Spain’s booksellers, angry at Amazon for decrease in book sales, plan to sue the online giant

LatinaLista — Today, the 71st annual Madrid Book Fair (Feria del Libro Madrid) opened in the city’s Retiro Park. Organized by the association of book retailing entrepreneurs of Madrid, the publishers’ association and the federation of national associations of distributors, book fair organizers expect over 270 publishers, 110 specialist and general bookshops, book distributors from around the world and lovers of books to descend on an event of an industry hard hit by Spain’s rapid economic decline.

Pilar Gallego, chairwoman of the book fair, admitted that Spain’s bookshops are experiencing “significant” sales declines and foretold that final sales figures for the first half of 2012 would be “dire.” Others are reporting that from March to May there was a 30 percent decline in book sales. Bookshop owners are reporting less people visiting their shops and fingers are pointing to one culprit, and it’s not the economy.

“Amazon is enemy number one of booksellers,” declared Fernando Valverde, president of CEGAL, the Spanish Booksellers’ Association, and secretary of the fair. “They don’t respect the fixed price of books and because of that we are suing them.

A reporter for Publishing Perspectives writes that publishers consulted by their magazine report they’ve never seen behavior from Amazon warranting Valverde’s claims but the dismal book sales have been enough to cast a gloom over the annual celebration for the book industry.

Spain's Princess Letizia and Prince Felipe attend the opening of the 2012 Madrid Book Fair.

Book fair organizers hope that at the least the 17-day event (May 25-June 10) will reinvigorate a past-time that is quickly advancing from paper to screen. The problem is booksellers in Spain are resisting the change with all their might.

According to Publishing Perspectives:

A distrust of anything digital has taken hold of retailers, to the point that many of them have stopped selling reading devices on their premises. Gallego has strong views on the issue: “Devices change constantly and swiftly and prices easily become outdated when a competitor with deep pockets enters the field.”

Though Spanish booksellers are resisting, the organizations that represent them see the inevitable ending of this story and so are banding together to create their own online platform to sell books so that Amazon doesn’t “eat the whole pie.”

Yet, the biggest hurdle is to get a public that increasingly finds technology the route to go when buying and reading their books to rediscover the old-fashioned pleasure of buying a pulp and ink version — in person, settling down with it, turning the pages and reading it.

Pizzateca, a pizza restaurant in the heart of Madrid, is helping with that. Popular for its artisan pizzas, the restaurant also serves as a bookstore. Started by Spanish book publisher, ES Ediciones, the restaurant’s staff stock just as many books as they do take-out pizza boxes.

During the Madrid Book Fair, Pizzateca is offering a special sale — any ES Ediciones book for one euro.

Putting old-fashioned books back into the hands of readers is a new priority for Spanish booksellers — and getting tomato sauce on the pages just goes to show that feeding the mind doesn’t have to be a sterile experience.

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