caseload of 250,545 infections, just after Mexico and the United Kingdom, with 28,385 deaths making it seventh in the world for fatalities.

And Publishing Perspectives readers will recall that a month ago, the Association of Spanish Book Chambers opened its #TodoEmpiezaEnUnaLibrería campaign—#EverythingBeginsInABookstore—to try to reinvigorate consumer traffic and buying in bookstores.

That reader-facing effort on July 23 will support a national “Book Day” that would normally have been observed on World Book Day, April 23.

#23JDíadelLibro is the specific hashtag for Book Day, on which, the book chambers association tells us, “Well-known authors and figures from the world of culture and the media are participating, as are booksellers, editors, and readers who have decided to join the initiative by making videos or posting messages through their networks or through the profiles of the @EmpiezaLibreria campaign on Twitter or @TodoEmpiezaenUnaLibrería on Instagram and Facebook.”

During traditional Book Day celebrations, the fixed-price regime on books is allowed an exception for discounts of up to 10 percent (this is also allowed for book fairs and exhibitions), and one element of the July 23 plan is to utilize that exception to help drive sales.

‘Not One of the Requested Measures’

The tone of the industry’s less public-facing tactic is decidedly less upbeat, and a serious lobbying effort has begun.

“Acknowledging the good dialogue with the general directorate of books,” the Federation of Book Chambers (known in Spain as FEDECALI) writes in a new message to the news media, “it has been entirely disappointing that not one of the requested measures to activate the book chain has been adopted.”

And this, of course, is a problem being encountered by many national book markets. As a stage of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic is eased, at least for a time, these national book industries find themselves competing with all other industries for government funding and supportive programming.

Spain’s book-chambers federation is asking for:

  • Funding for big buys of books to update and enhance library collections
  • The creation of a voucher program for citizens to stimulate buying
  • A program to boost Spanish content on in international rights trading
  • A new textbook program

The federation is calling for a roundtable to create a formal program with the Pedro Sánchez government, a “Pact for Books and Reading.”

The industry as a whole, the federation is arguing to Madrid, invoices some €3 billion (US$3.3 billion) annually and operates through more than 222 subsidiaries, most of them in Latin American markets. And yet, “Until now,” today’s media messaging has it, “these figures have not been sufficient” to get the national government to recognize the book sector’s value and size.

“For decades, the book has sailed alone,” FEDECALI writes, “without being part of a work plan” with the central government. “The best reflection of this situation has been in budgets dedicated to the book, the cancellation of programs, and the absence of political will and vision to enhance books as an asset of the country’s cultural heritage.

“For these reasons, the book sector calls on the government to put aside political short-term efforts and lay foundations that enable clear objectives to be met, policies to be established, and resources to be contributed to cultural work, starting by considering the book as an ‘essential good.'”

A longer and more formal statement of the Spanish book industry’s demands has been sent to the government.

And world publishing may see more such national markets emerging from the pandemic’s assault with a better understanding of how books and reading are understood and supported (or not) by their political regimes—and ready, as Spain is ready, to demand action.

Pleasure boating picks up on June 26 at Algeciras in Cadiz after the Spanish lockdown lifts. Image – iStockphoto: Soyazur

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Spanish market is here, and more from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here and at the CORONAVIRUS tab at the top of each page of our site.

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.