Book market stagnating under crisis pressure

By Olga Sella

Booksellers were hit by the Greek economic crisis faster and harder than they had expected, bringing publishers down with them, according to market experts.

?The problem began with a drop in sales at bookstores, as the incomes of people who buy books dropped dramatically. Meanwhile, bookshops in central Athens have been hit the hardest, because they have also had to deal with the constant protest rallies, strikes and riots that have kept consumers away from their regular shopping haunts,? one professional in the field, who declined to be named, told Kathimerini. ?There has, however, been a small increase in sales at bookstores in areas outside of the city center and in other parts of the country, but when small stores see a drop in turnover it is almost impossible to regain it.?

The dramatic drop in sales at bookstores across Greece means that booksellers are finding it increasingly hard to pay their suppliers, not to mention their debts. It is common knowledge in the field that just a handful of booksellers have been able to make good on their financial commitments, while the problem of payments is not just restricted to small stores but is affecting large chains as well.

According to the sales department of one publishing house, large chains operating in Greece had invested a good deal of money that was supposed to begin giving back returns just as the crisis started to bite. As a result, they are now facing the threat of significant losses.

Franchising had gained momentum in Greece in the years leading up to the crisis, and chains were the first to experience problems in the early days. Some franchisers have responded to the pressure by going independent and quitting their ties with the chain, while others are remaining with the chain but also forging independent ties with publishers by choosing titles unrelated to those promoted by the publishing chain with which they have an agreement.

Compounding the problem of booksellers? low liquidity is the fact that many publishers, wary of the widespread freeze on payments, are insisting on cash-only transactions and refusing to extend any credit to booksellers.

One publisher described a scene that is now an almost daily occurrence: ?An employee from a large bookstore comes into the stock house, picks out two copies of one title, two of another and three of yet another. He then goes to the cash register to pay in cash and finds that he doesn?t have enough money on him and returns some of the books.?

According to the same publisher, ?we are now a lot more careful in our choice of titles, but also a lot more cautious about our relationship with booksellers.?

Another thing that has changed in the Greek book market is that titles that would normally fly off the shelves within days of being introduced may now spend weeks waiting for a buyer, both because the number of new titles available has decreased dramatically and because sales and distribution are so low.

As far as the publishers are concerned, there are those who will no longer distribute at all to certain bookstores that they know are having problems meeting their financial responsibilities.

?We have been forced to drop the cost across the board and in all areas of the bookselling chain,? said the publisher. ?We had all fallen into the trap of spreading ourselves too thin.?