Andrew Cohen reports here that there are more bookstores in Buenos Aires than there are in the entire country of Brazil, a nation of some 190 million, roughly five times the population of Argentina. One store for every 6000 residents of BA, a place where booksellling is seen as a ‘true,’ if not terribly lucrative, profession. The reason: government has in place a version of England’s old ‘Net Book Agreement’ which came into effect on the first day of the 20th century (Jan 1, 1900). It held that any bookseller who sold a book at less than the price agreed upon by publishers and retailers would cease getting books to sell. Collapse of the Agreement in 1997 benefited big box, ‘high street’ bookstore chains and reduced book prices. Supermarkets also got into the game, selling popular titles at deep discounts. The result: books are definitely cheaper…obviously a good thing for consumers, particularly those formerly unable to afford them, but, devastating to the independent bookstore: as of 2009, some 500 had closed since the demise of the agreement.
Cohen cites civic priority as the reason for Argentina’s commitment to culture. Bridges, subway stations and roads can wait. It’s bookstores, museums and theatres that are important. As culture minister Hernan Lombardi puts it "In a crisis, we worry about losing identity. That’s when we need to support culture". No wonder Buenos Aires is such an amazing city…and Canada has had such struggles defining it’s ‘identity’. Far better to scrape those menacing centimeters of snow from the roads every day than invest in more libraries, or support independent and used bookstore owners, what?