“We must continue to work to place books and reading at the centre of the cultural and social life of our country”
Daniel Fernández (Barcelona, 1961) is the new president of the Spanish Federation of Publishers’ Guilds (FGEE). After a lifetime dedicated to books, he will work to ensure that the publishing sector “remains the main Spanish cultural industry and one of the most important in the world“. He will also concentrate his efforts on the defence of intellectual property and the promotion of reading. We spoke to him about these challenges and the future of books.
This is the second time you have taken up this position, the first was between 2015 and 2019, why are you doing it again?
I have said in an interview, as a joke, that perhaps it was due to a bit of thoughtlessness. But the excuse no longer works in a case of recidivism. The truth is that I have been involved in the publishing association movement for some years now because I believe that we are at a time when there are important challenges that we must face: there is an attack on intellectual property and copyright, which is one of the great legacies of the French Revolution. And, of course, it counts for a lot and I am very grateful that my fellow publishers want me to be their president again…
Have the needs of publishers changed over the years?
In reality, it hasn’t been that many years, it’s only been three years and things haven’t changed that much. The challenges we had then are still very much alive. We must continue to work to place books and reading at the centre of our country’s cultural and social life. The most developed societies are those that have adopted books and reading as a tool on which to rely. Now that we are facing the recovery from a crisis, which was first economic, then health and, of course, always social, they can help us to train ourselves to ensure that this recovery is much quicker and more lasting. Moreover, at a time when digital development is present in all facets of our lives, we must continue to defend creation and intellectual property.
What is the state of health of the publishing world?
If we look at the figures for both the domestic book trade and reading habits, we could say that the sector is in good health. Reading has been an activity that has helped Spaniards to get through the toughest phases of the pandemic, with confinement. And, according to the data we have collected, it has continued to accompany us afterwards. Book sales, apart from textbooks, whose situation is different, have been positive in both 2020 and 2021. The publishing sector is the industry that contributes most to Spain’s cultural GDP, with a very significant presence abroad, where we not only export books, but also have numerous subsidiaries, especially in Latin America.
What are your main challenges and objectives for this new mandate?
Our objective is to bring all political parties, public administrations and cultural and social organisations together in the Social Pact for Reading that we at the FGEE are promoting. Reaching this Pact is necessary so that the public can visualise the important role that this activity plays not only in the country’s culture, but also as an element of economic impulse and development of our society. It is essential that this Pact should extend beyond one legislature and bring together the commitment of society as a whole.
We must also take advantage of the recovery and resilience funds to help strengthen the modernisation and digitisation of the sector as a lever for the development of our activity. It is important to remember that publishing is the leading cultural industry and we must work to take advantage of this position as an element that will also help our country’s recovery.
Another of the pillars will be the defence of creation and intellectual property in the Spanish, European and global context. It is essential that the role and value of the activities of authors and publishers be recognised in the new scenarios that are emerging. Finally, we must continue to make progress in supporting the internationalisation of Spanish publishing companies.
We must continue to work to place books and reading at the centre of our country’s cultural and social life.
You have already announced that one of the pillars of your mandate will be “the defence of creation and intellectual property in the Spanish, European and global context”. How do you intend to do this?
It is a highly complex issue, because European copyright law is at stake, as opposed to what has been the Anglo-Saxon model. The publishing industry is the great European cultural industry. We need EU directives that do not succumb to the false modernity of the Internet and that regulate and defend the right of all creators to be remunerated. Privacy, artistic and entrepreneurial freedom and even the ability to shape a critical but responsible society are at stake.
What is the role of publishers in the Ministry of Culture and Sport’s new Plan for the Promotion of Reading 2021-2024?
Basically, we are content providers, as they say nowadays. But we are also legally responsible for making sure that what we bring to the market is original, complete, respectful of the author, who is its creator, and capable of satisfying a reader who lives in a society that we try, with modesty, but also with perseverance, to improve in more than one way.
One of the challenges of this plan is to give prestige to reading and it poses the question: “Why read? There are plenty of arguments to answer this question, but if you had to give just one, what would it be?
That reading is still the best and most pleasurable way to live other lives and not limit ourselves to our brief and poor sensory existence. To read is to live more.
Books are Spain’s leading cultural industry. It has an annual turnover of more than 3,000 million euros and employs, directly and indirectly, more than 30,000 people. Where can the sector continue to grow?
If we analyse the figures on reading habits, we see that there is still a third of the population that never or hardly ever reads. This is a very high figure and below the European average. This indicates that we can still manage to attract a good number of people to our books. Furthermore, we have the Spanish language, which is the second most widely spoken language in the world, both as a first and second language, and this opens up a potential market that we must continue to explore. That is why we are committed to internationalisation and export.
How do you see the digital future?
Digitalisation is something that is increasingly present in our lives and in all our activities. In the publishing sector, we have to look at it in different ways. One has to do with the digital book, a format on which we have been working for more than a decade, and which is at a high level of development. Many of our new titles and a large part of our catalogue are already digitised. But we also have to look at digitalisation in other aspects of our activity: in the printing and distribution of our books, in the promotion of our books, in the direct contact that digital tools allow us to have with authors and readers. New technologies are transforming the way we publish and reach readers.
What does it mean for the sector that Spain is the Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair?
It represents a unique opportunity to showcase the creative capacity of our authors, the quality and diversity of Spanish publishing.
Bibliodiversity is, according to the definition of the International Alliance of Independent Publishers, “cultural diversity applied to the world of books, i.e. the necessary diversity of publishing productions made available to readers”. How diverse is the book sector in Spain?
When we talk about Spanish publishing, one of the characteristics we usually highlight is precisely the bibliodiversity of the book industry. Our sector has more than a thousand publishing companies. Although there are large groups, there is a very significant number of small and medium-sized publishing houses that publish a wide variety not only of titles but also of genres. Many of these publishers are highly specialised and have reached a level of quality that makes them recognised worldwide.
What is the commitment of publishers to the 2030 Agenda?
A clear and total commitment. Let’s think about Sustainable Development Goal 4, Quality Education, or Goal 10, Reducing Inequalities. One of the ways to achieve them is by providing the population with access to tools, such as books, that contribute to learning and to any person or society being able to train in order to achieve their development. We publishers work to make it easier for knowledge, diverse opinions, research and written creation to reach the entire population.
Daniel Fernández holds a degree in Hispanic Philology from the Autonomous University of Barcelona, a Diploma in Cultural Business Administration from ESADE and a Graduate School of Public Administration from NYU. He was director of the magazine Saber and the Catalan magazine L’Avenç, as well as general director of Ediciones Grijalbo and literary director of the Grijalbo-Mondadori Group. He is currently the editor and head of EDHASA (Editora y Distribuidora Hispano Americana, S.A) as well as Castalia and chairs Ediciones Prensa Libre.
The FGEE is an association created in 1978 to represent and defend the general interests of the publishing sector. It currently represents the guilds of Madrid, Catalonia, the Basque Country, Andalusia, Galicia, Valencia and Castile and Leon, as well as the National Association of Publishers of Books and Teaching Materials (ANELE) and the Association of Publishers in the Catalan Language (AELLEC).