Bookshops in Spain find ways to balance the books

TURNING A NEW PAGE: An English class is held at +Bernat bookstore in Barcelona, the Spanish-language world's publishing capital where bookstores are reinventing themselves to draw a wider range of customers.


    Apr 26, 2016

    Bookshops in Spain find ways to balance the books


    FACED with falling sales and the rise of e-books, bookstores in Barcelona, the Spanish-language world's publishing capital, are remaking themselves as cultural centres that offer concerts, classes and uncommon titles to draw customers.

    "Either we reinvented ourselves or it was really impossible to stay open," said Montserrat Serrano, owner of the +Bernat bookstore at one of the main avenues in Spain's second-largest city.

    The bookstore, opened in 1978, moved to this larger location six years ago so it could include a cafeteria that offers a daily menu and cooking classes.

    The space is also used to hold conferences, debates, language classes, concerts and even board game tournaments.

    "I decided to expand the place to survive," said Ms Serrano, adding that converting the space into a meeting place helps to build customer loyalty.

    "We struggle to balance the books. If anything unforeseen happens, everything wobbles."

    Spain's publishing sector posted sales of 2.19 billion euros (S$3.3 billion) in 2014, down 30 per cent from 2008, according to figures from the Spanish Federation of Publishers.

    The number of bookstores in Spain fell from 7,074 in 2008 to 5,864 in 2013, according to national statistics institute INE.

    In Barcelona, many iconic outlets have been forced to close in recent years, including the Catalonia bookstore.

    Founded in 1924, it survived Spain's devastating 1936-39 Civil War which saw Barcelona suffer air raids.

    But it shut in 2013 as the owners could not keep up with rising rent. The space now houses a McDonald's branch.

    "The crisis has been long, persistent and deep," said Antonio Daura, head of the Association of Booksellers in Catalonia. "But there have been entrepreneurs, people who have opened shops with a very specialised focus and small size."

    Barcelona has a long literary tradition. The first one-volume edition of Don Quixote was published here in 1617.

    "There was an economic crisis but not a cultural crisis," said Abel Cutillas who opened Calders, a popular bookstore that sells works from small independent publishers.

    "Very interesting publishers have emerged, books are being translated and republished that have lots of quality," he noted.

    Consumers sometimes chip in to help independent bookstores expand.

    Xavier Vidal left his journalist job in 2013 to open the No Llegiu bookstore - which means "Don't Read" in Catalan. He recently moved to a larger location after his clients raised 17,000 euros though crowdfunding.

    On a recent visit, Mr Vidal was preparing to host a book club at the store after it closed its doors.

    "If I sit in the bookstore and wait for people to come, I can die. I have to make them come, spread my passion for reading," he said.