THE HAVANA BOOK FAIR
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of joining a group of American book professionals (booksellers, publishers, distributors) visiting the Havana Book Fair in Cuba as part of the first US Publishing Mission (created by PublishersWeekly, the Combined Book Exhibit and PubMatch).
The Havana Book Fair is a giant open-air book festival that takes place annually in the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabana. There is music everywhere! Publishers exhibit in old prison cells (now turned into booths); authors launch new books and give talks to crowds of readers. It is a once-a-year opportunity to see the entire publishing market of Cuba in one place.
"Many families only buy books once a year," says Zuleica Romay Guerra, President of the Book Institute of the Cuban Ministry of Culture. "You see families saving for months to go to the book fair and buy as many books as they can." (from Calvin Reid’s During Panels, Realities of Cuban Publishing Market Laid Bare)
The Cuban book business, being largely run and subsidized by the government, is extremely different from our own industry. A few examples (at least as I understood them):
Some numbers as supplied by the Instituto Cubano del Libro:
This is an industry undergoing major change right now, and they recognize that it will likely take a generation to turn over to a different business model, but they are excited about the future.
“I know you will take this work seriously. And I can promise you that we will also be serious about it.”
— Zuleica Romay Guerra, Book Institute of Cuba
One of the challenges in Cuba is the availability and the cost of books. Fuentes says that while about 70% of Cubans are used to reading digitally, there is a shortage of digital reading devices available in Cuba. As their connectivity improves in the coming months and years, it will mean greater access to ebooks and digital reading.
"We have started but not as fast as our readers. Readers are actually ahead of us. It is one of our challenges."
-- Zuleica Romay Guerra, Book Institute of Cuba
As part of the final panel of the conference, we talked about what the digital transformation has looked like in the U.S. and what that has meant for our industry. In my presentation at the book fair, I highlighted that what is particularly relevant for the Cuban industry right now are what I called the 5 major outcomes of ebooks:
One of the things I highlighted in my talk (as I have in other talks elsewhere) was the persistence and importance of print. As we know, in the US, we are part of an additive transformation, with ebooks and physical books co-existing in the ecosystem rather than ebooks replacing physical books. We also know that different categories of books behave differently with respect to ebooks. And that in our market, the ebooks revolution was driven by women who are also the key purchasers of books in Cuba. I covered a lot of these points as part of the final panel of the conference.
I’ve posted the full presentation to Slideshare.
For more about this Cuban book journey, please see:
THE CUBAN BOOK EMBARGO PETITION
This morning President Obama is in Cuba. Over the weekend The New York Times had a fascinating photo-essay which may give you a sense of Cuba today.
Publishers Weekly and many in the book publishing industry (including Sourcebooks) have urged an end to the Cuban book embargo. You can read about that in the Publishing Perspectives article on the background of the petition, and the content of the petition itself which was started by Publishers Weekly.
ONE LAST WORD
I was surprised by how much Cuba touched me—the people, the culture, the sense of change (both the excitement and the fear). I’ll leave you with my favorite picture of Cuba, which I took on the very first day.
P.S. A huge thank you to Cevin, Jon, Janet, and the many new friends we made in Cuba!
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