By Carlos Seijas Meneses
Caracas, Jun 16 (EFE).- A well-known, decades-old bookstore on the Venezuelan capital’s east side shut down permanently in April after having been forced to liquidate its stock and offer discounts of up to 50 percent.
In so doing, that retail outlet joined more than 60 other bookstores that have closed their doors over the past decade.
“Thank you for your support during all these years and for accompanying us unconditionally until the final day,” the owners of the store said on its Instagram account.
Venezuela’s book sector has shrunk by 80 percent since 2013 due to that country’s severe economic crisis and scarcely saw any benefit from last year’s incipient recovery, the president of the Venezuelan Book Chamber (Cavelibro), Julio Mazparrote, told Efe.
Because of the industry’s sickly state, new titles in the global market regrettably only make their way to Venezuela if private citizens bring them into the country themselves.
Mazparrote said the nearly 80 percent plunge in Venezuela’s gross domestic product between 2014 and 2021 also was reflected in the book sector, which previously had enjoyed a boom period marked by a large number of book fairs and strong sales.
Since 2013, however, factors including a lack of funds for importing either finished books or the raw materials needed to produce them locally, a loss of consumers’ purchasing power, piracy and outward migration adversely affected the sector, which was dealt a further crushing blow by pandemic-triggered lockdowns.
“As the economy fell, all of the book distributors or importers gradually ceased operating,” Mazparrote said, adding that “the bookstores also were affected because consumers stopped buying books as their purchasing power decreased.”
Over the past 10 years, Cavelibro has lost 81.8 percent of its affiliates (bookstores, publishers and distributors), with that number falling from 110 in 2013 to 20 at present.
Outward migration, besides causing the loss of many potential consumers, also led to a large number of books from “personal libraries” being left behind.
That in turn fueled a “secondary market” where books are sold at bargain-basement prices.
Later, with the market already extremely fragile, the pandemic arrived and ended up “sinking the whole system” and forcing most of the remaining bookstores to sell other products, such as school supplies and toys, he said.
Mazparrote, who also is vice president of the Venezuelan Publishers’ Chamber, an organization that comprises 90 percent of the private school textbook publishers, said capacity at the country’s printing houses has fallen to 20 percent.
Were they at full capacity, they would not only completely cover domestic demand but also produce books for export, he added.
At the end of the 1990s and the start of the 2000s, Venezuela exported books to countries and territories such as Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
One major blow for the book industry was a government policy that barred public schools from using books made by private publishers, according to Mazparrote, who said that policy must be reversed if the sector is to recover and thrive.
In addition, clear signs of a “healthy, growing economy” are needed for multinational companies to return to Venezuela, he said, adding that access to financing and a reduction in the government’s “fiscal voracity” is also needed.
The Cavelibro president also called on Venezuela’s legislature, overwhelmingly controlled by the ruling leftist PSUV party, to overhaul a 1997 law governing the book sector to incorporate aspects such as digital regulation and stronger intellectual property protections. EFE