May 15, 2015
How this city supports the most bookstores in the world (per capita)
by Kirsten Reach
The World Cities Cultural Forum recently reported that Buenos Aires boasts more bookstores per capita than any other. It has 735 bookstores for a population of 2.8 million (in city limits). Not bad! There are 25 bookstores for every 100,000 people.
According to an article by Dennis Abrams of Publishing Perspectives, second place goes to Hong Kong. The city offers 22 bookstores for every 100,000 people. London, Paris, New York, Madrid, and Moscow weren’t too shabby, either.
What’s the secret to sustaining so many bookstores?
- You have to print a lot of books. The Argentine Book Chamber says the country is “one of the most prolific book printers” in Latin America, with 129 million books printed last year.
- Ideally many writers and editors end up in your country (you may or may not have to endure the Spanish Civil War along the way). But more importantly….
- You waive sales tax for books.
- In fact, take that one step further. You charge an additional 35% on books ordered from international retailers, like Amazon.
- You keep the cost of physical books reasonably low, around $23, while fostering a culture that believes that value of a book is much higher than that.
- Juan Pablo Marciani, who manages the famous Buenos Aires bookstore El Ateneo Gran Splendid, says books are a part of the fabric of the city. “Books represent us like the tango,” he told Debora Rey of the Associated Press.
Can’t hurt to have a few local authors like Borges, Cortazar, or Aira nearby. You can make it difficult to bring imported books through customs. Or, if you’re an overachieving city like Buenos Aires, consider repurposing your tanks as “weapons of mass instruction.”
Kirsten Reach was an editor at Melville House.