Venice’s ‘Mauri School’ Conference: ‘The New Challenges’

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The conference closing the 41st rendition of the Mauri Foundation’s ‘school of booksellers’ will be a look at new issues – and déjà-vu.

San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, site of the Fondazione Cini and the Scuola per Librai Umberto e Elisabetta Mauri. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Simona Sirio

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

The Mauri School’s 41st Year
As many of our Publishing Perspectives readers will remember, the annual Scuola per Librai Umberto e Elisabetta Mauri (UEM), the “school of booksellers” in Venice—which on January 23 will open its 41st edition—culminates in its Friday agenda, a special conference for industry professionals.

The key to the success of this long-running colloquy is that it brings together publishers who understand booksellers and booksellers who understand publishers. They’re adept, in other words, at facing outward from their respective perches in the industry to analyze some of the most defining issues of each season.

Stefano Mauri

Set on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore east of the Giudecca, the conference, correctly referred to as a specialization seminar, is annually seated in the Cini Foundation‘s tapestry-lined Salone degli Arazzi.

Under the supervision of Stefano Mauri, president of Messaggerie Italiane and of Gruppo editoriale Mauri Spagnol (GeMS) with coordination assistance from Giovanna Zucconi.

Alberto Ottieri

Alberto Ottieri, who is vice-president and CEO of Messaggerie Italiane, president of Emmelibri, and president of the Fondazione Umberto e Elisabetta Mauri, works closely with the foundation’s secretary-general Nana Lohrengel on the training days leading up to the conference, a complex set of professional programming that turns each year on the evolving issues of the day.

This year, the program will be without its longtime publisher and patron Achille Mauri, whose untimely death occurred shortly before the 2023 edition of the school at Venice.

Nana Lohrengel

The conference day’s highlight was, in fact, a remarkable, wrenching, and joyous outpouring of memories and tributes from family members following the central round table of the day.

The agenda of the January 23 concluding conference day has been released by Lohrengel and her team, its over-arching theme of “The New Challenges” being a reference not only to current industry issues that in some ways feel new but to how, in many aspects, these “new” issues also seem eerily familiar.

James Daunt

As one of the program’s speakers, Waterstones’ and Barnes & Noble’s James Daunt, has said in pre-event correspondence, “I find all my new challenges to be very like the old ones, just souped up in different ways.”

Many in publishing will find resonance in that comment in regards to artificial intelligence.

Frequently you find professionals in publishing agreeing that the questions and uncertainty surrounding quickly evolving topics relative to AI are reminiscent of years not too long ago when the industry grappled with all things digital.

And with Italy now moving into its guest of honor year at Frankfurter Buchmesse, of course, this agile and engaged marketplace will find its perspectives on new challenges—including familiar quandaries—followed by an even larger international brace of trade professional colleagues than usual.

This is the market, after all, that drew more than 115,000 visitors to its Più libri più liberi book fair in Rome in December, the 21st iteration of that public-facing event—with a professional program and rights-trading center—breaking its own record, a show that focuses on small- and medium-sized Italian publishers.

The share of Italy’s market held by those small- and medium-sized markets was 50.1 percent in 2023. This prompted the publishers association’s small-publishers committee head, Lorenzo Armando, to say, “These are issues that require a more conscious approach on the part of us publishers, but also an open discussion with others in the industry” such as booksellers “and on the public policies to be put into place.”

The Friday Conference at UEM

The Friday specilization seminar at the Scuola per Librai Umberto e Elisabetta Mauri 2023 on San Giorgio Maggiore’s, the Cini Foundation in Venice. Image: Fondazione UEM

On the conference morning of the 26th of January, Stefano Mauri and Alberto Ottieri will open the program with Ottieri offering an introductory overview of Economic Scenarios of the Book Market, followed by Angelo Tantazzi of Prometeia’s follow-up, the very pertinently titled Forecast for 2024: Where is the Italian Family’s Spending Going?

Ricardo Franco Levi

The Federation of European Publishers president Ricardo Franco Levi, immediate past president of the Association of Italian Publishers (Associazione Italiana Editori, AIE), will then offer his evaluation of The European Book Market and its specific implications both for individual markets like Italy and the world trade, as well.

Always one of the happier moments in the program, the session will turn to its two awards to booksellers—the Luciano and Silvana Mauri Bookseller’s Award in its 18th edition this year, and the Nick Perrin Job Grant, this time in its fifth iteration.

Those ‘New Challenges’

Outside the Salone degli Arazzi on Venice’s San Giorgio Maggiore, the Fondazione Giorgio Cini. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

And then after a break, the day’s central round table will be seated with a slightly extended title: The New Challenges and Déjà-Vu—as always a large ensemble of influencers in both world publishing and bookselling, but this year with a twist: the invitations to speakers made by Mauri, Lohrengel, and the foundation have brought together bookseller-and-publisher pairs, if you will, from three national markets.

  • From the United Kingdom, there are James Daunt, in his demanding transAtlantic role as chief of both Barnes & Noble in the States and Waterstones in the UK and Andrew publisher Andrew Franklin of Profile Books.
  • From France, the program will be joined by bookseller Denis Mollat of Librarie Mollat and the publisher Sophie de Closets of Flammarion, formerly with Fayard.
  • And from Germany, the event will hear once again from Michael Busch of Thalia and the publisher Felicitas von Lovenberg of Piper Verlag.

In the course of this ensemble’s discussion, with Publishing Perspectives‘ moderation and host Mauri’s top-line observations, the day’s audience will hear of concepts ranging from “a counter-strike on Amazon” to a newly empowered workforce; from vexing aspects of author branding to what one speaker says should be a watchword around AI: “Beware the sorcerers’ apprentices”; and from baffling challenges for bookstores in facing digital formats to a potentially impactful trend around translation, rights, and licensing: non-English-language markets’ readers who prefer to read original English texts over translations.

Following the round table, Barcelona-based Javier Cercas will speak on the Misunderstandings of Modernity, which may indeed bring into sharp relief that déjà-vu effect many are feeling at this point in publishing and bookselling’s development.

As usual, those whose time zones make a live stream useful will be able to look in on the program, running 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. CET, and there’s information about that here. And we’ll have more information forthcoming about this year’s Mauri School and its specialization seminar in coming days.

Booksellers at the Mauri School in Venice on a break at the Cini Foundation, San Giorgio Maggiore. Image: Fondazione UEM

More from Publishing Perspectives on Italy and its book publishing industry is here. More on Stefano Mauri is here, more on Ricardo Franco Levi is here, more on James Daunt is here, more on Thalia is here, more on bookselling is here and more from us on the Scuola per Librai Umberto e Elisabetta Mauri 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.