The Spanish publishing sector has jumped back in time to 2001. Following a bout of enthusiasm that was cut short by the onset of the crisis in 2008, and the subsequent lack of support for the industry, its leaders are now claiming that "what's at stake is the survival of cultural creation itself."
So warns Javier Cortés, president of the Federation of Publishing Associations of Spain (FGEE), in his presentation of the industry's 2012 report. "What's at risk is the intrinsic value of [economic and cultural] creation, and of all those agents who work to put the products at the service of the people."
The regression of Spain's top cultural industry is clear to see in the figures. For the fifth year in a row, book sales have dropped an accumulated 28.9 percent since 2008. Domestic sales in 2012 came in at 2.47 billion euros, a 10.9-percent fall from 2011.
We have an incompetent bunch of politicians dealing with these problems"
"Speaking strictly about the field of education, from kindergarten all the way to Minister of Education, Culture and Sports Mr Wert, things are looking dire," says the writer and Cervantes Prize-winner Juan Marsé. He says he is not surprised at this situation, because politicians have never been interested in culture, "and this [minister] least of all."
"Our politicians are mediocre, inefficient, and on top of that they are corrupt," argues the author of The Bilingual Lover and The Shanghai Spell, both of which were adapted into films. "We can't expect anything from them. We have an incompetent bunch dealing with these problems, which they have no interest in solving and no capacity to do so anyway."
According to FGEE figures, in 2012 the Spanish industry's turnover was 2.47 billion euros, a 10.9-percent drop from the previous year. To this must be added the numbers from the first half of 2013, which suggest a further fall of 10 percent. A total of 170 million books were sold, with an average print run of 3,540 copies. This bleak picture was painted by Javier Cortés during the presentation of the 31st International Book Fair (LIBER), which ended on Sunday at Madrid's Casa de Campo.
Only 63 percent of people in Spain say they read at least one book a year
Publishers, writers and booksellers cannot understand why the government is not providing sufficient support for a sector that is crucial to the economy; or why it is, in fact, reducing the budgets of public libraries, one of the alternative ways for people to read. All they're asking for is some support for improving reading habits in a country where only 63 percent of people say they read at least one book a year, compared with the European average of 70 percent; they also want a lower value-added tax rate for e-books, which now stands at 21 percent, in order to bring it in line with the four-percent VAT for paper copies.
Valeria Ciompi, from the Alianza publishing house, is indignant about "the deterioration and loss of social value of books and reading, which is something no nation can afford." In Spain, she claims, cultural industries have been penalized more heavily by the crisis than other sectors. Ciompi laments that culture and reading are viewed as something superfluous. It's a matter of serious concern, she says, that the government is not favoring citizen access to reading and books.
This opinion is shared by the writer Marta Sanz, for whom cultural budget cuts "encourage demagogue policies that separate culture from education and posit the false dilemma of which of the two is more necessary. They are fomenting a perverse ideology of priorities and choosing the lesser of two evils. Those dichotomies are deceitful because culture, education and research are fields that feed off each other."
Culture, education and research are fields that feed off each other"
The crisis has not spared children's and young adult books, which had experienced the greatest growth so far this century and were resisting the slump quite well. Reina Duarte, of Edebé publishers, says that cultural impoverishment is even more serious if we are talking about children and youths. "It is essential for them to be exposed to a broad cultural and literary selection. With the current situation, what we're doing is curtailing this freedom and affecting the cultural education of children, of citizens," she says.
Pocketbook editions, once the great hope of the industry, are in free-fall, with 23.2-percent fewer sales last year than in 2011. Pocketbook editions represent 6.1 percent of all published titles.
Meanwhile, electronic books have yet to take off despite the rise in available titles, because of the high VAT rate and ease of illegal downloading. Despite this, e-books already represent three percent of the sector, with 54,714 titles. Despite this effort, notes Cortés, the impact of e-books on total sales is still very small.
But it's not all bad news. In the middle of this perfect storm (economic crisis, technological upheaval, changing habits and lack of policies to encourage reading) exports are growing: foreign sales grew 4.1 percent to reach 527.34 million euros. Book exports remain strong and represent 30 percent of the total market, making it one of the main sources of dissemination of the Spanish language throughout the world. The European Union remains the top destination for Spanish book exports, where sales were 316.77 million euros. France and Britain were the biggest buyers. Another leading destination of Spanish books is Africa, where sales have grown 57.3 percent, to reach 10 million euros. The Americas remain the second-largest destination, however, with Mexico, Argentina and Brazil as the main recipients - a market that helps mitigate the slow sales in Spain.