Basque publishing


© Jorge Giménez Bech (President of the Basque Editors' Association)

© Translation: Kristin Addis

Published in Transcript

Since what the reader finds in these lines may well be his first news of a rather strange phenomenon, it is advisable, first and foremost, to say a few words about the principle characteristics of this curiosity.

The human group that carried one of the oldest living European languages into the XXI century is today a community based on language and culture. In fact, Basque speakers, who number some 800,000, are united in three administrative structures: two autonomous communities within the Spanish state (the Basque Autonomous Community and the Autonomous Government of Navarre) and, though without specific administrative character, the three provinces (Lapurdi-Labourd, Nafarroa Beherea-Basse Navarre, and Zuberoa-Soule) located in the French Pyrénées Atlantiques (64) department.

The second factor that influences Basque publishing is of no lesser importance than the above. For complex political and cultural reasons, Basque in modern times is not the primary language of the Basque region. On the contrary, all Basque speakers are at least bilingual (with French or Spanish) and indeed, most inhabitants of the Basque region are monolingual in one of these languages (that is, they are monolingual speakers of a language other than Basque).

Thus, Basque editors work in a market that is complex from many points of view. I will speak here only about those of us who publish in Basque, since Basque publishing is the theme of this special edition of Transcript. This complexity, however, does not take away from the strength of the Basque publishing market, as the following discussion clearly shows (1).

In 2003, 1,574 titles were published in Basque, with an average printing run of 2,403 copies. In total, 3.8 million books reached the market. Of these books, 72% were new titles and 28% were second or later editions. Of the books published for the first time, 69% were written originally in Basque and 31% were translations from other languages.

The field of teaching and education accounted for 41% of these Basque books, 20.5% consisted of literature for children and young adults, 18% human and social sciences, and 12% literature for adults.

The Basque publishing sector was responsible for sales totaling 27.6 million euros in 2003, and the most successful fields with respect to sales were teaching and education (6%), literature for children and young adults (20%) and adult literature (7%). The industry that supports this output and these sales is composed of private commercial publishing houses (69), which produce 71.5% of all titles, and institutional publishing houses, which produce 13% of Basque titles. The remaining 15.5% are put out by cultural or other organizations, or are published privately by their authors.

With respect to trends in buying and reading, unfortunately, there is currently no trustworthy data on the Basque market because the research conducted to date does not take into account in a coherent way the variable of language. Furthermore, with the exception of J. M. Torrealdai's research, data on Basque publishing are not provided by research done specifically on Basque publishing, but rather data collected on this topic were gathered with and appear mixed with those on Spanish publishing. Therefore, it is impossible at the present time to arrive at a precise diagnosis of the state of this cultural industry.

In order to solve this problem, the Department of Culture of the Basque Government and the Basque Editors' Association in collaboration with other supporters of the sector have recently initiated a study on Basque publishing, which will serve as a year-by-year barometer of the various fields and categories. If all goes according to plan, we will soon be in a better position to include a precise interpretation of the data as it relates exclusively to Basque publishing.

Nevertheless, our experience proves that Basque speakers, as a community that is working hard to normalize its language, give special importance to the development of Basque publishing, and particularly to the process of evolution of this publishing, whose significance is further proved in the presence that our writers and editors are establishing in the international market. Indeed, the magnitude of publishing in a given language is not the only variable, nor, often, the most important one, that must be taken into account when considering the communication and propagation of a culture.

(1) The data used in this article come from two primary sources: "Euskal liburugintza. 2003" ("Basque publishing. 2003") by J. M. Torrealdai, which appeared in the Jan-Apr 2005 edition of Jakin (pp. 146-7) published in San Sebastián; and Comercio interior del libro en España, 2003 (The Domestic Book Trade in Spain, 2003, published by Precisa Research (Federación de Gremios de Editores de España, Madrid, 2004) as part of the research carried out in the same year for the Basque Autonomous Community.

© Photo: