Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Book Business in Puerto Rico

This may be a sort of follow up to my post yesterday about the NYT article on books and scanning. It caught my eye mostly because it was about books and the book trade. It was published in El Nuevo Dia for Friday May 12, 2006, and I read it online on my Newsgator feeds. While I do not follow Puerto Rican news as much now that I live in the States, I still scan the headlines from El Nuevo Dia and a few other Spanish language newspapers. For one, much of the cultural coverage tends to be better than American papers, and I often find interesting things like this. The article's title is "La ley del libro: sus condiciones y efectos," and it was written by Carmen Dolores Hernandez. The original is in Spanish, so I will provide a little summary for readers.

The bottom line of the article is a recent law that was passed in the island to provide economic incentives to the local book industry. Anyone living in the States knows that getting Puerto Rican literature outside of a few ethnic enclaves is next to impossible. It is not because we do not have good writers. Our literature can stand up to any other in the world; the problem is that the editorial houses often do not make an effort to distribute their works outside of the island. As a result, authors like Ana Lydia Vega are often not as known as they could be outside of Puerto Rico. The law in question is Law # 516, which was passed in September 2004. Another issue that comes across seems to be that although the law was passed, not many people in the industry were aware of it.

The article provides a brief overview of the publishing process, and it explains the importance of good distribution for a book. In the article, Andrew Hurley, a translator of authors such as Jorge Luis Borges and Ana Lydia Vega, is cited stating that editorial houses on the island have miserable sales given their lack of effort in distributing their authors outside of Puerto Rico. Yet, the book industry in Puerto Rico is worth millions of dollars annually. The law is for authors, book designers, translators, editors, and booksellers, and it provides for a variety of tax incentives. There has been some controversy in the way the law defines a "Puerto Rican author." The law's definition is one born in Puerto Rico or one of Puerto Rican ancestry up to the fourth generation. The definition then leaves out authors of other nationalities who may reside in Puerto Rico and actually do all of their work in the island, for example, it would exclude Mayra Montero, (link in Spanish to brief bio and list of works) who was born in Cuba but writes in Puerto Rico, even serving as a journalist and columnist for local newspapers. While the law is not perfect, it is hoped by those in the trade that it will spark some debate and thought about books and local authors.

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