The Thessaloniki International Book Fair started 14 years ago to promote cultural exchanges among international publishers. But after nearly a decade of the economic crisis in Greece, the country’s book industry is hurting.
“The truth is that every year, less and less visitors come to visit. And I think this is because people for some reason don’t read as much as they used to,” says Anastasis Chariopolitis, who runs the Parisianou Publications booth at the book fair. “One part of this is because of the economy, and the other is because of the digital era we’re living in.”
The Economic Times in India reported last year that, since 2008, more than 400 small bookstores and larger chains have closed in Greece. A devastating sign came in September 2016 when Eleftheroudakis, the largest bookstore in Greece, shut its doors after 118 years of business. The bookstore, located in Athens, offered a wide range of books from and about Greece, along with English-language books, maps and travel guides.
Eleftheroudakis began as a family-run bookstore in 1898 and later blossomed into a chain with branches in Athens, Thessaloniki, Mykonos and Alexandroupoli. One by one, the shops became victims of Greece’s debt crisis, with the Athens location marking the final closure.
“We are preparing our next ‘bookshop,’ but we will not do it as long as there is not a positive and stable business environment in our country,” the Eleftheroudakis family said in a statement at the time.
At the Thessaloniki book fair, Ethel Kidoniati, an account manager for the Athens-based company Eurasia Publications, says she does not believe E-books are to blame for the industry’s financial woes. Eurasia Publications, which is run by Kidoniati’s brother, offers genres including philosophy, history and economics.
“Through the years, because of the economic crisis, less publishers are coming, less and less people [are buying],” Kidoniati says of the book fair. “It’s been very bad. The economic crisis affects the books.”
Chariopolitis says financial hardship likewise hit Parisianou Publications, which is located in Athens and publishes poetry, children’s books and histories.
“This company I’m working with, [in] the last almost 10 years, lost almost half—50 percent down in sales,” he says.
Thanasis Sylivos, who is operating another booth at the book fair, helped launch the Greek music magazine Metronomos 16 years ago. Sylivos, 45, now owns Metronomos, which has grown into a newspaper and magazine company in Athens. He says he believes that Greeks genuinely want to buy books, but just do not have the money to spare anymore.
“Before, five, six years [ago], [people would] maybe come by, buy six or seven books. Now, one or two,” he says.
Though the future of the book industry in Greece seems uncertain, several people say they still think of the Thessaloniki International Book Fair as a fun celebration of what they love most.
“We love books,” Kidoniati says. “It helps the culture…the education, everything. We believe in the industry.”
This blog post also appeared on the Northeastern University School of Journalism website.