Frankfurt. London. BookExpo. Cape Town? The triad of must-attend book fairs may become a quadrumvirate next year after the innauguration of Barcelona and Cape Town’s own. With equally idealistic mission statements, the Saló del Llibre and the Cape Town Book Fair will finally happen after ten years and two years of planning respectively. However, claiming a few days out of the already crowded calendar of international book fairs might prove to be a quest more quixotic than realistic.
Catalonia has been the publishing industry’s darling lately and last month’s announcement that Spain’s autonomous community will have the spotlight at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2007 did not shock many. The region also held the privileged position at the Guadalajara International Book Fair last year. The Guild of Catalan Editors and the Guild of Catalan Bookstores appear to be taking advantage of the hype by holding its own fair in November. The Saló del Llibre boasts a lineup of 400 activities over four days with 13,000 square meters available for the more than 220 exhibitors. All the major Spanish publishers, including Random House Mondadori, Grupo Planeta, DeBolsillo, and Círculo de Lectores, along with virtually every Catalan counterpart will host stands, but international publishers are conspicuously absent from the schedule. For the past 25 years, the Catalan publishing industry has been making up for the time lost during the 40 years of Franco’s dictatorship when speaking and writing Catalan was prohibido and book publishing suffered under strict laws of censorship. Organizations like the Catalan Publishers Association, established in 1978, hope to spread the word that Catalonia is a major publishing center and has been for over 500 years. By all counts their work is paying off. In 2003, books published in Catalan comprised roughly 10-15% of Spain’s output.
Although English-language books have long dominated Cape Town’s publishing industry, there are ten other official languages in South Africa and books in all of them will be featured at the Cape Town Book Fair, a joint venture between the Frankfurter Buchmesse and the Publishers Association of South Africa. The fair will take place in June, only a month before the 22nd Annual Zimbabwe International Book Fair. Organizers of the Harare event fear the new fair will overshadow the smaller one, but with Cape Town shaping up to have a “business” focus and Zimbabwe traditionally being more “cultural/regional,” many say the events are dissimilar enough to avoid competition. In fact, many say the Zimbabwe fair is on the way out. At a time when book fairs are booming, a dozen others are ready to take its place.