Italy: Publishers Call for Pandemic-Era Library Funds to Continue

Italy’s publishers are joined by their bookselling and library colleagues in an effort to make COVID-era library funding perpetual.

As many of our professional world publishing readers will know, one post-pandemic issue in some markets has to do with “fading funding”—usually government allocated financial support for a cultural sector. This is normally a program of support that was made available to a given sector or group of sectors struggling under the constraints of lockdowns and COVID-19 outbreaks.

In Italy, two major book-business organizations have joined the Association of Italian Publishers (Associazione Italiana Editori, AIE) in an effort to have a major allocation for libraries made permanent.

At stake is a €30 million tranche of funding for libraries (US$32.8 million), which was provided by Rome in 2020 at the onset of the pandemic’s worst assaults on the Italian market. You’ll recall that initially and for months, Italy was Europe’s market hardest hit by the virus. World Health Organization figures indicate that between January 1, 2020, and August 16 of this year, Italy had 25,929,238 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 191,167 deaths—this in a population of some 59 million.

That funding was renewed by the government in ensuing years provided, these three organizations say, “for the extraordinary purchase of books by public reading libraries, libraries of cultural institutes, and state public libraries,” as long as in the case of a local-jurisdiction library the benefit channeled funds for book purchases to at least three bookstores in the given library’s local area, either a province or an urban area.

In this way, the funding was good for libraries in providing print copies of books, for bookstores in providing revenue, and for publishers in providing sales.

Today (August 30), Publishing Perspectives is told that the Italian Library Association (Associazione Italiana Biblioteche, AIB) and the Italian Booksellers Association (ALI–Confcommercio) are working with the publishers’ association to call the question and to advocate for making this funding “structural,” which is to say permanent, so that annual renewals aren’t necessary.

This Virtuous Process’
To that end, a joint statement has been issued by the presidents of all three industry associations. And it’s interesting to note that they’re making their appeal not just on the basis of libraries’ and reading’s value to the nation but also to the question of full access by the citizenry to the benefits of the literary world.

For the libraries, Laura Ballustra is speaking; for the bookstores Paolo Amborsini is speaking; and for the publishers association, Ricardo Franco Levi is addressing the issue. Together, they write:

“Libraries are a fundamental safeguard for increasing reading in the country and reducing territorial and class inequalities.

“This measure, in addition to helping libraries, has concretely supported the entire supply chain in difficult years during which the price of the volumes for sale first remained constant and then grew to lower levels than inflation and the increase in costs of publishers and booksellers.

“We ask that this virtuous process not be interrupted now and that we continue to support the book world in its effort to continue offering books at sustainable prices.”

In addition, the three organizations are asking Rome for clarification on a technical point of operation. They want to determine that in using this year’s funds, “the criterion of the territorial proximity of the bookshops is that used for the identification and selection of the points of sale in which the libraries must stock up—in other words, buying the books at list price rather than at what might be a discount offer.

And they also are seeking guarantees that in making the €30 million annually available, there will be no “reductions or cancellations of the ordinary allocations” to local budgets—no robbing of Pietro to pay Paolo, in other words. Le tre associazioni, the three associations, say that they’ve had reports of such problems in the past and that it’s important to be sure that personnel throughout the system are correctly trained to watch for any misdirections of funding.

For more details: Porter Anderson:

Photo:  Bologna’s Salaborsa, main public library in Bologna, Italy. Image: Getty iStockphoto:Murat4Art