Bookstores: Pharmacies of the spirit, by Estefania Santacreu-Vasut
Professor of Economics at ESSEC Business School, Paris and author of The nature of goods and the goods of nature: why anti-globalisation is not the answer (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2018).
What would you highlight about the way Mexico City has handled the crisis?
At the Paris Book Fair in 2018, French actress Fanny Ardant said that reading a book was like chatting to a stranger in a bar. She went on to add that thanks to books she has never felt alone. The health crisis has meant that bars and other places for socializing have been closed temporarily and our work has been divided into essential and non-essential activities. And not only have bars in Paris and Barcelona been closed, but also bookstores, which have been categorized as non-essential. But Parisian booksellers have also made major changes: networks of independent booksellers have provided online or telephone services so as not to lose customers at a time when reading has been an essential escape. Bookstores' initiatives have proved that books are a basic necessity.
How has Barcelona’s management of the crisis been viewed from your city?
The media in Paris have talked about the cancellation of Sant Jordi, commenting metaphorically that Covid-19 has defeated the dragon! Although orders have generally been possible during lockdown, due to initiatives by bookstores, readers have had to wait for stores to open in order to browse in bookstores again. But it's impossible to make up for lost time. And now that the bars and public spaces have reopened, the sector needs help to overcome the impact of the crisis. Supply must be accompanied by demand: quite apart from Sant Jordi, it is essential to encourage reading. One option would be to increase media space for authors and publishers. During lockdown in France, for example, there was a daily minute and a half slot on TV dubbed ''la P'tite Librarie,'' which encouraged viewers to discover or re-read a work by a French or foreign writer.
Proposal for Barcelona
It has been argued that bookstores should have the same status as pharmacies. Locked up at home, reading would have helped children and adults to escape from lockdown through their imagination. Now the challenge is how to address the future of books and independent bookstores. One option is to take inspiration from avant-garde initiatives that redefine the bookstore experience: these include meta-bookshops, physical platforms, and bookstore museums. Digitization is also needed in order to provide an alternative to giants like Amazon. What can be done? Bookstores should be considered a basic necessity, accessible in times of crisis (above all!), and, at the same time, a space for reading, socializing, and creating. In a crisis in which "fake news" has been omnipresent, our health and that of our democracies depend on it!