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Argentina: Micropresses and Great Authors

This post originally appeared on the Frankfurt Book Fair blog. I highly recommend visiting the official blog for interesting posts from Richard Nash, Alex Hippisley-Cox, and Arun Wolf

Just for the tango alone, Argentina would rank as one of my favorite countries in the world. And when you throw in their literary history—Jorge Luis Borges, Macedonio Fernandez, Adolfo Bioy Casares, Julio Cortazar, Juan Jose Saer—there’s a lot of reasons why I’m excited about next year’s Fair, when Argentina will be the official Guest of Honor.

This morning’s “Business Breakfast” provided a great introduction to the Argentine Book Market. Most of the presentations were stat-focused with information about the number of titles produced (20,000/year), overall number of copies (70,000,000/year), value of imports and exports (Argentina imports a lot more books than they export), and the overall size of the Argentine book market (the country accounts for 27% of all Spanish-language books published in Latin America).

But these numbers just scratch the surface. . . . For a variety of political and economic reasons, Argentina’s publishing scene is as incredibly fascinating and complex as the country’s recent history.

The prevalence of “micropresses” is one intriguing aspect of the Argentine book scene. As Octavio Kulesz of Teseo touched on this in his presentation, these micropresses came into existence in the wake of the financial collapse of 2002. And there sure are a lot of them: according to Trini Vergara of V&R Editoras, more than 80% of the publishing houses operating in Argentina fall into this category, whereas only 3% are “big” publishers, 2% are “mid-sized,” and 12% are “small.” Granted, when you look at overall production, this breakdown shifts considerably (micropresses account for 5% of all titles published, whereas big houses do 42%), but this diversity of voices and editorial vision make up what Constanza Brunet of Marea Editorial termed “bibliodiversity.”

One of the things I’ve always been fascinated/concerned with is the relationship between Argentina and the Spanish-language market as a whole. Although Argentina produces some of the most fascinating authors, most Spanish-language books are published in Spain and then exported to Argentina, and sold at a somewhat prohibitive price. The idea of splitting Spanish-language territories will hopefully be discussed at length next year, along with the opportunities eBooks offer for overcoming some of these distribution issues.

All that’s pretty fascinating, but getting back to the actual literature—Argentina is totally loaded with amazing writers. There are the classic authors like those mentioned above, but also including Manuel Puig, Ernesto Sabato, Silvia Ocampo. And there are any number of contemporary writers worth reading, such as Andres Neuman, Alberto Manguel, Ricardo Piglia, and Elsa Osorio. And the world is really catching on. Over the past decade, there’s been a significant rise in the number of Argentine titles translated into other languages. According to Fundacion TyPA, in 2001, 20 different titles were translated and published outside of Argentina. In 2007 that number had shot up to 120. (And to clarify, this is just number of titles—many of these books were translated into multiple languages.)

And speaking of TyPA, for this year’s Fair, they put together a beautiful booklet of 25 Great Essays which is available for free online in both Spanish and English.

Copies—and more information about Argentina in general—can be found at Hall 5.1 D975.



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