Books mustn’t be an “escape from the present”: they are just a different reality, legitimate and equivalent to all others. Within them live the writers who, admittedly, have got lost somewhere and need to be brought back to the belgrade fair’s hall 1, as well as other places, urgently
All book fairs in the world, from the biggest and most important to the smallest, continue to exist on the map of world publishing, and justifiably so, for multiple reasons.
Regardless of all the technological changes of recent decades that have also come in this area, publishing has maintained a balance between printed (paper) and electronic books. Specifically, following the sudden and somewhat overexaggerated boom in electronic books in the Western Hemisphere, the market of electronic books has stabilised at approximately 30% of total books published. Serbia was rather slow in accepting that trend during those years, but that sped up with the outbreak of COVID-19, for understandable reasons, and firstly because that was enforced. That’s how the share of e-books in total production also increased here.
There are broader reasons why example is important and symptomatic. Namely, it also served to show that the fear of the disappearance of the traditional, printed book was unjustified. It has remained the dominant form of communication with readers. Of course, this doesn’t mean that classic book fairs shouldn’t adapt to new technologies in this or some other way. This means that audiences should be offered digitised content in a more visible way, but in parallel with printed content. That would specifically represent the fulfilling of the basic principle of the sector and of every society: to offer the reading public a choice, based on the principle of a democratic offer, whereby each reader decides on their own preferred way of reading.
The continued existence of book fairs shouldn’t be brought into question. We ought to think about changes to them: form, staging venue, content, depth of messages
The Belgrade Book Fair should retain some of the traditional forms of communicating with the public, but should also change some of the instruments of that communication. It should also reduce the number of programmes (especially those registered by the publishers themselves) in order to improve the quality by having fewer of them. There should also be a clearer division of the proper, professional segment of publishing from all other collectives for which this is a secondary activity, particularly from those that are excessively connected to the profession and institutions of politics and religion. The fair must also be freed from the ballast of everything that made it a bazaar to a large extent: sponsors with products in places where they don’t belong, all cheap showbiz elements, visual distaste and the cacophony of those sounds that don’t belong to that world.
Books mustn’t be an “escape from the present”: they are just a different reality, legitimate and equivalent to all others. Within them live the writers who, admittedly, have got lost somewhere and need to be brought back to the Belgrade Fair’s Hall 1, as well as other places, urgently. We need to open a debate on the state of publishing in Serbia, to amend some laws, to return high-quality literature from all genres to the centre and thereby celebrate education. The possibility for young people to read should be restored, which is now abused by its pliability by other sources of information (that are not educational), cultural articles should be returned to the media and help should be given to remind journalists of cultural values that used to exist.
So, the continued existence of book fairs shouldn’t be brought into question. We ought to think about changes to them: form, staging venue, content, depth of messages etc. But their basic function should be left alone, equally everywhere – from Paris and London, to Cairo, Beijing and Frankfurt: encounters live and ‘in person’ between readers and books. That’s how one maintains the ideal temperature of both body and spirit – and of both man and book.