Authors draw up 'manifesto' to save Venice's bookshops

Authors draw up 'manifesto' to save Venice's bookshops

Authors have called on the Venice Biennale to "mobilise intelligence and artistic talent worldwide to invent new forms of support for local bookselling" in order to save the city's bookshops from extinction.

The call came as part of  "manifesto" drawn up by a group of 100 authors protesting about the number of bookshop closures in the famous Italian city last week.

Writers including Strega Prize-winner Tiziano Scarpa were among a crowd which gathered at Salone della Libreria Sansoviniana, a building of literary significance in Venice, to call on Italian MPs, the Town Council of Venice, private foundations and the Venice Biennale, a major contemporary art exhibition, to take action to save independent bookshops, which have been driven out of the tourist destination by high rents and rates.

As part of the campaign called "Venice, City of Readers", organisers have drawn up a map which shows the "living, dying and dead bookshops in Venice" and written a manifesto asking MPs to "recognise quality bookshops and support for independent bookshops in particular".

The document continues: "Of the Town Council of Venice, we ask that bookshops be included among the business categories entitled to occupy publicly owned buildings. Of the private foundations, we ask for philanthropy and cultural collaborations to support bookshops business in the city. Of the Venice Biennale as ask for their help in mobilising
intelligence and artistic talent worldwide to invent new forms of support for local bookselling."

British author Michelle Lovric, who is supporting the campaign, said: "This isn't just literary breast-beating and hand-wringing but a list of very practical requests and suggestions targeted at specific institutions that are in a position to make an actual difference. And shame on those institutions if they don't respond!"

Another British author living in Venice, Robin Saikia, has proposed that the city should consider setting up a permanent book centre under one roof containing affordable retail spaces for up to 100 booksellers. His idea is based on the much replicated indoor antique market concept created by British entrepreneur Bennie Gray in the 1960s. Saikia has circulated a document to the protestors  explaining the idea would be a "permanent solution" that is "commercially viable and would appeal[s] ... to private sponsors" such as Prada or Benetton.

Saikia said: "The weekly license fee (would be) a quarter—or less—of what dealers would have to pay if they were to rent a conventional shop. Gray's antique markets, housing a rich variety of dealers, have become iconic destinations in London. Why not apply the same principle here in Venice, but to books instead - and in a large space in the Arsenale? In addition to the retail units there might be exhibition spaces, a children's area, a small museum—and a number of bars and restaurants run by Venetian operators serving good Venetian food and wine. The project could be owned and managed by the Comune in partnership with a consortium of private and corporate backers. It would be completely in harmony with the spirit that has informed the Biennale since the end of the 19th century."

The campaign to save Venice's bookshops from closure has the Twitter hashtag #VeniceCityofReaders.