By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Joint Statement: ‘A Precarious Position’Warily watching the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic numbers in Europe, particularly with the picture of the omicron variant’s presence still coming into focus, the European and International Booksellers Federation (EIBF) in Brussels has opened a “No Christmas Without Books’ campaign.
The Booksellers Federation is joined by the Federation of European Publishers and Intergraf, the organization of more than 110,000 European and United Kingdom printing companies in this appeal, which calls on EU leadership and all the member-states’ national authorities to “Follow the lead of several European countries—Italy, France, Belgium—in recognizing books as essential cultural goods, thus allowing bookshops to remain open.”
The effort is a kind of pre-emptive strike, in the vernacular, a warning prior to many actual such closures having been put into place.
There’s a decided and understandable emphasis on print, of course, not only as the most desirable format for bookish gift traffic but also as the retail segment most vulnerable to sales-point shutdowns. In such closures lie the worst memories of the pre-vaccine part of the pandemic era, when, for example, Germany saw its bookstores closed just 15 days before Christmas 2020.
In a statement issued with the program’s material on Thursday (December 9), EIBF co-president Jean-Luc Treutenaere is quoted, saying, “the bookselling, publishing, and printing sectors stand united in emphasizing the essential value of books, especially during the festive season.
“Books are sources of culture and creativity, and bookshops play a central role in promoting reading and in building fairer and more inclusive communities.
“This holiday season, visit your local bookshop: there is no gift quite like a book.”
Speaking for Intergraf, its president, Ulrich Stetter, says, “Books are a very important cultural and educational product.
“Reading long informational texts in print has proven to be better for understanding and retention. Books are important for learning and understanding complex facts. Europe is in a great position to have an industry composed of small- and medium-sized companies that are active in this sector.
“The Christmas season is one of the most important seasons for our companies and we need to ensure that the value chain continues to strive—especially in these difficult times.”
And Peter Kraus vom Cleff, president of the publishers’ federation, says, “At the eve of the Christmas holidays, when we all long for both some cozy rest time and sharing presents with our loved ones, books remain one of our favorite pastimes.
“Especially in these troubled times, books allow and enable us to travel and escape with our imaginations. And paper is very well suited for these imaginary journeys, with each turning of the page, we are entering worlds of knowledge, entertainment, pleasure, and new perspectives.”
The joint appeal’s text reads, in part, “The last 18 months have drastically increased the amount of time we spend in front of screens: from daily tele-working to remote education and from online meetings to evening binge-watching.
“A recent OECD study reports that students spend more and more time online, whether for school or for entertainment. For instance, as early as 2018 a Danish 15-year-old [was estimated to spend] 45 hours per week online.
“Printed books are essential to disconnect and enjoy time offline. Indeed, as the OECD study suggests, young people [surveyed say they] enjoy reading more when they read in print.
“COVID-19 prompted many different policy responses at national level,” the three agencies write, “with many countries imposing movement restrictions and even full lockdowns, leaving businesses that rely on the physical presence of customers in a precarious position.
“Booksellers, like many of their retail counterparts, were forced to close their doors for many weeks and months—resulting in drastically reduced sales numbers and a de-facto knock-on effect on other actors of the book chain. This compromises the profitability of the entire book value chain and puts further pressure on its, already fragile, economic situation.”
Referring to the evidence of pandemic era reading levels, the agencies assert that books are “essential cultural goods,” and encourage policy makers to see them as such and protect them in the event of sharp social restriction measures amid viral surges.
The Coronavirus in Europe
As this point, there’s some extremely cautious optimism being reflected in such reports as Fergal O’Brien’s piece for Bloomberg today (December 10). While the lead of that report is that there might be a leveling off on the European continent–but if so, that effect is being credited, at least in part, to lockdowns and restrictions on unvaccinated citizens. Indeed, at this point, most of the lockdown efforts in the Eurozone have been based in the unvaccinated segments of various markets’ populations, an approach which can in most cases avoid business shutdowns.
And even so, O’Brien writes, that while the viral activity in some states may be plateauing, “Contagion rates are still at high levels and governments are staying alert given the danger of relaxing too fast and reigniting the flare-up. The spread also appears to be slowing in the Netherlands. But cases are still rising sharply in some countries, including Switzerland, where the spread of infections is at a record high.”
While Romania and Hungary seem to be able to loosen some of their restrictions, O’Brien notes, Poland is tightening its restrictions and the new German chancellor, Olaf Scholz has not ruled out more restrictions before Christmas.
The Associated Press in Copenhagen reports, “Denmark’s government has decided that students up to the 10th grade must study remotely for the last few days before Christmas break and ordered nightclubs, bars, and restaurants to close at midnight as part of efforts to counter an uptick in COVID-19 cases. Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen also banned concerts where audiences have more than 50 people standing and required restaurant patrons to wear face masks when they aren’t seated. She recommended Wednesday that people work from home.”
France24 has reported that Ile-de-France and five other regions are activating their hospitals’ emergency plans because of the strain already hitting their ICU availability and other resources.
At this writing, the Worldometers tracking system sees a total 77,436,510 cases in a total population of 68,398,479, with 1,4,998 fatalities. At least 3,883 new deaths have been added today (December 10), alongside at least 322,380 cases.
More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.