By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Skipis: ‘Positive Signals’It was in a 2020-2021 report in July that we learned of a mounting concern on the part of the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels, Germany’s publishers and booksellers association, about the performance of book retail points in the country’s city centers.
On Friday (November 26), a new and cautiously upbeat message arrived as an update from the Börsenverein. And it has to do with the talks between political parties for Germany’s new government coalition. As The Economist has reported, “On November 24, the leaders of Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP), a pro-business party, exuded optimism as they gathered in a converted Berlin warehouse to hail their new ‘traffic-light’ coalition (named after the parties’ red, green and yellow colors). In 177 pages and 52,000 words—a shade more than The Great Gatsby—their three-party deal lays out a policy agenda for the next four years.”
It’s in read-outs from those talks that the Börsenverein’s leadership says it’s hearing potential signals of hope.
You may remember that the summertime alarm was described as something familiar to major cities in many parts of the world, a kind of exodus of social and commercial activity in city centers, often exacerbated by the pandemic conditions that have intensified so many conditions in 2020 and 2021. “Not unlike the downturn for bookselling in the top-tier cities of China and other markets,” we wrote at the time, “the German marketplace saw distinct pullbacks in consumer activity in its urban hubs.”
The Börsenverein was making the point that even before the onset of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, the nation’s inner cities were “increasingly deserted” while some rural areas also tended “to lose their liveliness and diversity” during the height of the still ongoing pandemic.
“For a restart after the pandemic,” Börsenverein general manager Alexander Skipis said, “a joint effort with the politicians is required. We need sustainable concepts to revitalize the inner cities. The book trade—with its unique combination of retail and cultural institutions, and its filigree network of more than 5,000 local bookshops—can play an important role here.”
He used a term from the urban planning industry and the American sociologist Ray Oldenburg, third places, to refer to community-building venues sought out by citizens between work and home: “Bookstores are third places par excellence,” Skipis said. “Spaces for social exchange, togetherness, and public discourse. Here visitors can find inspiration, slowing down in a pleasant environment of openness. Together we can expand these spaces even further into cultural event locations that can develop further attraction and motivate people to come back to the city centers.
“It’s also essential for publishers,” Skipis said, “that politicians strengthen their framework conditions. In recent years, they’ve had to watch their rights being restricted more and more. With a view to the federal election in three months’ time, we therefore demand that politicians recognize the value of intellectual property and the work of publishers more strongly and promote their contribution to diversity and democracy.”
The New Coalition’s Plans
In its Friday statement from Frankfurt, the Börsenverein walks a fine, diplomatic line, the familiar effort to combine support and encouragement with persuasive guidance.
The support: The association says it welcomes “the fact that the SPD, Bündnis 90/Die Grünen and FDP are making culture a state mandate in the draft of their coalition agreement and are in favor of strengthening the cultural and creative industries.”
The guidance: “With regard to the central economic and socio-political concerns of the book industry, the coalition agreement usually contains open formulations that now have to be filled with concrete content in a dialogue.”
The text of the weekend’s media messaging from Skipis goes on: “The coalition agreement contains some positive signals for the book industry. An improved quality of stay and experience in city centers and the expansion of the digital infrastructure are also important steps on the way out of the pandemic for the book industry.
“At the same time, the parties recognized that publishers contribute to cultural diversity in society. We will vigorously accompany the examination of funding opportunities. The announcement to advocate a ‘fair balance of interests’ with regard to copyright law and the goal of pursuing ‘fair framework conditions for e-lending in libraries’ depends largely on what will be defined as ‘fair’ by the new federal government.
“When it comes to e-lending in particular, it’s extremely important for publishers to come up with licensing models that do not question the livelihoods of publishers. The ‘Read Fair’ initiative, whose members cover the entire value chain of the book market, offers possible solutions for the design of sustainable framework conditions for lending ebooks in libraries.
“This will show whether the new federal government takes the sound arguments of the book industry into account in its assessment of fairness.”
The statement from Frankfurt adds that the contract is not without drawbacks. “The association sees the fact that copyright restrictions for science and research are being discussed again and legal open-access obligations are in question,” the statement reads, “in view of the failure of the decision to prematurely expire the limitations of the Copyright Knowledge Society Act (UrhWissG), very critical.”
Skipis’ intent here is to build on the mutual dialogue being undertaken in the new government’s formation: “We look forward to constructive cooperation in order to concretize the stipulated points. It’s the aim of the book industry to make an important contribution to the success of a sustainable, democratic, and diverse society with its actions.
“To do this, we need framework conditions that enable us to do this.”
The draft coalition agreement, in German, is here (PDF).
More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.