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Charm offensive aims to woo back bookworms

There's more to books than just Harry Potter Keystone

Authors, publishers, bookshops and libraries in Switzerland have clubbed together to attract more readers.

This content was published on April 23, 2004 - 11:49

The creation of the Swiss Book Lobby coincides with Friday’s World Book Day.

“The Swiss book scene is in crisis on all levels and we have to ensure its survival through more funds and other measures," says Erica Benz-Steffen of the Swiss Arts Council, Pro Helvetia.

She says that the time people spend reading has plummeted over the past two decades and that authors are tending to write shorter and easier texts, even in works of fiction.

“Books deserve to be treated according to their importance in society, which is why we need to step up our lobbying,” Benz-Steffen adds.

Neglected

The campaign, which aims to promote fiction as well as science and non-fiction books, has received the support of personalities from the world of politics and the arts, as well as the Nobel Prize Winner for Medicine, Rolf Zinkernagel.

“We want to lobby for books and the book sector in general," Men Haupt, director of Switzerland’s Association of Booksellers and Publishers, told swissinfo.

“No other sector can boast a special international day to promote its products. We’re the only ones and we have to make good use of it.”

Haupt laments the fact that books are often neglected compared with other cultural activities and the media. He cites the film industry as a shining example of what can be achieved through close, internal cooperation.

Cultural diversity

The campaign is designed to promote authors and books from all of Switzerland’s language regions.

“I hope that we can help to increase understanding for the specific characteristics and features of every region,” says Benz-Steffen.

“One aim of the lobby group is to make people more aware of the different cultures in this country.”

“Promoting books is for the good of everybody,” Haupt adds.

Brochure

As part of the nationwide campaign, a brochure has been published in three of Switzerland’s national languages - German, French and Italian – to raise awareness of problems facing the industry.

Campaigners have set themselves a timeframe of between three to five years to revive the sector.

“We want to try to raise awareness among people, but a lot needs to be done behind the scenes, such as lobbying for a special clause in the legislation governing the promotion culture in Switzerland,” Haupt says.

Funds

Funding for the campaign is limited, with most of the financing coming directly from campaigners.

“We have less than SFr100,000 available for the launch,” said Haupt, adding that more funding would be needed over the next five years.

The Swiss Arts Council is also keen to support the campaign, which is in line with its cultural activities. “We have contributed some money towards the brochure,” says Pro Helvetia’s Benz-Steffen.

swissinfo, Christian Raaflaub

In brief

A new campaign to promote books in Switzerland has been launched by Swiss publishers, libraries, authors and the Swiss Arts Council, Pro Helvetia.

It coincides with Unesco’s World Book Day, which was first celebrated on April 23, 1995.

William Shakespeare and Miguel Cervantes both died on April 23, 1616 and Vladimir Nabokov and Halldor Laxness were born on April 23 1899, and 1902 respectively.

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Key facts

Some 40 million books are sold in Switzerland every year; 80% of them are imported.
Annual sales of books total around SFr2 billion ($1.5 billion), making the book branch Switzerland’s biggest cultural sector.
About 10,000 titles are launched by Swiss publishers every year.

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