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Coronavirus is affecting the Italian publishing industry in a big way.

Aaron Robertson

February 26, 2020, 12:39pm

There’s no bigger global news story right now than the slow but intractable spread of coronavirus, which has been hobbling the normal ebb and flow of everything from the stock market to cruises, theme parks and tourism. The virus has affected the publishing industry as well, and there’s perhaps no better example of that than in Europe’s ground zero for COVID-19: Italy.

Italy has so far been the site of Europe’s worst coronavirus outbreak, with hundreds of infections having been reported in the industrial north.

In Bologna, a lively city about an hour’s train ride from Milan, the Children’s Book Fair scheduled to take place in February and March was abruptly rescheduled to May. Since Monday, publishers and agents in the US have been frantically trying to move meetings around, according to a story in Publisher’s Weekly. 

The industry is balancing its hopes for a relatively speedy containment with concerns about potential infection at a fair that draws 30,000 visitors from 150 countries.

Yesterday, in light of the health emergency, the Italian Publishers Association (Associazione Italiana Editori; AIE) published an open letter asking the government to delay the implementation of an ambitious law that would set aside more than 4 million euros to promote reading initiatives throughout the country.

This “reading law,” which passed in the Italian Senate earlier this month, would, among other things, encourage Italian communes and regions to develop action plans in collaboration with libraries and schools; identify a different “Italian Book Capital” every year; give Italian residents €100 “culture cards” to spend on books and other cultural items; and finance tax breaks for independent bookstores.

Most controversially, the law would limit how much booksellers and publishers can discount titles. This proposal has drawn the ire of larger publishers, according to the Italian newspaper Il Post, while smaller publishers that can’t afford big discounts are typically in favor.

The AIE letter asks that the law go into effect no earlier than September so that publishers can prepare for possible financial challenges as the coronavirus runs its course.

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