May 5, 2016
Colombian book fair looks to expand beyond the legacy of Marquéz
by Simon Reichley
Monday marked the end of the nearly two week long celebration of the international and Colombian literature that is the Bogota Book Fair (FILBo). Since 1987, The Feria del libro has been working to promote reading and publishing in the mother country of Gabriel Garciá Marquéz. That’s a relatively short period of time, especially when you consider that the Frankfurt Book Fair has been in more or less continuous operation since the invention of the printing press. In fact, universal literacy in Colombia, despite the global prominence of its most valued literary export, is a relatively novel (pardon) phenomenon. The country only achieved a 90% literacy rate in the last decade of the 20th century, but the country has been a champion of literacy and literary culture in the decades since, and the growth of the fair, which attracted over 450,000 attendees in 2014, is a testament to its success.
The turnaround has been the result of combined effort on the part of the government, organizations like UNESCO and Colombian trade organizations like Camlibro, Colombia’s primary industry association for publishers. As Enrique González Villa, president of the Camlibro, Colombia’s publishing industry association, tells Adam Critchley at Publishing Perspectives:
At Camlibro, since the year 2000, we’ve had a goal in place of making Colombia a country of reading.
We told the government: ‘We don’t want campaigns to promote reading, we want books in the hands of readers.’ We want [the government] to buy books and place them in libraries. That has been the fundamental task, and now we’re seeing results.
The fact that the fair has doubled its attendee numbers over the past five years is proof that the strategy is working.
In addition to growing its number of attendees the fair is expanding its professional component, offering a dedicated rights pavilion for the first time this year. While Colombia’s highest volume exports are still religious texts and illustrated Bibles, industry folks like Gonzalez Villa and Adriana Martínez-Villalba (manager of the FILBo) are working hard to promote and expand the diversity of the country’s literary output. Part of the solution will be transitioning from an massive effort to develop a robust library system, which has proven so effective at building a readership, to nurturing the growth of bookstores and independent publishers, as well as raising the profile of Colombian works in translation. The professional development of the fair, and an increased emphasis on internationalization are keys to this transition, according to Martínez-Villalba:
“We’ve been growing the professional component of the fair, beyond its role of selling books to the public…One of the most important elements of this is having a guest nation each year.
“Colombia’s culture ministry has launched a program to provide financial subsidies for translations…and there has been an internationalization of Colombian literature over the past five years. Publishers are seeing rights selling as a new business opportunity.”
Simon Reichley is the rights and operations manager at Melville House.