Weathering le storm
11.03.09 | BARBARA CASASSUS
The world economic crisis may be deepening, but the Paris Book Fair (Salon du Livre) will open its doors for six days on 13th March with a brighter backdrop than many other sectors of the leisure business could hope for.
Book sales are holding up better than other segments and institutional and corporate sponsors of the fair have pledged between 5% and 10% more cash than last year, according to Reed Expositions, which runs the event. Although three publishers have pulled out—Anne Carrière, Archipel, and the debt-ridden Le Rocher—exhibitors will number roughly the same as last year, says Christine de Mazières, director of French publishers association Syndicat National de l’Edition (SNE).
Exhibitors will include the Arab publishers who stayed away in 2008 because Israel was the guest of honour. This year Mexico and about 40 of its authors whose work has been translated into French will take centre-stage. Political protest is not on the horizon, more foreign houses than ever will exhibit, the days will end with concerts and other entertainment, and the French unions have scheduled their next general strike the day after the salon closes.
Professionals will have more opportunity than usual to discuss their concerns. As well as the usual booksellers’ day on the Monday, debates will be held on the Tuesday and will range from the role of the media in publishing to digitisation and fixed book prices in France.
The SCELF (Société Civile de l’Edition Littéraire Française), an offshoot of the SNE, will discuss audiovisual and other rights. Visitors will have plenty of opportunity to become acquainted with digital reading, library research and publishing, and the fair has a new whimsical mascot of a large-eyed book running towards it.
Questions, however, are being raised over the economics of the event and whether this year’s could be a turning point as the world plunges further into recession. About 75% of visitors usually enter free of charge, including students and the unemployed, and 14,000 book vouchers worth €7 will be distributed to school groups for spending at the fair. Also, some publishers are disgruntled that sponsors are increasing their presence. That being said, e-books and other digital products and services are a fact of life and, it could be argued, should be befriended rather than belittled.
The SNE will make a series of announcements on the first day, perhaps including an update on its stance over the Google Book Search agreement with the US. Google officials visited several European capitals earlier this year, including Paris and Brussels, to explain the deal. “It is incredibly complicated,” says de Mazières. “We understand it a bit better than we did, but still have a number of questions.” France, whose authors’ rights laws are among the toughest in the world, is the only country maintaining a court case against Google’s opt-out clause. A judgment is hoped for at the end of the year.