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Feature: Muted celebrations mark World Book Day in Greece

N.C.N. Limited 徽标 N.C.N. Limited 2021/4/22 ,
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A woman reads a book outside the Zappeion Mansion in downtown Athens, Greece, on April 22, 2021. (Xinhua/Marios Lolos)

Bookstores, along with many shops and sectors of the economy and social life, remained closed for several months during the two nationwide lockdowns in Greece. The second lockdown, which started on Nov. 7, 2020, is still in force, although it is gradually being eased.

ATHENS, April 22 (Xinhua) -- World Book Day, which falls on April 23, will feel different this year across Greece. Gone are the book fairs, and there will be no competitions and festivities in libraries and in the streets.

But there are still reasons by the plenty to celebrate as books can always take their readers to new places even if they can't travel, book lovers told Xinhua in Athens. They acknowledged, though, that the financial results of the Greek book publishing market are anything but glorious.

"World Book Day is celebrated to remind all of us that the book is primarily a cultural asset and secondarily a commercial product," Nestoras Poulakos, co-owner of the Vakxikon Media & Publishing Group, told Xinhua in a recent interview. "By reading books, people can travel, become better persons and heal their souls. I hope that the oversupply of books will continue, enabling each of us to find the ones that suit us."

"During the lockdown, loyal readers became even more engaged because they had more time on their hands. We all were astounded by the sight of closed bookstores. It is one thing to buy a book from an e-shop and another to browse bookstores," Poulakos said.

However, despite the coronavirus lockdown, the book market in Greece did not flourish last year. In the second quarter of 2020, the combined turnover of book retailers dropped 19.4 percent year-on-year, nine percent compared to the first quarter of 2020, the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) said.

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A salesman arranges books at a book store in downtown Athens, Greece, on April 22, 2021. (Xinhua/Marios Lolos)

Bookstores, along with many shops and sectors of the economy and social life, remained closed for several months during the two nationwide lockdowns in Greece. The second lockdown, which started on Nov. 7, 2020, is still in force, although it is gradually being eased.

"It is true that we live in the digital era and at high speeds," Poulakos explained. "We prefer watching movies to reading books. In Greece, we don't know how many books people actually read, since the National Book Centre (EKEBI) closed its doors in 2013. In general, the Greek book market is small in terms of readers, turnover and government support."

Since the beginning of the coronavirus-era, Greece -- just like the rest of the world -- has experienced a dramatic drop in the number of printed books sold along with an increased interest in e-books. There is also a noticeable shift toward health-related and children's books, experts like Poulakos concluded.

A public awareness campaign entitled "We stay home," launched by the Greek government last year during the first nationwide COVID-19 lockdown, encouraged people to make good use of their time spent behind closed doors by reading. As part of the campaign, many Greek publishing houses offered online access to their books free of charge.

This campaign gave a big boost to the country's e-book stores and libraries, such as the Open Library, which offers over 9,500 Greek e-books and 990 audio books for download free of charge, the Greek national news agency AMNA reported.

Digital publishing and e-reading have established a firm foothold in Greece, Michalis Kalamaras, founder of eAnagnostis.gr, a website on e-books and digital publishing, told the local newspaper Liberal recently.

During 2020, e-book sales increased significantly in Greece. Some publishers even re-entered the e-book market after several years of absence, noted a report released a few weeks ago by the Federation of European Publishers on the pandemic's impact on Europe's book publishing markets.

Nonetheless, the overall share of e-book sales in the Greek book market remains very small, likely below one percent, the same as in Portugal or Latvia, according to the report.

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 A man reads a book on a hammock in downtown Athens, Greece, on April 22, 2021.  (Xinhua/Marios Lolos)

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