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Realities of Cuban Publishing Market Laid Bare

17 February 2016

From Publishers Weekly:

One of the goals of the U.S./Cuba Publishing Mission was to facilitate discussion about the cultural ties between U.S. and Cuban publishers. Although the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba has cast a long shadow–commercial trade between U.S. firms and Cuban ones remains illegal–publishers remain optimistic about generating new opportunities.

In one of two panels, Edel Morales Fuentes, v-p of international relations for the Cuban Book Institute, offered some demographic data that gives a big picture look at the country’s reading public. Women, he said, buy the majority of books in Cuba, with their purchases being for both themselves and their family. (Cuban women, Fuentes noted, account for 60% of the country’s professionals, and they tend to command salaries commensurate with men for the same job.) When it comes to e-readers, Fuentes said 70% of Cubans are accustomed to digital reading but that “we don’t have enough digital reading devices.”

. . . .

 Digging deeper into the Cuban publishing scene, Zuleica Romay Guerra, president of the Book Institute of the Cuban Ministry of culture, said the longstanding trade embargo with the U.S. has made it costly to be in the book business in Cuba. That Cuban publishers are also working within a state-run model–with set budgets–only complicates things further.

Yamila Cohen Valdes, who heads a state-run agency representing Cuban writers called the Cuban Latin American Literary Agency, said she encounters various hurdles in the day-to-day aspects of doing business. “It is difficult and cumbersome to deal with author payments,” she explained. “We cannot use U.S. bank transfers. Even non-U.S. publishers use U.S banks and, because of the blockade, we cannot negotiate anything with U.S. currency.”

Guerra said Cuban publishing companies also struggle with the need to produce books at low prices. Noting that the Cuban people are poor, she said book are often sold for less than a $1.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly


13 Comments to “Realities of Cuban Publishing Market Laid Bare”

  1. All I’m gonna say here is that there’s a charming naivete to the enthusiasm of people who don’t realize the implications of ‘state-run bookstores.’

    • Bingo.

    • Ditto. First I wondered why PW didn’t notice this problem. And it[‘s mystifying why the embargo was identified as a problem but not, Idunno, real censorship.

      I stopped reading when I came to the point where it mentions inviting Author Solutions to give a talk.

      • Ugh. Author Solutions laying bait already? That’s awful.

        • Money talks.

          Sharing the wealth with those connected talks.

          If there’s money in the people, these two ‘agencies’ will remove it from them.

          That’s how business is done in the parts of America Latina I know.

          • If publishers think selling ebooks under $9.99 devalues books too much I don’t see why they would have any interest in a market that values books as less than a dollar.

    • All I’m gonna say here is that there’s a charming naivete to the enthusiasm of people who don’t realize the implications of ‘state-run bookstores.’

      I do not find it charming. I find it alarming that such bloody stupid people exist.

      I recall watching a BBC program hosted by Simon Reeve that showed a Cuban woman’s home literally propped up by 4x4s in her bedroom. She spent 16 years on a waiting list for building materials to fix her home. The state could not provide her with materials to fix her ceiling but could provide her with 4x4s to keep it from falling on her. Too bloody stupid. (Would her result have been different had she the money to pay la mordida? What? You think it doesn’t exist in that workers’ paradise?)

      Command economies bring poverty and lots of it.

      • I have to find it charming, or else I’d want to rip out my hair and howl and go to war. :,

        (Daughter of political exiles from Cuba.)

        • MCA Hogarth, Bueno. You are correct, and knowing you, I know what you meant. In Native and Latino, but also any culture that has bowed under the lash of conquerers/slavemongers, we use certain words like charming
          that has, as does our five ways of saying yes that actually mean no, several meanings. Charming can be used to throw down a gauntlet, to deride, to find genuiniely precious.

          Just to add to your comment MCA, and thanks, we went to Bucharest with a group of seasoned authors/independent presses when the ‘regime’ fell. We were invited to come as foreign advisors to help new booksellers start their own businesses in bookselling. There were many issues, some so
          heartrending. One being, the state supported ‘book industry’ had made all books free of charge. The utterly dunce obvious conclusion being true: these ‘free’ books were also heavily censored in this sense; not by pieces or pages of sentences, but by entire genres.

          So, in a new ‘free economy’ [which has its own challenges in a formerly state $$$ supported ‘arts’ country] books that cost money were a 60 year non-event in the soviet union formerly free nations. And the cost of making books for the ‘free economy’ was sky high when the soviets ‘fell.’ So much so
          that books were expensive and also, kept in glass cases for they were in the 30 and 40 dollar range in us dollars.

          But that was 1999. And now is many years later. The publishers in e. eu are doing better as are booksellers, and there is still much work to do, for living in an economy where some of our family was ‘trapped behind the iron curtain ‘ as it used to be said, we know firsthand, their sufferings about every and anything, including lacks of medicines for the babies and for people in terrible pain, torture and confiscation of the men from the fields which sustained the families, the taking of even the old women’s little gardens for vegetables, and the one dairy cow. I could go on for years to tell the tales of the rapes of the young by anyone militarized who had power to both invade and to murder.

          Cuba where many of us have also be in liaison as foreign advisors in education and the arts, will have its day too… when eyes of the world will not allow easily men to overtake villages and enslave and batter and rape. What we hope for in books is what we hope for here; freedom to write what one wil without repercussion from anyone with power to harm us, freedom to publish at will.

          For Cuba this will mean many many things. My faith is in the hearts of the people. There are bitter people everywhere, and I personally loathe bitterness that has nothing to stand on but pique. The Cubanos have suffered terribly. They carry some of the deepest, warmest, most loving hearts on earth.

          For those in the usa, what we can do is try to protect Cuba from being raped again by big developers from the USA and elsewhere who have been eyeing for decades those beautiful beaches, and a ready– to them– population of the poor who can support as cooks, janitors, housekeepers their plans for huge hotels owned by not Cubans, but other.

          There are many ways we can help the writers there, the poets, the musicians. A simple penpalship of which we have several, can not only be bracing, but also instead of hearing ‘the c and faux news’ about cuba from media, hearing it instead from those with great hearts who LIVE it. Daily. For decades. The news media stories about Cuba and the realities of Cuba are, the former pathetic one-inch-deep ‘news’, while the latter is grit and truth.

  2. To MCA Hogarth’s point, it would be interesting (in a clinical sense) to see how much of something like _The Gulag Archipelago_ or _The Black Book of Communism_ would make it past the Cuban authorities and reach the shelves.

  3. Cubanos to my mind include exilios y la gente still in Cuba.

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