Cleaning Up the Book Ends

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Comics books, or albums, are very popular with all ages.

At a Warmer 18th Salon du Livre - Part II

Paris:- Wednesday, 25. March 1998:- My casual 'What's New Today?' - while going through the press office on my way into the Salon du Livre - gets me the information that a press conference is starting immediately.

I do not go to many of these. The last time I did - on a no-notice occasion like this - I learned that my own Internet-service provider was in jail, on charges of distributing some sort of porn through the 'newsgroups' supplied by his service. It was indeed 'news,' but I didn't know if I would be able to get it online.

Today's affair is the wrap-up report about this year's Salon du Livre. I have little time for this today, but I decide to take it in, because it is near a toilet.

The conference has already started and everybody greets me with their index finger to their lips as if I look as if I'm about to burst into speech. I get a seat and case the room, counting the heads. I guess there are three dozen of them. The culture hacks.

On a raised platform there are four men and one empty seat. This is reserved for Madame Catherine Trautmann, Ministre de la Culture et de la Communication, who has not yet arrived.

A big, heavy-set man is speaking. He is Serge Eyrolles, president of the Syndicate of publishers and president of this year's salon. He speaks well and forcefully, and keeps saying Madame Trautmann has not arrived yet. Until recently, this former mayor of Strasbourg, was also the 'official' government spokesperson, but that was one hat too many - although she did the extra job well.

What is on the publishers' minds? According to Mr. Eyrolles, there is tension between private publishers and the state publishers - the ones who print many of the fancy books sold in museum boutiques. This is competition he says.

Another unfair form of it, is the state's push to make free lending libraries available to the public - these hurt bookshop sales. He doesn't mention that lending libraries buy books.

Statistics say youngsters spend an average of 39 francs a month on books, and this puts book purchases in eighth place, after magazines which are in fifth. For the salon, the Minister of Culture - who is not here yet - invited 1000 kids to the salon, and each were given 50 francs to spend - on books - a jolly 'plus' for the salon.

Attendance of this years' salon is up ten percent, to 220,000 visitors; not counting today's. Last Sunday, 41,000 came, and there was a bit of a squeeze.

Brazil is 'guest of honor' at this year's salon. Mr. Marcos de Azambuja, Brazil's ambassador to France, says Brazil isMinister Trautmann very honored by it all, and he says this in an amusing way - as if he knows Brazil is indeed an attraction - to all visitors like myself and the rest of the press mob who were hoping the Brazil stands would be staffed by Rio's beach lovelies.

Madame le Ministre makes a breathless entry 22 minutes after the conference has started, which is not bad, considering Paris' traffic.

From left, Mr. de Azambuja, Mme Trautmann and Mr. Eyrolles.

Kind words are exchanged with Mr. de Azambuja, who presents a gift, and who promises that Brazil will be an exhibitor at new year's salon, partly on account of selling 13,000 books during this one.

Mr. de Azambuja also manages to upstage everybody by prematurely paying homage to Québec, "In the extreme north of Latin America." Québec will be next year's honored guest.

After being the 'official' government spokesperson, Catherine Trautmann has learned 'minister-speak' and she probably has nine other engagements today, but she does say that France was 'seduced' by Brazil.

Then she says the government is defending the French practice of price-fixing for book sales, which Brussels says is illegal. This practice supports small bookshops throughout the country, but is under heavy pressure from big city volume dealers, who would like to discount everybody to death.

Mr. Michel Lucier of Québec says that Brazil is going to be tough act to follow. I think, it certainly would have been, if Brazil had brought some of those cuties from Rio's beaches - but it chose to be high-minded instead. Mr. Lucier, who does not speak as colorfully as Mr. de Azambuja, adds that Québec has the same language as France, but it dances and sings to 'different music.' This sounds more like a promise than a threat.

Today at the Salon du Livre

After the press conference, I try to clean up some lose ends from last week's visit, with a score of two for three. Mr. Rose never made it to his 'Pagina' stand. Mr. Yv-Mari Séraline didn't get his CD-ROM, 'Carnaval de le Martinique' pried out of customs, but he does have a copy to demonstrate.

At the 'Bar des Philosophes,' I find Mr. Pascal Hardy to be a real person, in person. He wants to know if I have anything philosophical to say and when I can't think of anything, he invites me to the Café des Phares at Bastille if I came up with anything.

With these odds out of the way and a positive thought in mind, I go looking for Brazil. There are two stands. At one, there is the famous aviator, Alberto Santos-Dumont, and his 'La Demoiselle No 20,' which he flew around Paris in 1909 - in much the same way as people take taxis today.

Mr. Santos-Dumont took up flying after becoming disenchanted with ballooning, because they were hard to steer. As there were no airplanes at the time, he built his own. He was a light-hearted fellow and well-liked in Paris and did not take it badly when the Wright BrothersInternational Publishers invented the airplane; although he did not think much of their landing gear. After a time he returned to Brazil and the coffee or the cigar business, or both.

'International Publishers' stand in for lack of Brazilian photo.

The Brazilian stands are green, with the name 'Brésil' in gold, on them. For some reason, they do not photograph well; their decor is up high and the illumination confuses my camera. A third of the 1,500 titles on display are written in Portuguese, and all of them represent 11 sectors of Brazilian life.

These in turn are represented by 41 writers, from the poet Francisco Alvim to the musician and journalist, Luiz Fernando Verissmo. Paulo Coelho is being celebrated in Paris, so he is in all the papers and on TV as well.

Last Saturday he was dedicating his books at the salon, on the stand of Anne Carrière, his Paris publisher, from 15:00 to 20:30 - and broke some sort of record for signatures. Meeting the authors in person is one of the salon's main attractions. Altogether, 1,200 authors are supposed to have shown their faces here.

Although the salon has more space and wider aisles, I have some difficulty finding some of my fetish subjects, probably because of the larger area. I like to see what the government is up to - the Assembly National, the Senate, to see what they are doing with their communications with citizens.

Also, the European Community has a lot to say. TheEU stand EU - 'European Union' - has dialogues with its member governments - plus it has open channels of communications directly with all the residents of the community.

As in the case of France, mentioned above - being slapped on the wrist for allowing price-fixing for book sales - citizens can find out what their 'Euro' rights are, directly from the source.

If the EU ever gets 50 stars, China will probably be a member.

EU rules of competition may present consumer benefits to residents of one country or another, and the countries they live in cannot plead ignorance - and they don't like being forced to plead 'feet-dragging,' so after much pretending to support the interests of special groups, the governments usually end up complying to the Europe-wide rules.

I find the aisle of the official agencies at last. It seems to be less of the boulevard it was in past years and more like any other path in the salon, but I don't know if this is significant. The important thing is, they are here.

There is another section of the salon called 'Les Etats Généreux des Ateliers d' Ecriture' which I can't quite figure out, because there is some mention of 'writing by committees.' Otherwise, it seems to concern apprenticeships in the printing trades and there is a demonstration of how to make paper by hand.

I look for the ancient presses 'like those that permitted Gutenberg' to invent moveable type. These presses are either so small that I cannot find them, or they are not present. I have set moveable type by hand myself, so I have an affection for this and am a bit disappointed not to find it.

This is kind of a 'down note' on which to leave the salon. The strong points of the Salon du Livre are: a visitor can get a complete overview of France's book publishing industry and itreaders, readers is possible to actually meet the people who write books; and one shouldn't forget the comic book authors here.

Looking at books, reading them and talking about them.

Unlike the vast Frankfurt show, which is a world book-trade market, Paris' salon is really for the public, for the readers. That its main purpose is to sell books directly to its public does not make it less interesting.

If the public, readers, did not buy books, then nobody would bother writing them. If this was the case, we would all be worse off, because we would be stuck with our own souls, like castaways on tiny desert islands.

The 'book trade' effects the transfer of creative works from authors to the public. Inexpensive desktop publishing allowed some authors to sidestep the 'book-trade' part of the process. It remains to be seen if the Internet is going to be some sort of substitute for the 'trade-distribution' part of the affair.

Outside the salon, at the Porte de Versailles, there are lots of students around, and lots of people coming away from the salon are carrying plastic sacks, containing books.

Exactly how many lost sales these plastic sacks represent to book shops, is unknown.

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