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Greek readers rely on economic literature

28 December 2010 / 19:12:11  GRReporter
5878 reads

Anastasia Balezdrova

In severe crisis times when reduced salaries and high prices and taxes empty the thin wallets of the Greeks even small pleasures are increasingly being left aside. Could be the book placed among these things that are being bought with difficulty?

I chose to ask in one of the big bookshops located in downtown Athens and daily attracts visitors not only with readings, but with various cultural events. Economic readings like The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein and the Big Plan by Stephen Hawking stood on the book-shell alongside the best selling books like Victoria Hislop’s The Island and other novels.

Vassilis Hadjiakovou, publisher and director of the Ianos bookshop, described very clearly the current situation of the Greek book market and explained why and when the reader’s interest was captured by the less known and boring till yesterday economic publications.

What is the status of the Greek book market today?

There is a fanatical readership in Greece, which is small, but of high quality. Many times we hear comments that people in Europe read more than people in Greece. But I think the essence is not in the number of books read but in what those books are. We see many people in the subway, in the public transport, in trains and cafes to read what we would call "books from kiosks" and what the Greek book lover would not read at all.

Moreover, there is great production of ideas and literature in Greece, whether fiction or poetry. Writers are many, especially poets. The two Nobel prizes are not at all coincidental. We observed a small increase in readership in recent years but we also recognize that new technologies have led to certain problems because the young generation and students mainly use technology rather than traditional books. But on the other hand and in view of the common situation, people who at some point in their lives were close to the book rediscover it now. This is possibly one of the best effects of the crisis.
People who usually read do not have high income but they will read whatever happens. They are accustomed to living with the book. I think the crisis has a greater impact on expensive things: houses, cars, expensive gifts. It has made goods expensive and the book has become an inexpensive gift. Now books are sought by people who have always done it and others who find them to be a cheap gift. So, I think things are not so bad as far as the book is concerned.

Does this mean that the crisis has not affected you?

The crisis has hit the publishing houses. This does not mean that we in the bookshops do not feel the financial problems of the people. We are aware that they have difficulties. But I would like to explain the situation in publishing houses, for which we heard to have closed or are about to close. First, many of them publish university textbooks to be distributed for free to students. This is a core activity for some and covers a large part of the overall work for others. We know that the problem in Greece is in the state. Not businessmen but the country is getting poor thereby creating a chain. Publishing houses are waiting two years to get their money and this causes financial problems to them.

On the other hand, we witnessed a boom of new titles in recent years – especially in those we call "the years of prosperity". Average 1500-3000 books per year were published in the mid 80s when I entered the book market. The number of new editions exceeded 10000 in recent years. This is good for the mind and the book on the one side. Moreover, it filled many gaps because many works of world literature and science were not translated before. Of course, many gaps remained. For example, very few Bulgarian books were translated into Greek. I published a book of poetry by Cyril Kadiyski few years ago and because I was engaged with this a lot I realized that there are real diamonds in Bulgarian literature which unfortunately were not translated. But it is likely Bulgarian books to be published because the recent years’ trend is towards the literature of the Balkan countries.

I meant, however, that the Greek book market with its small audience can not hold these thousands of books. This is a problem for some bookshops too. How to decide which of the ten thousand titles to choose, what to put on the stand, what to recommend? But this is insignificant compared with the problems of the publishing houses.

Tags: LiteratureBookshopsBooksCrisisIanosReadersEconomic publicationsBlakan fiction
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