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Literary Culture Thrives at Annual Book Fair

First published on http://oceandrive.com/.

So much for the “death of print.” Last year saw the US publishing industry release nearly 350,000 new freshly bound books on paper—an all-time high, as well as a more than 61 percent increase over the number of titles issued a decade earlier, according to the Bowker research firm. Yet a steady drumbeat of financial woes continues to emanate from publishers—from the bankruptcy of the Borders bookstore chain to revenue jitters as low-margin e-books begin to eclipse higher-margin hardcovers. So how to square these dueling paradigms?

If you want to muddy the overall picture even further, just look around Miami. From a cramped Coral Gables nook that first opened 30 years ago, Mitchell Kaplan’s Books & Books store has not only dramatically expanded (now with an in-house restaurant and adjoining courtyard), it has sister Books & Books in Miami Beach, Bal Harbour Shops, the Miami airport, Fort Lauderdale’s Museum of Art, the Cayman Islands, and Westhampton Beach, New York. Meanwhile, the Kaplan-cofounded Miami Book Fair International launches its 29th annual edition this month as one of the largest such fairs in the country, drawing a crush of top-shelf authors and packed-room crowds for a week’s worth of programming. Literary culture is dead? Apparently South Florida has yet to receive that memo.

“What we’re in the middle of is a distribution issue,” explains Kaplan. “What’s happening now is that you’ve got writers and publishers publishing marvelous books. You’ve got readers who want to read them. How books are going to be distributed to them is the issue of the day. Film and literature are dealing with the same thing, and the jury is still out on how it’s all going to end up.” Yet regardless of how the process unfolds, Kaplan sees his own role as remaining constant: “You need people to help weed through all these selections. The beauty of independent bookstores, the reason we still have to exist, is that we’re all about selection. We’re all about having a point of view. In some ways, the Internet has taken the pressure off of stores to carry everything. That’s one of the reasons the big stores have fallen on hard times—they’re paying for real estate they don’t need.”
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