Inside Turin International Book Fair: Bittersweet Reading

The Turin International Book Fair remains a reference point for Italian culture.

The 2018 edition of the Salone Internazionale del Libro di Torino (Turin International Book Fair), held in Turin between 10 and 14 May, reached record numbers. Indeed, more than 170 thousand overall visitors gathered in Piedmont, divided between the book showroom and the events held across the city. With its 51 thousand square metres exhibition space, the Turin Book Fair is the main Italian and the second European publishing event, after Frankfurt’s Buchmesse. Founded in 1988, it takes place every year in May, lasting five days and involving several big and smaller publishing houses. Moreover, during the fair days, many events are organized in the showroom spaces, with the participation of writers, editors, journalists and cultural figures from all over the world.

Great attendance

The 2018 edition had a particularly large attendance, to the point where on May 12 the organization was forced to close the entrance gates for an hour, as the maximum number of people allowed to enter had been already reached. The mayor of Turin Chiara Appendino, the president of ‘Book, Music and Culture Fundation’ Massimo Bray and the editorial director Nicola Lagioia, all welcomed with a great deal of enthusiasm the results of the fair. The latter, during the final press conference, spoke about a ‘resounding success’ that proved ‘the maturity of Salone and its community’, whereas the mayor stressed the importance of maintaining the event under public management, adding that ‘the community of Turin is an example for the whole country in terms of its capacity to produce, offer and launch culture’.

Piazza Vittorio Veneto, Turin

All that glitters is not gold

Although the success of this edition is unquestionable, especially thanks to the still vivid interest in literature and culture among the population, there have been also some problems. Indeed, the main weakness concerns the organization itself, as stated by Emanuele Giammarco, editor of Racconti Edizioni, an independent publishing house that displaying books this year in Turin. ‘The risk is that the celebratory mood due to the numbers blinds us to a series of latent problems: I found the security checks at the entrance unbearable, as well as the crowd made it very difficult to attend events. It is unbelievable that, in 2018, reserving an event is not possible.’ Moreover, according to him, the police stands and those selling non-related items were ‘absurd’. ‘Idealistically – he continued – I aim at a more civil, more literary and cheaper Salone‘. Anyway, for this emergent publishing house, sales went ‘pretty well, in line with the expectations’.

‘Outcasts’ pavilion’

The same cannot be said for thirty little publishers who have been forced to display in an improvised ward. Following an overbooking problem, they risked being excluded from the fair. Therefore, the organization found an alternative solution, placing them in a pavilion (more similar to a big tent) separated from the main showroom and difficult to reach. There have suddenly been complaints by the exposers involved, who gave interviews and protested on social media. For example, the editors of Cliquot Edizioni wrote on their Facebook page that they have suffered ‘a clear reputational damage’, caused by ‘some inexplicable and really short-sighted choices of the organization’, whereas the owners of the bookshop/cafe Nora Book & Coffee launched the hashtag #Padiglionedegliesclusi (#outcasts’ pavilion). The latter told us that the administration of Salone promised them a partial repayment and a better organization for next year.

A crossroad for Italian culture

What is certain, is that the Turin International Book Fair remains a reference point for Italian culture, bringing together different realities that contribute to maintain the world of publishing still vital. Indeed, data show an overall positive and increasing percentage of book sales during the event, not exclusively for big publishing companies. This trend has been already showed by the twelve semifinalists of Premio Strega, the most prestigious Italian literary prize: six men, six women, many emergent writers, some of which have been edited by independent publishing houses. Perhaps, the Italian publishing business is really changing and maybe it is going right there, towards the outcasts’ pavilion.