The International Book Fair in Belgrade has officially opened two days ago under the slogan “Povratak Napisanih” (“The Return of the Inscribed”), which reflects the recess that the fair had to take due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Bora Babić, director and chief editor of the publishing house Akademska Knjiga from Novi Sad, says that almost 36 months have passed since the closing of the previous Fair and that that is a long period of time during the world experienced a pandemic and with the war in Ukraine raging for almost nine months. “We constantly hear threats of world and nuclear war, while inflation tightens the ring around the budget of each of our citizens. In such an atmosphere, publishers can hardly be optimistic, expect people to visit the Book Fair in droves and generate good revenues,” Ms Babić adds.
She goes on to say that most of the income from the sale of books will go towards paying the rental costs and equipping the booth at the Fair and cites the “excellent example of the German Ministry of Culture and Media which, through the Neustart Kultur program (founded in 2020, to boost the book and publishing industry and support book fairs)”. This year, the German government subsidized publishers by 30% of the costs of renting booths at the just concluded Frankfurt Book Fair.
Ms Babić adds that it would be good if “Serbia follows Germany’s example and finds tools to support publishers in this difficult and unstable time”.
“Book printing costs have increased 100% compared to 2019 because the prices of paper and other raw materials have increased significantly. Fortunately, Akademska Knjiga has managed to increase its output. We are coming to the Fair with 52 new titles, and we will have published over 60 titles by the year-end,” she says.
Although there are data showing that social science and humanities books are not that popular among readers, Akademska Knjiga is not giving up easily on such editions.
“A lot of books do not generate any profit for us, but we publish them because we are aware of how important they are for the development of society and the creation of critical thinking. In all European countries, non-profit publications covering social sciences and humanities are supported by various state funds. In Serbia, very few titles, in relation to the total annual production, are financed with the support of the state. Our society has numerous problems, so culture and education are not in focus”, Ms Babić explains.
She also reminds us that “last year, the Book Purchase Commission did not put 17 books published by Akademska Knjiga on the relevant list, namely monographs published for the first time by domestic and foreign authors, as if they were trash. These are very important books in which we invested a lot of money and they won’t now find their place in libraries as they have very modest funds for acquiring new books.”
Although there is a possibility that, due to procedural reasons, the Ministry of Culture will not be able to pay the publishers the money for the purchased books by the end of the year, Bora Babić hopes that “that will not happen, because it is not logical. It would be a precedent for the Ministry of Culture to work to the detriment of publishers, libraries, readers and authors.”
This post is also available in: Italiano