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National Library of Greece | © Matt Chotin/WikiCommons
National Library of Greece | © Matt Chotin/WikiCommons

Why Was Athens Named UNESCO World Book Capital For 2018?

Picture of Ethel Dilouambaka
Updated: 27 September 2016
Succeeding Wroclaw (2016) and Conakry (2017), Athens was announced last week as UNESCO’s World Book Capital for 2018. It’s a bittersweet announcement for Greece as one of the largest historic bookstores announced its closure a few hours after the news, and the book industry has been declining since the onset of the economic crisis. So really, why was Athens chosen as the World Book Capital?

Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova announced last week that Athens was the World Book Capital for 2018 on the recommendation of the program’s Advisory Committee, which brings together representatives from the International Publishers Associations (IPA), the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), and UNESCO. The title was awarded based on the ‘outstanding quality’ of the city’s program of activities promoting the book industry in Greece. Aiming to make books accessible to the city’s entire population, including migrants and refugees, Athens’ proposal was praised for the quality of its activities, such as meetings with writers, translators, and illustrators, as well as concerts, exhibitions, poetry readings, and workshops for publishing professionals.

Athens’ city officials have also highlighted their capacity at organizing events of international relevance, which they have promised will be open to all, including migrants and refugees.

From the outside, all this sounds good. After all, Athens’ ancient character does correspond with the values of the World Book Capital initiative. But how can we rejoice about this when Athens’ bookstores, and the rest of the country for that matter, have seen a dramatic decline in sales and revenues since the beginning of the crisis?

In a series of insights on the Greek publishing industry by 2Seas Agency, literary agent Evangelia Avloniti, founder of Ersilia Literary Agency, affirmed that the book industry in the country was thriving before 2010.

For example, according to the now-closed National Book Centre of Greece (EKEBI), ‘in 2008 there were 10,680 titles published in Greece, whereas in 2012, the number had gone down to approximately 7,000.’ Recent figures are impossible to know since the institution was forced to shut down in 2013. Avloniti goes on to explain that the crisis has affected the book industry in many ways. Naming two major bookstore chains, Eleftheroudakis and Papasotiriou, which both closed down the remaining of its stores this year, she points out that smaller, more specialized bookstores have emerged, providing a more personalized service to the customers.

 © Courtesy of Eleftheroudakis

© Courtesy of Eleftheroudakis

But despite this small positive outcome, there are fewer and fewer opportunities for growth in the sector as there is little to no help or support from the government.

Hopefully, somehow, the World Book Capital title will contribute to some respite despite the gloomy outlook.

To get a better idea of the effects of the crisis on the Greek publishing industry, read this article by Socrates Kabouropoulos.