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Analysis 25 Oct 15

Belgrade Book Fair ‘too Commercial’

Several Serbian publishers will shun this year’s book fair, claiming the event values sales above literary and cultural merit.

Sasa Dragojlo

Critics say the fair lost its "cultural character", but it still remains the most important event for publishers in Serbia | Photo: Flickr/_SiD_

In recent years, prominent publishing houses have criticised the International Belgrade Book Fair for becoming far too focused on sales and operating more like a ‘gigantic supermarket’ than a ‘temple of culture’.

 This year’s fair has drawn even more criticism because organisers have included market recognition and final business accounts among the criteria used to allocate spaces to publishing houses participating in the event.

 Organisers now also consider staff numbers, business size and earnings from book sales when assigning spaces. The Association of Professional Publishers of Serbia, an organisation including well-known publishers such as Archipelag, Clio, Paideia and Geopoetika, has slated the new benchmarks.

 Gojko Bozovic, owner of the Archipelag publishing house, told BIRN that the fair, now entering its 60th year, has lost its “cultural character”, but says it remains the most important event for publishers in Serbia.

 “The International Belgrade Book Fair is a huge cultural event for the country and, of course, for us – the publishers. But it is certain that the fair has become less [focused on the] promotion of literature and more like a one-week shopping mall,” Bozović said.

 Despite criticising the fair as a “megastore of books”, Bozović, along with many other members of the Serbian publishers’ association, will still exhibit at this year’s event.

“People are still coming to the fair, not only because of the books but for the event as a whole. That is why we are still going to be there,” he said.

 Other publishing houses, however, have simply decided against participating at all.

 ‘Culture isn’t just sales’

 Ivan Bevc, the editor of Booka publishers, told BIRN that he believes the current Belgrade Book Fair committee is unduly influenced by financially-dominant publishers.

 “The current book fair board converts the fair into a large flea market and culture itself cannot be just sales,” Bevc said.

 Booka will not be exhibiting at this year’s event, which takes place between October 25th and November 1st.

 Dejan Ilic, owner of the Book Factory, which got the award for best publisher at the 2011 International Belgrade Book Fair, has not participated since 2013. During this year’s event, he will be selling his books at discounted prices at the famous Belgrade bookstore Beopolis.

 “I think we need to save the bookstores, because they should be the places for people to look for literature. In most of Europe, the big book fairs are not sale fairs, they are only for presenting literature and good books,” Ilic told BIRN.

 Ivan Colovic, the famous Serbian ethnologist and an owner of XX Century Library, has taken his dissatisfaction with the event one step further by organising the Alternative Book Fair, which has been running for eight years already.

 While admiring the subversive spirit behind the alternative event, Bozović is not convinced an alternative event is the way forward.

 “I see some kind of subversion in their actions and attitude, which shows they are not accepting this situation. However, it is some kind of retreat strategy,” he said.

 Representatives from the fair strongly deny the event has sacrificed cultural worth and become overly commercialised.

 Maja Radonic, a public relations officer for the fair, insisted that market recognition and final business accounts were far from being the most important criteria used when assigning space at the event.

 “The market criterion is just one of the aspects. The International Belgrade Book Fair is still, above all, a great cultural manifestation and this year’s programme is proving it,” Radonic said.

 She added that the fair has kept to the basic concept – the introduction of modern international and domestic publishing production – and will continue to represent writers and host debates on the crucial literary and social issues of our time.

 More than 450 exhibitors from Serbia, neighbouring countries and other parts of the world are expected to take part in this year’s event.

 Russia has been named the ‘guest state of honour’ for this year’s fair and Russian publishers will present 1,500 titles and introduce six national award-winning authors.

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