The book in Algeria… the story of an unspoken death
Libraries and distribution networks disappear one by one
Thursday – 4 Rabi’ al-Awwal 1444 AH – September 29, 2022 AD Issue No. [
Visitors to the “International Book Salon” in a previous session
Algeria: Samir Kassimy
With the expected announcement months ago of the cancellation of the International Book Fair, it has become clear that the death of the publishing sector, which has been postponed for decades, stretching from the end of the nineties of the last century to the present day, has become an inevitable reality, especially since the issue of its revival has become in need of an exceptional genius that resembles a miracle. The previous decades showed the impossibility of its existence in light of the chaos that pervaded the sector and the deliberate reluctance to rid the book of its problems, which introduced it into a vicious circle of bankrupt political promises, all of which intersect in the view that it is a luxury item that can be dispensed with.
There is no doubt that the political pluralism in Algeria allowed the publishing sector and writers to be freed from the state’s monopoly and to allow the private to enter this field, but this also imposed a strange and heterogeneous reality, which was characterized by chaos and continued as such, due to the lack of a clear cultural policy that goes along with this change, in the absence of a legal code It regulates the publishing and book sector, and the insistence of the Ministry of Culture to be active in it through sponsoring the trust in the name of financial support for books, and imposing itself as the sole and exclusive organizer of all book-related events, especially the International Book Fair, which in a few years lost its luster and position among international book fairs.
This liberation from public monopoly was supposed to be accompanied by a set of laws regulating the publishing sector and its actors, but the publishing sector was left far from any real organization that could achieve the minimum level of stability and protection for the book industry chain by reconsidering the copyright law and with a less ambiguous organization of the Bureau The National Authority for Copyright and Neighboring Rights paves the way for granting the profession of writing a profession by including the Labor Relations Act, and also by providing social and political protection for the writer, and the trade union rights that result from this protection that allow him to defend his rights, especially material ones, especially the rewards system for effort. Intellectual and creative, ending with the librarian who, due to a lack of proper understanding of his profession, is treated like any other trader. Despite the special nature of his activity, which assumes the provision of a protection and support system that allows him to stay, the official institution insists on removing him from the book industry; This led to a large number of librarians declaring bankruptcy and moving to other, more profitable activities.
Algeria has an area similar to the continent, a number that does not exceed 180 libraries throughout its territory, a number that includes wholesalers and points of sale of some public publishing institutions such as the National Foundation for Typographic Arts and the Algerian Agency for Publishing and Advertising, in addition to libraries that combine the sale of books and the sale of office supplies, and libraries that do not exceed Its activity is two years old, and the continuous announcements of closure and bankruptcy since 2019 confirm that the activity of libraries in Algeria is no longer safe in light of the complete absence of a legal and financial system that protects the book industry from the imminent collapse, and perhaps this is what Dr. Commenting on the news of the closure of the most important library in the historic city of Cherchell, he said, “We shouted our voices when we say that the strategy adopted by the Ministry of Culture is destructive and capable of ending all activities related to books and reading. The Ministry of Culture has contributed to creating intruders who have performed a specific profession, which is to extinguish the real publishing houses.” The publishing profession, which has not yet established a list, has been diluted. As for libraries and distribution networks, it has been left to disappear one after the other without this causing any decrease. It was said to those responsible for culture, as if these libraries were redundant, and we are still witnessing the results of the deliberate destructive management of this sector.”
The strategy referred to by the owner of Al-Tikhlaf publications, is the one adopted by the Ministry of Culture from the days of former Minister Khalida Toumi to the present day, which is allocating fictional budgets to support the publication of the book, without making sure to provide laws, financial systems and conditions books, that allow these funds to go to those who deserve it from active in the activities of writers, and thus protecting them from the consequences of the misuse of those budgets, as happened, when this unchecked extravagance allowed the emergence of what Dr. Asia Moussai called intrusive publishing houses on the sector, which appeared only to benefit from publishing projects to disappear immediately after the end The Ministry’s publishing programs, without adding anything to the creative scene, especially since most of its projects focused on publishing heritage books and reprinting books available in the market, and focusing all its attention on the profits it earns without any consideration of the creative value of its publications or the rights of authors contracting with it. All this in exchange for an explicit disregard for the publishers investing in the sector, who depend mainly on their financial and logistical capabilities, albeit limited, and who later tried to cluster in union organizations to guarantee their rights and a desire to put the sector on the right track, unlike writers who remained on the sidelines, believing that the Algerian Writers Union He will play the role entrusted to him in uniting them, in developing his work mechanisms inherited since the socialist era and gradually transforming into a trade union organization that ensures their protection and service.
The dreams of Algerian publishers quickly evaporated due to the clash of interests, the division of the syndicate into two unions and the desire of publishing houses that depend on importing books from abroad to keep the situation as it is, in addition to some publishing houses that found a safe haven in the funding funds of the Ministry of Culture, both those affiliated with the demonstrations. The great national, such as Algeria, the capital of Arab culture, or Tlemcen, the capital of Islamic culture, or the African Games, or even Constantine, the capital of Arab culture, or those annual funds funded for publication such as the National Fund to Support Creativity.
However, things quickly became more acute, after the failure to create a national distribution network for books and the decline in the performance of some major public institutions that guaranteed some distribution, which combined with their performance decline in distribution and publishing with their assignment to organize and frame the International Book Fair, which was later affected in turn, and its status declined. The international book fair is among the major Arab fairs, due to the lack of development of its tools at a time when international book fairs are witnessing qualitative leaps that combine the development in the field of book industry, and the knowledge and technological aspect associated with this industry.
The lack of a clear vision of the publishing activity made the Ministry of Culture resort to the idea of creating other institutions that would bear with it the burden of publishing and book activity, such as the National Book Center and the Council of Letters and Arts, but in doing so, it did not think of providing a full legal cover for such structures; The National Book Center, due to its limited budget, and its lack of legal texts to do its part, quickly turned into an advisory institution that only guarantees the salaries of its employees. As for the Arts and Letters Council, it was entrusted with one task, which is to issue artist cards, which I think for a brief period is the magic solution for all Social problems of artists, including writers, and this belief was supported by the issuance of Resolution 63-14 regarding social security for artists and authors, which granted the sector’s people the right to benefit from social security benefits, but within the limits of what is declared; Which made it a useless decision, especially for authors and writers; Due to the limited amount of writing they earn, and due to the complete absence of the system of rewards and royalties related to the literary activity associated with his capacity as a writer, especially since the current structure and the powers of the National Office of Authors and Neighboring Rights do not grant any financial benefit to authors in return for their works, and the uselessness of this decision is confirmed, not The openness of the Algerian labor law to the writer and the consideration of writing as a profession that allows him to sign a contract that falls within the framework of the labor law.
The publishing and book sector in Algeria remains hostage to a courageous political decision that reorganizes book-related activities and draws, according to a clear view, a strategy that allows for the revival of the publishing sector, especially since it has become a dead man whose death has not yet been announced.