It has only been in the last two years that Spain’s publishing industry has returned to growth, after five years of enduring a massive financial crisis that saw book sales drop by 40%. Now the October 1 vote on Catalonian independence has left many publishers in Spain and other countries wondering what the impact on the Spanish-language industry may be. Some reports have already indicated an impact on book sales, with booksellers reporting a 20% plunge in book sales since the vote as people choose to hold onto their cash and wait to see what comes next.
On Thursday (October 12), the Catalan Publishers Association, which represents 96 publishing houses, read a statement addressing the vote, and the violence that followed, at their stand at the Frankfurt Book Fair. The statement noted its “outright rejection of any form of violence and, furthermore, to declare its trust in the strength of the word as the sole tool for resolving conflicts.” It went on to state, “If we devote ourselves to the task of publishing, it is in large measure because we share this belief in the ability to take action through non-violence, using arguments and ideas, never blows and weapons.”
Barcelona, located in Catalonia, is home to several of the largest publishing companies in the Spanish-speaking world, including Planeta, Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial, and Anagrama, as well as numerous smaller, independent presses, such as Blackie Books and Malpaso. Numerous literary agents who work with Spanish-language authors, including Agencia Literaria Carmen Balcells, are in Barcelona.
Planeta, with several thousand employees in the city, has stated that should Catalonia secede it will transfer its legal dominion to Madrid. PRH Grupo Editorial, which employs 500 people in Barcelona and a further 150 in Madrid, is being more pragmatic. “Nothing has officially changed, as yet,” said Patxi Beascoa, commercial director of PRH Grupo Editorial. “It it does change, and it impacts our ability to do business, then we will discuss what is the best plan of action.”
Many feel that Planeta is following the lead of other large, commercial entities in threatening a move as a gesture to demonstrate opposition to independence. “Right now, the companies and the Catalonia and Spanish governments are playing cat-and-mouse with each other,” Marina Espasa, author and director of the UNESCO Office Barcelona City of Literature, said. “The population is roughly equally divided, half for and half against, and there’s no real certainty of what will happen next.”
One vocal advocate for Catalan independence has been literary agent Anna Soler-Pont, who employs half dozen agents at the Pontas Agency in Barcelona. She told PW, “We live in a global and digital world, especially business-wise, and in the end it’s not that important where companies are physically located,” she told PW at the fair. “So I don’t think the Spanish-language publishing industry would be harmed in any way: not in Spain, neither in Latin America. For a small independent company like the Pontas Agency we don’t foresee any threat. to the contrary…I personally believe that having a smaller and much efficient new Catalan state, we would perform even better.”