Thursday, September 3, 2015

Canada refuses invitation to be country of honour at prestigious Frankfurt Book Fair

This story has been making the rounds on social media for the past 12 hours and it's a bit shocking.

Apparently, the Canadian government refused the invitation by the largest book fair in the world, citing budget problems. There is generally a cost associated with this honor, but it translates into book deals for authors, publishers, rights agencies, translators and bookstores, and the roughly five to six million dollars it would have cost is minimal.

There's a link to the story here but for some reason, only the Francophone media, Radio-Canada specifically, is reporting on this so far. The link's in French.

Obviously, I don't know all the ins and outs and there could be some other angle or some other information the journalist wasn't privy to, but if this is true, it's really depressing and frustrating. There aren't enough ways to describe how important this kind of honour would have meant for Canada and the Canadian publishing industry in particular. Instead of Canada, the fair then turned their sites on France who them become the country of honour. They ended up spending more than the amount required and are now reaping the benefits.

Canada to Frankfurt: "Naaaaah, we'll pass..."
For the uninitiated, these fairs are terribly important because everyone from the industry is there making deals: publishers meet writers who talk to translators and book chains and libraries and rights agencies and distributors, all with the idea of facilitating book deals all over the world. If your book's been translated and published in Turkish, in Chinese, in French, in Spanish, chances are the deal happened (or the contact was made) in Frankfurt. It's the biggest and most prestigious book fair in the world (by far) and attracts 275,000 visitors and 9,000 journalists.

So the thought that the Canadian government said no for a measly $6,000,000 is appalling, especially when one considers the fact that after years of essentially being one of the main drivers in creating an identity for Canadian literature inside Canada, the Canada Council for the Arts (funded by the Federal government) has for a couple of years started spending (a small amount of) money trying to promote Canadian literature outside Canada, to put Canada on the map internationally in terms of our artists, writers, musicians, dancers, etc.

I'm sure Canada Council had little to no involvement in the above decision since they have a specific mandate and the Frankfurt Book Fair would have fallen outside it, but it just goes to show how one branch of government can often be undoing what the other hand is trying to accomplish.

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