CHANGES IN THE PATTERNS OF DEPENDENCE BETWEEN GLOBAL AND NATIONAL AGENTS

According to field theory, the pole of large-scale production is characterized by the primacy that the companies give to economic profitability, to publishing on fashionable subjects, and to the short durability of the products. In an opposite and complementary manner, in the restricted production pole, publishing houses privilege the accumulation of symbolic capital, the search for cultural innovation, and the production of objects that last over time - bestsellers versus long sellers. This theoretical opposition should be made more complicated in the light of history, according to the structure and the kind of capital that characterize the agents of a market (national and international) at different times.

Alfredo Weiszflog, to whom we refer above, or Bonifacio Del Carril, were large-scale entrepreneurs in the publishing industry in Brazil and Argentina, respectively. Weiszflog was heir to the Grupo Melhoramentos (Sao Paulo), an industrial empire of companies linked to paper (the slogan of Melhoramentos is “from pine to book”). The catalogue of its imprint privileges children’s literature and educational books. Del Carril was the former president of Emece, a large-scale “generalist” company that published from bestsellers (Wilbur Smith) to central authors of the national (Borges) and international canons (Camus). Melhoramentos resisted the merger with large transnational companies, while Emece was bought by Bertelsmann in 1999. It could be considered that the former was a dominant publisher of the pole of large-scale production in the Brazilian market but an independent group in relation to foreign capitals. Although in Argentina, Emece occupied a position equivalent to Melhoramentos in Brazil, it was reduced at the end of the 1990s to a segment of a transnational group that conditioned its history and room for manoeuvre. Weiszflog and Del Carril were protagonists of the GIE, of the defence of the Latin American publishing space (such as Cosio Villegas or Orfila Rey- nal in the mid-20th century - see Chapters 3 and 4 in this book). It is concluded that the “independence” (of transnational capitals) is not necessarily a synonym of cultural innovation, restricted production, or, as it is called in the sector, bibliodiversity.

The criticism of neoliberalism that stimulated studies on “independent publishing” has, as its negative aspect, a black-and-white vision of polar realities such as the one under focus here. This vision illustrates the usual imbalance with which the social sciences become immersed in the study of the dominated (in this case, the independent publishers) and the lack of interest in studying the dominant (publishing groups) with the same emphasis and detail. Under a relational principle that focuses on problems of interdependence and correlation between the antagonistic poles, it is necessary to include all sorts of observations in ethnographic detail, in order to perceive realities, allow comparisons, and expand the possibility of generalization.

The global processes that, since the 1980s, have altered all national publishing markets, should be understood in the light of particular structures and histories. To this end, it is essential to articulate the objective and subjective dimensions (such as Weisz- flog’s criticism - being the leader of a large company - of the economic violence of transnational groups) of each national-regional market: on the one hand, company size, production orientations, and articulation with transnational capitals; on the other hand, “philosophy” or the ideals of agents with decision-making power in companies (see Chapter 6 in this book). To question what almost all analysts usually repeat in relation to the opposition between independent publishers and transnational holdings, in this chapter, we analyse events, agents, and actions that show links between Latin American publishers and the global market.

What are the publishing houses that emerged in the current century like? Some keep a formal resemblance to traditional companies: fulltime commitment to publishing tasks, tendency to a division of functions, even when they may be very small-scale companies (three or four individuals), the cultivating of a catalogue and traditional practices such as the expectation of exhibiting at fairs, promoting the reviews of their books in periodicals, etc. Others question the standard definitions of the metier-, challenging the assumptions of the evolution of Western culture (progressive differentiation of functions, tendency to autonomy), etc. The author’s edition (self-publishing) seems never to have been so overrepresented and, in many cases, categories that history broke apart from each other now overlap. People or groups that can incarnate authors (artists)-publishers-printers-distributors-booksellers-translators reappear at the same time and place. The combinations that can be made between some of these alternative functions are the effect of both what financial concentration threw aside and the possibilities of communication opened by technological-digital transformations, of relatively simple access and at low cost. In an apparent paradox, these publishers of the present play with marginality and power. They are a visible sign, recognized and studied; the actors claim their right to exist and to have representation not only in local settings but also in collective entities and international events.

It was not by chance then that a group of 40 “independent” publishers organized a book fair inside the National Library in Buenos Aires, in 2009. The name of the event, “Heading to Frankfurt”, denoted the scope of its expectation. To reach the desired German destination, they organized themselves in order to articulate a collective voice to express their particular interests. None of them, indeed, seems to have had the power to “sell and buy” at an international book fair. However, the kind of projects that they usually embody are oriented towards the interior and exterior of the markets in which they participate, as if it were essential to “make an alliance” with homologous entrepreneurs (counter-cultural, independent, and many other ways to which they assign themselves) from other latitudes - internationalization from below. The objective of that fair at the argentine National Library (BN) was to be heard and to articulate speeches and actions to face the powers that dominate the national and international publishing. Thereafter, they promoted a state of permanent discussion about the crisis of global culture and the mission of independent publishers. The conference was opened by Horacio Gonzalez, director of the National Library, a renowned philosopher and an organic intellectual in the government headed by Cristina Kirchner. As a result of their demands to be present in Frankfurt, “the independents” were referred to the foreign ministry so as to continue their efforts through the Cofra. There they were received correctly. The publishers were fed illusions. Shortly afterwards, they were contacted by the Cofra for press releases with German and national media that began to promote the Argentine exhibition. The illusions increased: “When they called us from the Foreign Ministry to ‘talk,’ they asked us ‘Why would we want to go to Frankfurt! If we had nothing to sell, if we didn’t use copyright.’ We replied: ‘We have to go, it’s very important!”’ (Winik 2011: 7). It was not only the small publishers who were neglected by official policy. The resources of the State went massively to writers, intellectuals, literature; that is, to traditionally consecrated figures viewed as the embodiment of the genius of a people, of the national culture. For publishers (of any kind) there was no financing. In addition to financing the exhibition of national culture in the Forum Hall, the State only contributed to the collective stand of the publishers, a space that was under strong criticism due to a certain aesthetic and organizational neglect, in addition to the marginal place in which it was located, towards the less visited portion of a pavilion away from the areas of greatest traffic at the Frankfurt Fair. Despite angry or implicit complaints, the publishers were satisfied with the Programa Sur (South Program), which, for the first time, started to subsidize the translation of Argentine authors abroad.

A year after the fair of independent publishers at the National Library, the appearance of Matlas Reck at the official event of the Buenos Aires Fair, to which I referred at the beginning of this chapter, was a provocation deliberately oriented towards making the authorities feel uncomfortable and question a way of negotiating the direction of the dominant culture.8 He already knew that they were excluded from the mega event. He had nothing to lose. Backpack, beard and long hair, clothing, posture, “counter-cultural” speech. It looked like an anecdote without consequences, a touch of local colour in an event promoted by foreigners and of conspicuous official interest. A stone in the shoe?

I saw this “young man” at the beginning of my ethnographic work at the Buenos Aires Fair (April 2010). I saw him again in Frankfurt (October). According to the establishment, Matias Reck in Germany made everyone even more uncomfortable: he occupied a stand, or rather, according to his own language, he okupd (“okkupied” [squatted in]) a booth in the Frankfurt Fair itself, almost in front of the collective stand of Argentina. What was he doing there? What did he do? How is it possible that the Frankfurt Fair allows this kind of expression? Was it an “Argentine” or “Latin American” singularity? What general facts explain its apparent anomaly? To address these questions, it is necessary to observe and understand his place among the diversity of publishers that is able to be present on the surface of the Frankfurt Fair. Given the breadth of this objective and in the light of the case under focus, I will appeal to the photographic record (a product of my ethnographic fieldwork in 2010 and 2011)9 as a means to sketch a certain typology of exhibitors. The objective, as is clear from my hypotheses, is to demonstrate what unites all kinds of publishers from large groups to small avant- garde enterprises. Nothing better than a fair, a space that, thanks to its ritual characteristics, attracts everyone. Frankfurt compels participants to confront the place where the evolution of the book world seems to be at stake or put to the test year after year. Even those who cannot go and justify it by saying that it is “not for them” are not indifferent to such an event. And among these agents, every year, a group emerges that, against wind and tide, manages to arrive in Frankfurt with the simple purpose of seeing, learning, and connecting. That is why, on the surface of the fair, it is possible to observe a wide diversity of types of participants. When new ones arrive, they are transformed, and their passage through Frankfurt sediments a network of oppositions that helps us conclude that diversity does not run, for the time being, the risk of extinction. I am interested in finding what unites and what separates small- and large-scale publishing. For example, Matias Reek’s publishing house, Milena Caserola, and Grupo Planeta. Ultimately (within the structural limits), one cannot be understood without the other.

 
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