The future of Colombian editorial policy after FILBo

The future of Colombian editorial policy after FILBo
The future of Colombian editorial policy after FILBo

On May 2, the Bogotá International Book Fair (FILBo) concluded and, as usual, it left a remarkable balance: nearly 600,000 visitors, around 570 national and international guests, 6.1 million dollars in business expectations editorials, among others, according to the bulletin published by the fair on its website. It even surpassed its attendance record with 103,000 people on May 1. These numbers, in addition to confirming the fair as the most important literary event in Colombia, speak of its fundamental impact not only social and cultural, but also editorial. Hence, for many publishers it is essential to attend.

For Sergio Escobar Hoyos, manager of La Diligencia Libros, it is not difficult to be in FILBo and it can even be profitable. “I don’t feel that the cost-benefit ratio of the fair is high or that it creates difficulties for small businesses to participate. It can be one of the first steps for a new publishing company to invest, at low risk.” However, he says this may be different for regional publishers.

Precisely, the cost is very high for the editor Robert Jiménez, who participated in the 2024 edition of FILBo with Clu Editores. This is a new publisher that invested more than nine million pesos in space and stand costs at the fair, and barely managed to recover them. “The Colombian Book Chamber offers discounts for publishers,” explains Jiménez, “which are around 200,000 pesos per square meter. Now, the problem is joining the Chamber and everything it charges publishers. If you’re an independent publisher that’s just emerging, you have to wait like two years, fill out a ton of paperwork, and they charge you a percentage of your sales. “It’s too expensive.”

The experience narrated by Jiménez is the same as that expressed by other publishers that do not feel represented by the interests of the Colombian Book Chamber and that have put other discussions on the table.

The pavilion of independent publishers at the Bogotá International Book Fair, on April 25.ANDRES GALEANO

A party organized by private institutions


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The International Book Fair is organized by two private entities, the Colombian Book Chamber (CCL) and Corferias. The CCL, founded in 1951, created FILBo in 1988 and was the promoter of the Book Law of 1993. It has dedicated its efforts to promoting books and publishers, Emiro Aristizábal, its president, explains to this newspaper. In the conversation, he lists other projects he is developing, such as the Bogotá in 100 words contest and the catalog of Colombia Lee national books.

Felipe González, editor of Laguna, sees no problem in the most important fair in the country being organized by private institutions. However, he finds that this form of financing does impose obligations: “To the extent that the fair receives public resources, it should address the need to decisively promote the development of the local publishing industry,” he argues. It is a complaint that other actors in the sector have made and that has been expressed in press articles, such as one published in 2020 in 070during the pandemic, and another recent one, in Change.

Emiro Aristizábal, from the CCL, explains that FILBo receives little public money, and for specific purposes. “They help us with some resources to organize the cultural activity of the fair. The 2,000 cultural events that we do at the fair and bring writers and bring everything are worth approximately 4,000 million pesos, how do we finance that? With private sponsorships and aid that the Government gives us for certain things,” he says.

The Minister of Cultures, Arts and Knowledge, Juan David Correa, points out that FILBo was the winner of the National Concertation Program in the category of cultural projects of the biennial list, which grants resources to international events held in Colombia, for 500 million pesos. In addition, the ministry invested 210,018,273 pesos in this edition, which includes the cost of three stands (its own, País Libros and País Palestine), in addition to an investment to redeem discounts in the spaces for independent publishers, which is equivalent to another 64 million pesos. In total, just under 800 million.

Visitors browse books at FILBO, April 18.Chelo Camacho

Correa highlights that, as Aristizábal mentions, the Ministry’s investment implies specific commitments. “His commitment is to make visible that this is an event supported by the National Concertation Program. This year, in agreement with Corferias, we established the refund figure for independents, to support them,” says the minister.

The politics of the book, a pending discussion

Despite the use of public money, FILBo does not provide information available to citizens about its uses and the way in which aid is distributed. It is also not clear whether other public institutions also contribute. This makes the operation of the fair and its resources confusing for some actors in the sector.

Precisely, this has led to a new discussion around the Book Law and the role of the Chamber in relation to independent publishing, as well as the role of the State in the cultural policy of the book. The debate involves the costs to participate in FILBo, as well as the conditions of membership in the Chamber for publishers that are starting out. The recent creation of the Colombian Chamber of Independent Publishing (CCEI) is a symptom of this.

“At the CCEI we have stated that it does not make sense for a multinational, because it is affiliated with the CCL, to pay a lower square meter rate than that paid by an independent publisher that is not affiliated,” says González, who in addition to being editor of Laguna Libros, is director of the CCEI.

Minister Correa agrees with the need to open the questions: “I think that issues such as the price per square meter for all editors should be discussed with the same standards and the use of the resources obtained by the Chamber, which should be public, like the account statements of the chambers that are accountable to their members.”

The discussion is not about the legitimacy of the CCL. It is clear, says Nicolás Morales, editor of the Javeriana University, that she “has had, also due to the absence of the State, an important role and a definition in the cultural policy of the book.” Nor about his achievements. In the words of González: “The CCL has a fair team that is quite resourceful and efficient and holds a fair that, although it has many things to improve, is always successful enough in terms of attendees and economic return.”

The debate raised by editors like Felipe González, then, is about a public policy of the book. Regarding this, Correa explains: “For these types of discussions we have created the National Book and Reading Council, which will be the highest decision-making body in the sector in Colombia. In addition, we will propose reforms to the Book Law of 1993, within the Reform to the General Culture Law of 1997 that we will present in July of this year.”

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