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STEFANO MAURI

Publisher, Mauri Spagnol, Italy

I graduated in Italian literature in 1983 but I always had a particular curiosity about technology. In my final thesis I stated that “it is early to imagine how the mass diffusion of PCs and ICT will change the way we write and we read, but it will surely have a great impact”. This is a sentence that few could understand at the time, and yet is so obvious today. I am the chairman of Gruppo editoriale Mauri Spagnol, one of the most important Italian publishing groups. Scouting for the best authors and launching them has become our main pride and area of excellence.

WHAT IS THE BEST PART OF YOUR JOB?

The best part of our job is when a new talent we have scouted for, an original and strong voice that we launched in the rich and crowded publishing arena, exceeds our expectations. We change the life of a person, the author. He is encouraged to continue writing for the joy of his readers. Revenues coming from advances and royalties help him or her to dedicate more time to writing. Success produces a virtuous cycle enabling us to invest in scouting for new talents and marketing them. We ‘earn’ time in this way as well, for better long-term planning; to experiment with more new authors; and gain more credibility among booksellers and readers.

HOW DO YOU SEE YOUR PROFESSIONAL FUTURE?

My professional future is very challenging. Not because of the digital revolution but for the big crisis we are experiencing in our country also in terms of internal demand. It is quite clear that digital may potentially improve publishers’ offer: it could enable them to offer consumers better books at a cheaper price in a digital format but it can also undermine the publishing economy in two ways, through monopolies and piracy. Trade book publishing is still a world where ideas count more than money. It has always had low margins. It does not take much to push even the best publishers below the profit line. In the past three years Italian trade book publishing has gone down by 16%. Enough to make 10% of bookstores close or become unable to pay on time for the books they bought. Bookselling has been declining also in supermarkets. In the digital market, piracy and monopolies are a real risk for readers and creativity if rules are not clear and observed. This is a threat to the independence of creators and hence to the freedom to read.

HOW DO YOU SEE THE INDUSTRY EVOLVING?

Much of how the industry will evolve depends on the legal and enforcement framework, which the governing institutions will build around the new digital cultural market. It can either be business and short- term oriented or it can account for the basic needs for this industry and freedom of expression to flourish in the long term: the right of creators to earn from what they do and hence be independent from others; and the need for a pluralist environment for publishers and professional writers so that consumers can have a varied choice. The E-book is a great cultural opportunity for all: authors, publishers, booksellers and readers. But the market might as well become a poorer place, unable to sustain livelihoods if piracy or monopolies prevail. The development of digital technology is partly expanding the possibilities of readers but it is also partly narrowing their perspective.