Even prior to the pandemic, book fairs faced the question: what to do today and how to continue to exist under fundamentally altered social, cultural, media and technological circumstances?
The deep and numerous crises that have gripped the world over the last fifteen or so years experienced one of the possible peaks precisely in the coronavirus pandemic.
Prior to the pandemic, it could have been said that dissatisfaction was a feeling permeating the world. The pandemic made fear the unifying feeling. And dissatisfaction neither dissipated nor was it suppressed with this – it is still there, smouldering under the radar of public attention.
Left without many of the public events that it needs like oxygen, culture that was already globally marginalised became even more marginalised during the pandemic. Reduced to small spaces of public influence, contemporary culture was lost from sight during the pandemic, due to the cancelling of recognisable cultural events. However, a period of two years is long enough to start satisfying some cultural needs in other ways, and even with different contents, especially those of an entertaining kind, or some of the heralds of digital worlds. After all, book fairs and literary festivals couldn’t be held during the time of the pandemic. But one ought to be open. Even prior to the pandemic, book fairs faced the question: what to do today and how to continue to exist in altered social, cultural, media and technological circumstances?
In order to be even more attractive to the public, the belgrade book fair must become a place for book premieres, a place for meetings and discussions, and the biggest literary festival in this part of the world
The great challenge of entertainment is the most dangerous threat to the living and active future of culture, and that also goes for literature and publishing. Both culture and literature will exist, but whether they will be socially visible or small oases of devotees who communicate only with each other isn’t the same. Digital media is becoming a strong competitor to print media, which impacts both newspapers and books equally. The developed digital reality brings into question the very concept of book fairs. If we can find all books online, what will fair premieres then be? If publishing rights are bought and sold throughout the year, in constant communication between publishers and literary agencies, book fairs can no longer be exchanges of copyrights.
The Belgrade Book Fair is more of a hypermarket for books than a classic fair. Therein lies both its charm and its problem. Charm because, as the last place in Serbia where all books currently on the market can be seen, it preserves the living contact between writers and readers. Problem because every hypermarket has its own logic, and as a result that isn’t the logic of culture. The figure of the seller has long since relegated the figure of the writer to the periphery at the Belgrade Book Fair, and stands that were once places for meetings and conversations have now become exclusively sales stalls.
In order for it to be even more attractive to the public, which will be its key issue after the pandemic, and in order for it to remain the main book fair between Istanbul and Leipzig, the Belgrade Book Fair must become a place for book premieres, a place for meetings and discussions, and the biggest literary festival in this part of the world. As both a publisher and reader, I believe that this would ensure even better book sales.