The second U.S. Publishing Mission to Cuba ended its second visit to the country and the Havana Book Fair, on a note of optimism over future relations between Cuba and American book professionals as well as an acknowledgment of political realities under a new U.S. administration.
In opening remarks to Imagine II, the day-long conference on the Cuban and American publishing markets organized by Publishers Weekly, Combined Book Exhibit, and PubMatch, Juan Rodriquez Cabrera, president of the Cuban Book Institute, was by turns optimistic and realistic. He cited the “the mystery and the fraternity of the culture of the book” and the power of “exchanging works hand to hand.”
But he also noted that “the Cuban and American people face the same problems over the last 55 years from the economic blockade.” Cabrera noted efforts by PW and others involved in the the 2016 U.S. Publishing Mission to Cuba, working for an end to the American embargo against books, calling it “a sign of solidarity with Cuban publishers.”
The conference brought together about 30 American book publishers and professionals for a day of panels, programming and networking held in conjunction with nearly 50 Cuba book publishers and government book administrators. Held off the grounds of the Havana Book Fair at the Hotel Melia Habana, the conference once again offered a range of discussion about the business of publishing in the U.S. and, in afternoon sessions, the intricacies of Cuban publishing.
The morning session offered panels on copyright and acquisition, distribution and the state of digital publishing in the U.S. In the afternoon the Cuban Book Institut offered a succession of panels moderated by Alberto Edel Morales Fuentes, v-p of the Institute. The panels on Cuban publishing examined book rights, book distribution, promotion and educational publishing.
The panel on book rights featured Yamila Cohen Valdes, director of the Latin American Literary Agency, which represents all Cuban authors, focused on the intricacies of getting published and paid in Cuba. The Book Institute reviews manuscripts submitted to be published and decides which of the 180 or so Cuban publishers are best suited to publish the book. Contracts offer writers a flat fee (there was some suggestion from the audience that it was about $200 but Cuban officials said it varied) and the publisher holds the rights for five years.
It is not clear if royalties are paid, though Valdes said, “that depends on the contract.” Cuban officials defended the flat payment, which they said was not an advance, as a “protection of the author” emphasizing that the author is paid prior to the book going on the market, “regardless of sales.” Nevertheless, all discussions of the future of book rights in Cuba must take the economic blockade into account. “We have economic limitations,” Valdes said.
Cuba published about 700 new titles in 2016 and distributed more than 3 million copies of the books, according to Book Institute president Cabrera during an interview with PW held during a break in the afternoon conference. Cuban book distribution is also overseen by the Book Institute.
In the panel on book promotion (and later during an interview), Cabrara highlighted the Havana Book Fair as combination book festival and giant marketing and promotional event. The fair hosts publishers from 46 countries and a guest nation, which this year was Canada.
The show opens in Havana for about 10 days before moving to each of Cuba’s 16 provinces over the next two months and ending in April. After the show leaves Cuba, it sheds the international books and authors and becomes more of a domestic cultural fair, focused on books and authors, but also included musical performances, art exhibitions, and cooking.
“It is the largest cultural event in Cuba and takes place everywhere in the country,” Cabrera said. The HBF is state subsidized, there is an admission of about 40 cents (in American money), and the city of Havana organizes a network of buses to deliver tens of thousands of people to the fair during its run at the La Cabana fortress. Over the course of its three-month run, the fair is said to attract more than 3 million people.
Once again acknowledging the political conflicts between the U.S. and Cuba, the conference closed on a note of optimism by Cabrera. Sitting alongside PW executive v-p and publisher Cevin Bryerman, he thanked the U.S. publishing mission for working to “overcome obstacles and make this meeting possible. This meeting among friends and professionals helps us learn and identify fruitful pathways that will help us get rid of the obstacles to our relationship. We recognize the limitations and the realities we face, but the spirit at the heart of this event will keep us moving forward to our goals, for authors in the U.S. and in Cuba.”
Correction: an earlier version of this story gave an incorrect location for the Hotel Melia Habana.