Genesis of the National Publishing Market: A Miracle?

The historiography on publishing considers 1936 as the year in which the book industry emerged as a bastion of Brazilian culture. Between 1935 and 1936, the number of copies produced increased by 40%, a growth that was considered a miracle at the time:

The progress of the Brazilian book industry in recent years has made us believe in certain patriotic runs (...) In no other part of national life did the transformation resemble a miracle so perfectly as in the printing workshops (...) What surprises Brazil today is the spiritual revelation contained in the production bulletins of its publishing houses (...) It is the Brazilian book that rehabilitates the trust ‘in the incomparable future of our beloved land’.

(Henrique Pongetti: “Em dez curtos annos”, Anudrio Brasileiro de Literatura 1937: 9 - my translation and italics).

This transformation made publishers valued among novelists, sociologists, and those new specialists in symbolic production who claimed authority as missionaries of civilization, and as archaeologists of a people that would be recognized as such through reading and teaching. The books foreshadowed Stefan Zweig’s prophecy: “Brazil, country of the future” (Garcia 2011). As Castro Faria (1995) suggests, all the dimensions of the invention of a Brazilian culture, of the affirmation of a “we”, were lived during the 1930s (and continue to be transmitted by a certain school of historiography and by media intellectuals), not as products of historical and social struggles but as miracles, as essences revealed by predestined beings such as novelists or publishers, whose sacrifice legitimized the very language of a people who were blessed by works that promoted their unity, that of a culture of their own, original, a reason for pride and for claiming dignity and admiration in the concert of nations.

A cover of the Anudrio Brasileiro de Literatura, a publication that we will analyse in this chapter, condenses the religious root of the

Cover of Anuario Brasileiro de Literatura 1940. Rio de Janeiro

Figure 5.1 Cover of Anuario Brasileiro de Literatura 1940. Rio de Janeiro: Pongetti Irmaos © Bibliographic source - image taken from a copy in the author’s own library.

above-mentioned representations, multiplied over the years in the pages of this and many other publications:

The Brazilian book emerged. The sacrifice of a few entrepreneurs was rewarded. Our readers are beginning to identify with our writers (...) One indisputable fact is the constant and surprising development of Brazil. To say this is already a commonplace. Patience... But what they may not know, or at least little is known, is that our country is also advancing intellectually. For those who wish, there is the statistical proof. The number of writers of national value is increasing. Good books multiply; our Brazilian novel acquires a definite character. We perceive that Brazil has acquired its own style, very personal, very peculiar, completely independent of the old classical Portuguese forms, forms that are undoubtedly beautiful, but archaic and inadequate for our new American environment (the United States has also changed its style and, according to its convenience, its language, much more practical than Portuguese, in relation to that of the old England). We have writers in the Brazilian language, books of the value of A Bagaceira, О Estrangeiro, Bangiie and Cacdu. Our literary criticism (...) our poetry (...), our erudition (...).

The immense territory, the scarcity of communications, the deficient education of the people, the lack of concern on the part of the public authorities and several other less important things, however, converge so that all these indexes of our intellectual development are ignored.

As a result of such development, countless publishing bouses began to appear throughout the country. Others, which have existed for many years, have grown and are today driving an advanced book industry, worthy of the most important cultural centres in the world.

(J. L. Costa Neves 1937: 5-6 - my italics)

To understand the foundations of this miracle and the social forces that its expression condensed, this chapter analyses the institutional developments in the book industry in Brazil that opened up possibilities for the establishment of a publishing market of national dimensions. The study is restricted to a short period of time (1936-1944) during which the creation of proper business arrangements to unite publishers and State institutions to conceive book policies and identify the citizen as a reader converged.

Although the parameters of the boom receded in the years that followed, in the second half of the 1930s everything happened as if publishing had emerged as an unsuspected revelation of national culture. The effects of the growth reverberated in a sustained process of the institutionalization of the specialties necessary for the production and commercialization of books. The increase in print runs, the diversification of published genres, and the insertion of the publishing industry among the general processes of the expansion of the State, of industry, of urbanization, and of schooling explain the simultaneous appearance of two examples of the institutionalization of the activities and interests generated around the book: in 1937 the Instituto Nacional do Livro (INL) began to function and the first Anuario Brasileiro de Literatura (ABL) was launched.

Created by the Ministry of Education and Health within the National Library of Rio de Janeiro, INL was the first State institution dedicated to promoting the production, circulation, and use of books. Within the Estado Novo (the authoritarian phase of the government led by Getdlio Vargas), it was the antithesis of the Department of Information and Propaganda (DIP), a police apparatus for censorship and regulation of the paper market, among many other actions aimed at controlling the ideas that could circulate in the country, especially in educational areas. INL was the first public agency designed to multiply libraries, stimulate reading, and make books the vector of citizen education. Its foundation marked the irruption of the State as an agent of the expansion of public interests in publishing activity.

The ABL was an annual publication edited by publishers and, ultimately, for publishers. In thick volumes it gathered reports, statistics, publicity, reviews, bibliographies, and graphic resources to characterize communities of writers, publishers, booksellers, printers, and all cultural institutions linked in some degree to books, throughout the country. Its configuration made visible a totality of activities and specialists among which publishers and book production were the protagonists.

The INL and the ABL represented the first signs of the construction of a nationwide book market. They were the effect and cause of a transformation of the competence, of the positions and dispositions among publishers, of a tightening of the network that adjusted the relations among producers, distributors, and consumers of books scattered in every corner of the Brazilian territory.

But far from decreeing the existence of a national market, the appearance of the INL and the ABL is the first evidence of the articulation between public authorities and private interests, as a structural principle underlying the possibility of the emergence of any national market.1 At the end of the 1920s, the production and circulation of books was restricted to the main State capitals, segmented into delimited illustrated public spheres. By the middle of the following decade, we can appreciate a relative expansion of this frontier towards regional contours. Lor the exchange of information and printed goods at any point in the country to become a reality, processes and functions, such as specialized distribution, which only became established during the 1940s, still had to be developed. The hypothesis of a regional predominance of the market in the years focused here seeks to characterize, more than a border, the way in which the book market was structured in the tension between the centripetal forces in the more developed capitals and the centrifugal forces of national and international articulation.

This chapter expands the view from the microcosm of bookstores and publishing houses such as Garraux, Schmidt, or Jose Olympio (analysed in Chapter 6) towards the institutionalization of the market that accentuated the processes of differentiation based on the tension between an expanding State, which began to regulate the production, circulation, and uses of books more closely, and a group of cultural entrepreneurs in search of affirmation, autonomy, and power. The complementary opposition between public policies and private and corporate interests favoured the legitimization of publishers within the network of specialists adjacent to their activity, to impose themselves as leaders of a community of interests. The objective of this chapter is to demonstrate how a market changed from a site of regional exchange to a space where agents from different cardinal points of the country already had more or less systematic instruments and instances to coordinate actions and interests, to regulate competitions and conflicts.

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