Independent publishing house Opera has been in business on Koletti Street in the downtown Athens district of Exarchia since 1996. Over the past seven years, proprietor Giorgos Myresiotis has seen 13 small publishers and book stores along this side street either relocate or go out of business. His enterprise has managed to remain afloat despite the adversities of the persisting Greek crisis that has prompted the collapse of major retail chains.
“We were hit hard from all directions. Not a single book store – big or small – or distributor went out of business without leaving a trail of unpaid debts,” Myresiotis told Kathimerini, while also pointing out that the trauma of it all is not just financial but also psychological. “It’s very sad to see some of the once-mighty and invincible entrepreneurs of the book market fall. If anything ever leads us to stop our publishing activities it will be disappointment, not financial setbacks,” he contended.
The Opera publishing house has managed to survive as a result of entrepreneurial restraint, says its proprietor, who explained that this conservative approach held the business back from ambitious moves during better times. “We never believed that we would benefit from any kind of credit arrangement. Even so, the crisis hit us too. We became collectors of bounced checks, partially serviced or entirely unpaid balances [and have encountered problems such as] unreturned books, delays and walkouts,” Myresiotis said. “We have filed suits against 11 enterprises that owe us considerable amounts of money and hope that, if these cases ever get to court, the tax department might offer us compensation for unfairly paid taxes.”
Just a couple of blocks away, the inner-city district’s Andreou Metaxa Street is home to Iolkos, another independent publishing house. Its owner, Konstantinos Koridis, took the helm of the business 21 years ago from his father, who launched the venture in 1961. The young owner says that Iolkos has managed to survive the pressure of these challenging times as a result of a revised sales policy. “The crisis has affected us in the book distribution market as we are particularly selective with regard to book stores, our customers. We don’t participate in book fairs as there’s no demand there, but we do place emphasis on promoting our titles online,” Koridis said.
The challenges of the recession are evident in the book industry in a variety of ways, not just company closures. “Many small publishing houses are sitting idle, while many midsize operations have reduced their output as purchasing power has contracted and business costs have risen,” noted the head at Iolkos. “All this has become apparent in the market as titles that have sold out are no longer being reissued,” he added.
Myresiotis, the Opera publishing house head, cited a lack of reading interest and new trends as detrimental factors hurting the book industry. “I recently traveled to Syros and on the boat noticed just a handful of people reading books. The hands of most are now preoccupied with mobile phones, which we, the publishers of today, need to seriously take into account. Otherwise we will end up in the positions of manuscript copiers a few years after the arrival of Gutenberg,” noted Myresiotis, citing the German blacksmith, printer and publisher who introduced printing to Europe in 1439 as a warning to those that still insist the printed book format has plenty more mileage.
Iolkos proprietor Koridis said that “readers in Greece nowadays spend as much as 60 percent less on books compared to the pre-crisis period,” while adding that there is a silver lining to these adverse times. “Lower book prices, as well as book fairs, offer readers an opportunity to stock up on more books. Also, publishing house selections have become stricter as a result of the demanding standards of conventional readers. Quality remains, it stays alive, and that is what publishers who respect the past and their readers are looking for and selecting.”