Il blog di Antonio Tombolini

Dear Christian Raimo, Ferrari is who he is, but the others are no better

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Gian Arturo Ferrari for twenty years, until the end of 2009, was the most powerful executive in Italian book publishing, at the helm of the Mondadori group.
Gian Arturo Ferrari is one of the most erudite intellectuals and scholars in Italian humanities.
Gian Arturo Ferrari has been, since 2010, the President of CEPELL (the Centre for Books and Reading).
Gian Arturo Ferrari clashed swords with me on the issue of the ebook in November 2009 (he was still the top dog at Mondadori), in this way on the programme Fahrenheit.
Gian Arturo Ferrari, with all that he was and is, yesterday spoke out like this in Corriere della Sera, just like a typical angry blogger.
[Edoardo Brugnatelli, the legendary Mondadori publishing director with whom Ferrari worked side by side declared his dismay at “the impudence and cynicism” of Ferrari in a nice piece on Facebook.] Christian Raimo, from the Minimum Fax blog, criticises the incredible piece by Ferrari from the point of view of a noble publishing industry that creates culture, as against those (Ferrari, for example) who have been guilty over the years of the “commercial tendencies of Mondadori”.
Well, dear Mr. Raimo, if the charge of hypocrisy with which Ferrari now flagellates Italian publishing is well-deserved, I don’t agree with what can be deduced from his piece, that is, the existence of a good publishing industry, standing against the one Ferrari advocated for years.
The good anti-Ferrari attitude would be to get help from outside (let’s be clear: with public funds), to pull the chestnuts out of the fire, to “find a way to finance a collapsing industry”. As long as the publishing industry thinks that way, at the opposite pole from its so-called “commercial tendencies” and in favour of “statist tendencies” or as a “cultural reality” that “creates culture” and that it should be someone else’s burden (the state, of course, or even the readers themselves, who could receive a gift of higher prices by law à la Française) to resolve its financial problems, if it continues to think of itself this way, I’d say, publishing is self-classifying itself as a parasite for the system, without solving any of its problems.
The publisher is not a cultural reality, and does not create culture, but, as I see it, Ferrari is right (although he is not qualified to be the one saying it): If anything, the publisher is a “cultural industry”, a company in a specific sector of the economy, in a sector which is among the few today which is growing. As such, the publisher is an entrepreneur. And if the only thing this entrepreneur does, when things go well (as they have been for years), is to say (and they were saying it to me for years!) is “rest assured, the book industry will never hit a crisis, it’s even countercyclical!”, or “relax, Amazon will never reach Italy, we’re too different!” or “don’t worry, the ebook is a flash in the pan, the paper book is like the spoon, it will never change, even Eco said so!” (All things that I have heard with my own ears whether from Ferrari or from ALL the other so-called “big Italian publishers”), well, it’s no surprise then that when the crisis comes along this is an entrepreneur who is totally incapable of finding solutions, and then invokes his cultural role suggesting that public money should go to him, instead of (for some reason) to my friend who instead of books produces soles for shoes and is also in crisis.
And I fear that the inaction of a useless body such as that presided over by Ferrari (the CEPELL) cannot be remedied by the “informal” association to which he appeals: that Book Forum which, under the cover of the scholarly reports with which it fills its elitist conventions, turns out in the end as its main achievement the proposal of a “Law to promote books and reading” whose statism is not only unrealistic but suffocating.
This welfare dependence is not, and has never been, the way to solve the problems of a reality in crisis. The path is rather one of entrepreneurial creativity. But with all those busy complaining about it (with Ferrari even in this, for his part, surpassing them all in one fell swoop), where will they find the time, our publishers, to engage creatively with the problem? Maybe we need a new generation of publishers, and self publishing is perhaps its calling card. For this reason, among others, I will not be at the Book Forum conference next weekend, but I will instead be celebrating, with authors and publishing professionals, this new and chaotic ferment which is nonetheless full of creativity and the desire to do something, at the self publishing festival, Senigallia: #ISPF2013. Will I find any publishers there curious to see what is happening? Now that would be a good sign.

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