This year’s Guadalajara International Book Fair opened on Saturday to the public after going virtual in 2020. The event, which runs from November 27 through December 5 will be smaller than in the past, with a maximum capacity of 12,500 people attending at any one time. The public is allowed to attend in two shifts, one in the morning and one in the evening, while professionals are allowed to stay all day. Arriving at the fair entails having your temperature screened and then walking through a spray of disinfectant.
Two days of professional events took place on Monday and Tuesday and these included a variety of award presentations, press conferences, and panel discussions. Though no official statistics will be available for some time, attendance is notably lower than in previous years, when the fair would typically attract some 800,000 members of the public, 2,300 publishing professionals, and 300 rights directors. This year, the fair opted not to offer a rights center or fellowship program, which would typically bring in large groups of professionals from abroad. In addition, the large constituency of American librarians, often exceeding more than 200, was reduced to 50.
While the fair is notably smaller than in previous years, it still attracted 299 exhibitors, representing 1,001 publishers, the majority of which came from Spanish-speaking countries. These included a large number of publishers from Peru, the guest of honor country, as well as from Spain, Argentina, Colombia, and Central America. Other stands featured publishers from as far away as Georgia, Korea, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates. No data is yet available for the total number of visitors, but those who were present said they were delighted to be back in business. “I’m happy to be here and reconnect with the publishers from across Mexico and Latin America,” said Alex Correa, president and CEO of Lectorum Publications, a publisher and distributor focused on Spanish-language books based in New Jersey, and one of only a handful of Americans hosting a stand.
Camilo Pino, a Venezuelan-born scout for Telemundo Global Studios/NBC Universal, lives in Miami and attended the fair for the first time. Pino was tasked with finding books that would be suitable for adaptation to television streaming services. “The number of great books is overwhelming and the atmosphere is super,” he said, comparing it favorably to his visit to the Frankfurt Book Fair this year which he also attended. His goal was to find titles would work for not just an audience in the Americas, but across the world. "There are so many talented writers in Spanish that are undiscovered or unknown that I'm confident we'll see more and more adaptations coming from authors across Mexico and Latin America."
Among the books Pino purchased was a copy of Emma y las otras señoras del narco (Emma and the Other Women of Narco) by Anabel Hernández, a chronicle of the lives of the wives and girlfriends of Mexico’s drug kingpins. The book was published on Monday, the day before Emma Colonel, the subject of the book and wife of El Chapo, was sentenced to three years in prison by an American court for assisting the Sinaloa drug cartel. Hernández’s previous book, El traidor (The Traitor), about the son of another Sinaloa cartel leader, sold more than 100,000 copies in Mexico for its publisher Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial; Emma is already one of the bestselling books at the fair and the bestseller at Amazon.mx, having sold more than 1,500 copies on its first day. “It will likely be our bestselling book for the show and perhaps for the year,” said Roberto Banchik, CEO of Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial México.
Hernández, who lives in self-exile abroad, is appearing at the fair on Saturday and will be attending with armed guards. (Mexico is the deadliest country on earth for journalists, with more than 125 killed since 2000 and nine killed so far this year.) The threat of violence at the fair is a concern, as Guadalajara has seen an uptick in violence in recent years. Armed police and soldiers were prominent at various entrances.
One of the uncertainties hanging over this year’s fair is the publishing industry’s ongoing conflict with the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who is in the middle of a six-year term. Obrador is a populist who has openly attacked publishing as elitist. In his first year in office in 2019, he cut the budget to the fair, which is run by the University of Guadalajara, which is state-owned, by 40% -- and he is threatening to do more. Meanwhile, he put the large state-owned publishing house and bookstore chain Fondo de Cultura Economica under the leadership of Paco Ignacio Taibo, a mystery novelist, and tasked him with “democratizing” the institution. The results have been mixed, with the august publishing house now partially positioning itself as a purveyor of bargain-priced books for a mass market.
Some publishers have accused the house of violating copyright after a new edition of some titles whose rights no longer belong to Fondo were published and distributed as part of a program to give books to the needy. .
Book sales, which are a main feature of the fair, were close to 75% or more of previous years, "We are selling many, many books," said Fernando Pascual, general manager at Librerías el Sótano, one of Mexico's largest bookstore chains. "As the exclusive Mexican distributor of several imprints from Spain, particularly Nocturna Ediciones, we're doing well. Our bestselling books at the fair have been fantasy novels by Diana Wynne Jones. We've sold so many books, we've had to restock from our branch here in the city."