Story by Chloe Bayhack
MADRID–Since 1933, Retiro Park has been shoulder-to-shoulder packed on the last Friday of May through the next 17 days. The Feria del Libro Madrid, or Madrid Book Fair, was started by librarians, but quickly gained support from the government as it showed advancement in Spain’s education systems.
This year, the fair has 4,071 book stands, hosting 2,600 authors from around the globe for roundtable discussions and signings. The event’s director, Teodoro Sacristán, explains that the goal of the fair hasn’t changed in the past 80 years: to boost book sales, and to support reading in Spain. However, the mission now has an added, and urgent, component: to fight against piracy.
The National Census states that the number of Spanish people who read regularly has been on the decline every year, and is now somewhere between 55 percent and 60 percent in most of Spain. The European average is about 70 percent, but Madrid’s is unusually high at 71 percent.
The issue that’s worrying people in the business is the means of obtaining these books, which is putting publishers and booksellers at risk. As a result, the book fair has committed to combatting piracy by inviting schools and other programs through the Ministry of Education to bring paper literature to the hands of Spaniards.
Spain’s publishing industry is incredibly productive, releasing 200 original titles every day, says Juan Maria Piñera, 36, the director of marketing of Stella Maris, a Madrid-based publishing company that debuted at the fair this year.
Stella Maris has published more than 60 titles, partnering with up to 50 authors – all within a year. “Right now, there are losses,” Piñera smiles. “It’s a success to just keep publishing and to keep existing.” Stella Maris publishes books ranging from religion to science. They’re working on a Spanish version of the book Black Mass, centered around Boston’s Whitey Bulger case that’s currently being made into a movie.
Almost everything they’ve published, they’ve also made available for electronic platforms, a growing market to tap into. Since the company is so young, it has yet to be plagued by piracy, Piñera said, which is an inevitability.
Héctor Escobar León, 47, is editor of Eolas Ediciones, another publishing company based out of León, Spain. “There are huge issues of distribution,” he says. “It’s the culture of the south of Spain,” he goes on to say, further explaining the issue has gone rampant, as consumers are photocopying books and posting the image files online, in addition to torrenting ebooks.
“We’re used to the culture of everything being free, so there’s no respect for intellectual property,” he says, which explains the root of the issue. The people of Europe are more accustomed to the notion of art and culture being under public domain, open to anyone all the time. As he is at the fair this year representing many smaller publishing companies, León feels the hit of the piracy epidemic.
One of the only genres that hasn’t been affected by piracy is the same genre that propels the success and future of the publishing industry at large: children’s books.
“They carry sounds, toys and pop-ups,” says Antonio Catena, the manager for Latin America of Susaeta, a major children’s book publisher with an office in Madrid. “They’re much harder to pirate.”
Publishing more than 5,000 children books, Catena explains that the challenge of fostering the love of reading among youth is a large focus here in Spain. He pulls out a book with air-filled plastic pages, meant to be used in the bath.
Unfortunately, there are challenges. The children’s book industry still feels the affects of technology, even though piracy isn’t the issue; children’s books are being increasingly replaced with tablets. Roberto Rodriguez Ocampo, father of two, shops for a book nearby for his son, Alejandro. “My 2-year-old knows how to use a tablet better than I do,” he admits.
A new installment within the last three years, an enormous tent stands at the center of the book fair; its blue and white banner reads “SAMSUNG.”
Samsung has partnered with Casa de Libro, a major Spanish publisher with 34 locations all over the country, in an event that invites authors and editors to speak about how they got started on the web. If guests purchase a tablet, they get three hardcover books for free. Another edition features a hardcover book that includes the first chapter, and then a cut-out where you can place the tablet that contains the rest of the chapters. Additionally, authors are giving electronic signatures.
In an attempt to fuse the worlds of print and technology, Samsung is engaged in a fight against piracy with its presence at the book fair, encouraging Spaniards of all ages to interact with literature; legally, that is.
Despite new additions to the book fair, one of the largest independent booksellers in Spain, Alberti, has been at the fair for the past 40 years. Miguel Angel Martín has worked at it for the past 23.
“People in Spain read now more than ever,” says Martín, despite the introduction of ebooks. However, they’ve proved to be intense competition for Alberti. “We host readings, presentations, meeting authors,” he lists off, trying to preserve the public’s attraction to paper books and away from torrenting.
Like much of Spain, Martín is dissatisfied. The technological revolution in Spain hasn’t stopped Spaniards from reading, but is drawing them away from the traditional feel of pages between their fingertips — and in turn, toward stealing intellectual property. For booksellers like Martín, it’s unsettling.
“The book fair in Madrid is truly incredible. Coming on the weekend, seeing the sea of people,” he beams, “you’re impressed. But you can’t help but wonder: Where are these people the rest of the year?”