The International Congress of Young Booksellers (ICYB), which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, held its annual conference in Oslo, Norway, May 15–16, drawing two dozen booksellers from across Europe—including representatives from Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, and Norway—for professional conversation and networking. This year’s theme was “Books meet people—Keep up reading” and included lectures from Helge Rønning and Tore Slaatta, who were among several authors of “The Price of Books,” a study on European book policy conducted for the Norwegian Ministry of Culture.
The ICYB is a subdivision of the International Booksellers Federation, which was formed in the 1950s as a “response to a UNESCO call for initiatives to encourage the free international exchange of ideas through books,” according to the organization’s literature.
“The ICBY is now really for booksellers of any age but especially those who are young at heart,” says Edgar Fortins, ICYB president and CIO of Janis Roze bookstore in Riga, Latvia. “I’m in my mid-40s and have been a bookseller for 19 years, but I still think I have a lot to learn. If you are not learning, you are going backward.”
The group even has its own acronyms for members. Young booksellers are referred to as YoBos, and they are responsible for choosing the Booksellers International Book of the Year (BIBY) on the first day of the conference. This year’s winner was A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara. (The group also makes tongue-in-cheek references to OlBos—old booksellers.)
The idea behind the congress is to provide booksellers with a network of peers to lean on to answer questions and develop best practices—for example, how to compete with Amazon, fixed-pricing issues, or the impact of politics on bookselling. “We are envious of events that they have in the United States, for example,” says Fortins, who has been president of the ICYB since 2014. “Ideally, we’d like to model this conference on something like Winter Institute.” He adds that he’d also like to develop online resources for new booksellers.
“The common problem for the book market all over the world is that booksellers are getting older and older,” Fortins says. “And there are not so many young booksellers. Age and finding new blood is the challenge.”
For his part, Fortins sees another challenge for European booksellers as how to incorporate more nonbook items into their inventories and attract customers online. “My bookstore is very old—it has been open for more than 100 years—but to survive we are now selling as many nonbook items as books.”
Helping booksellers share information is the purpose of the ICYB conference. “Twenty years ago, before Google, the conference was the only way to share information,” Fortins says. “Even so, today, face-to-face is the best way.”
Looking Ahead to Frankfurt
The choice of Norway as this year’s venue for the ICYB conference coincides with Norway’s turn as Guest of Honor country at the Frankfurt Book Fair later this year. The small Nordic nation, which has a population of 5.2 million, has spawned several international bestselling authors in recent years, including Karin Fossum, Karl Ove Knausgård, Jo Nesbø, Per Peterson, and Åsne Seierstad.
Late last month, Oslo also played host to a German-Norwegian literature festival, which ran April 26–28. The event featured more than 30 authors and entertainers, including notables such as Jostein Gaarder, Volker Kutscher, and Maja Lunde. “It was just one of a yearlong series of events featuring literature collaborations between Norway and Germany,” says Sunniva Adam, public relations officer for Norwegian Literature Abroad (NORLA). “Germans are already very familiar with Norway—they like to come here for the calm and the nature—and now we hope to expose them to and help them experience the culture and the arts.” More than 5,000 people attended 70 different events in all.
One of the intended outcomes for a country participating as Guest of Honor in Frankfurt is to have more of its titles translated into German, and Norway seems well positioned in that regard. “In 2018, NORLA granted subsidies for the translation of 649 books into 45 different languages,” Adam says. “It is the highest number ever, up from 538 the year before.”