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Madrid Meeting Stalled by Publisher-Government Fight
John Baker -- 10/27/97
A planned publishing conference set for Madrid a few days before the Frankfurt Book Fair opened had to be curtailed when Spanish participants, angered by the government's plan to remove price controls of school textbooks, boycotted the discussions.
The conference, called "A Billion Readers: The First Transatlantic Encounter Between American and Spanish Publishers," was the brainchild of Mark Jacobs, a well-received author (Stone Cowboy, Soho Press) and cultural affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, and was enthusiastically supported by the Ministry of Education and Culture. A group of American publishers was invited, including Jonathan Galassi of Farrar, Straus &Giroux, Morgan Entrekin and Elisabeth Schmitz of Grove/Atlantic, Sharon Swados of Bantam, Erroll McDonald of Pantheon, Elizabeth Hadas of the University of New Mexico Press, Dan Dixon of the University of California Press and John F. Baker of Publishers Weekly.

The idea was to discuss greater cooperation between the publishers of the two nations and also try to improve the quality and frequency of translations. The visitors were granted an audience by Queen Sofia, underlining her interest in the subject. But although a high-powered group of Spanish publishers had planned to take part, the conference coincided with a face-off between them and the Education and Culture Ministry, which had ordered an end to the fixed prices on Spanish school textbooks. To stress their hostility to the plan, which would permit discounts of up to 25% in the first year of a three-year plan, 50% in the second, and allow free prices the third, the publishers boycotted the discussions and social occasions linked with the conference.

Beatriz de Moura, head of the Barcelona literary house Tusquets, appeared briefly at an early session, but told PW later that Tusquets did not wish to cooperate with the ministry in any way. "What they are planning will destroy small publishers and booksellers," she declared, explaining that in Spain, where parents have to buy textbooks for their children at the beginning of each school year, the sale of the textbooks is an important part of their revenue for many publishers and booksellers. Other publishers suggested the move was a first step toward removing fixed prices on all books.

Miguel Angel Cortez, secretary of state for cultural affairs at the ministry, said parents had long been complaining that textbooks were too expensive, and the decision to remove price controls had only been taken after a year of discussion with publishers and booksellers. It was understandable that they were upset by "this new frame of doing business," but some action had to be taken, he insisted. He said that discounted selling was already available on the Internet in any case, and the changes "will have to arrive, whatever we do or don't do." He suggested, however, that some compromise on the timetable for discounting was possible.
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