By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Italy Sold 8,569 titles Overseas in 2019As you’ll remember, the Italian publishing industry’s New Italian Books program was launched in June, one of the newest of the world book business’ national rights-promotional collective sites that have become increasingly important this year in markets compromised by revenue challenges in the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
This week, the Italian publishers association (Associazione Italiana Editori, AIE) has announced that 238 Italian books will be translated into more than 40 languages, thanks to funding from the Cura Italia decree. Behind this good news is a €400,000 grant from the ministry of foreign affairs and international cooperation, referred to as MAECI.
The availability of this money reaches all the back into the depths of the springtime outbreaks, when Italy became the epicenter of the European struggle with the virus. On March 17, the Italian government enacted the decree Cura Italia, roughly translated “Care for Italy,” with the intent of activating measures immediately needed to respond to the impact of the COVID-19 nightmare on the country’s already fragile economy and its people.
AIE, working through its service company Ediser, was an active driver in promoting the effort and in collecting applications from Italian publishers and agents for translation rights grants from the program.
The support is especially welcome to the Italian publishing community because, prior to the COVID-19 assault in the spring, the sector had made five years of strong growth in getting rights sold for books from Italy, widening the market’s footprint in world channels and shoring up book sales with a deepening cushion of rights-sales income.
Just When Rights Sales Were Gaining
Those amazing images of vacant city centers are back. Leigh Thomas at Reuters is writing today (November 20) that lockdowns in Italy and France “are weighing down public mobility more than in other European countries, according to high-frequency data compiled by Reuters that suggest the two economies will take a correspondingly bigger hit.”
At this writing, the 12:25 p.m ET (1925 GMT) update of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center sees 1,245,767 cases in Italy’s population of 60 million, with 48,569 fatalities.
“We’ve worked hard to support all cultural enterprises, to get them across the desert of the COVID-19 emergency. And in particular, we have helped reading.”Dario Franceschini, Italian minister of culture
In 2015, AIE figures tell us, Italian publishers sold 5,914 titles into international languages and markets. By 2019, that performance had risen to 8,569 titles, a growth rate of 44.9 percent.
“And in this evolution” of the country’s focus on its rights trade, “AIE is alongside the publishers,” says the AIE president Ricardo Franco Levi.
“We are already working with MAECI and ICE (the ministry of foreign affairs) on the 2021 internationalization program and beyond,” he says, “to define Italy’s guest of honor presence at the Salon du Livre de Paris in 2022 and as Guest of Honor Italy at Frankfurter Buchmesse in 2024.
In fact, Levi says, applications considerably overran the funding availability this year. There were a total 291 applications for translation rights funding from 82 publishers.
“This proves how much we need to support this direction in the years to come.”
Levi—whose steadfast collaborative work with the Giuseppe Conte government’s divisions has generated a remarkable level of state support for the book sector’s recovery—is expressing his thanks to Rome’s response to the publishing industry’s appeals for help. He’s pointing out that one reason translation rights support is so crucial this year is because publishing’s trade shows, at which so much of the rights deals are initiated, have been unable to operate normally.
“With this provision,” Levi says, “the government gives concrete support to Italian publishing and its internationalization effort when it’s needed the most, especially given the difficulties of international book fairs being canceled or only held online due to the pandemic.”
“The synergy between us and the institutions responsible for the dissemination of Italian books abroad also continues with excellent results,” he says, referring to the ministries of foreign affairs and culture.
Dario Franceschini: “A Strategic Investment in Culture’
It’s worth noting comments this week from the culture minister Dario Franceschini this week, as he spoke at the kickoff of the annual #IoLeggoPerché project (“Why I Read”) to benefit more than 13,000 libraries as well as publishers and authors.
Showing the level of comprehension and concern that has driven him to work so closely with Levi, Franceschini said, “Even in the most dramatic situations, there are always some positive traces.
“In this sense, the experience of the lockdown, the limitation of our movements, the isolation all have made many people discover things that in their hectic lives, so accelerated and fast, they’d forgotten. Spaces of silence, solitude, isolation in their homes.
“It’s no coincidence that many people have rediscovered the pleasure of reading. And this will stay with us,” he said, “because once you learn the pleasure of reading, you continue to do it throughout your life.
“I believe we must invest in this, just as we must invest in the fact that many political decision-maker—traditionally far from culture—have understood the importance it has in our societies, and in particular in Italy, this investment in culture.
“They understood how sad and ugly our cities are with closed cinemas and theaters, without concerts, without cultural life. those things that make us rich and alive.”
Here you get the argument that Levi and his team have successfully communicated, and you hear it this time coming back from the government—the concept of Italy’s culture as the essential business of a nation that lives so close to its artistic heritage. The effort now, Franceschini is confirming, is a “strategic investment in culture.”
“We have worked hard,” Franceschini said, “we’ve worked hard to support all cultural enterprises, to get them across the desert of the COVID-19 emergency.
“And in particular, we have helped reading, with support for bookstores, which will remain open in the red areas like other essential services, and with our support for small publishing houses. That support now continues,” he said, “for the book itself.”
And how lucky other nations’ publishing industries would be to have ministers like Dario Franceschini in place at a time like this.
More from Publishing Perspectives on the Italian market is here. more from us on bookselling is here, and more on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.