Spanish recession hits cultural commerce

BARCELONA - The Catalonia bookshop in Barcelona survived a civil war and a fire over its 88 years of business but nothing could protect it from Spain&39;s recession.

Like bookshops, theatres and cinemas across Spain, it was no longer getting enough punters to survive.

The store, one of Barcelona&39;s best-known literary landmarks, closed its shutters for good at the start of the year.

The shelves full of books will give way to burgers and fries when a fast-food restaurant opens on the site on Plaza Catalunya in the heart of the city.

"It&39;s a loss to the city, in my view," said Miquel Colome, who bought the store in 2000.

"It was a very hard and painful situation, but it had to be done."

Sales had fallen by 40% in the past five years.

"We had to either raise capital, sell up or take on lots of debt," said Colome.

Across Spain, bookshops, cinemas and concert halls are being left deserted as recession and a rise in sales tax chokes off cultural life.

The booksellers&39; federation CEGAL says sales plunged by 22% between 2002 and 2011 and the decline has worsened since.

Since 2008, 30% of the jobs in bookselling have been cut, it says. About 30 stores closed last quarter alone.

Spain&39;s cinemas, as well as losing ticket sales, are reeling from a 55% cut in their public subsidies since 2010 and a rise last year in the rate of sales tax (VAT) from eight to 21% in some cases.

"The rise in VAT came at a very serious time," said Juan Ramon Gomez Fabra, president of the cinemas&39; federation FECE.

"The way the box office is in the crisis, people can&39;t manage and cinemas are giving up and closing down."

The number of people going to see films has declined by 40% percent since 2004 and 114 cinemas have closed down since last year, he said.

April saw the worst monthly takings for a decade in Spanish cinemas - down 43% compared to the same month a year earlier.

In theatres and concert halls, the tax hike cost promoters of live music 25 million euros between September and March, according to the Musical Producers&39; Association.

"The venues are doing really badly," said Armando Ruah of the State Cultural Association of Live Music Venues.

"Attendance is down and there has been a very big drop in the amount being drunk in the bars" at the venues, he said.

The crisis is also playing into the hands of another of the cultural world&39;s enemies: piracy.

Downloads of illegally copied material in Spain surged by 41% in 2012 to a total value of €15.2 billion, according to the Piracy Observatory, a Spanish watchdog.

"The idea has taken root that culture should be free," said Juan Manuel Cruz, president of the booksellers&39; federation, complaining of a rise in piracy of digital books.

"From no other profession in the country is so much demanded for free."

To help it through the crisis, the cultural industry is asking the government for greater protection and an easing of taxes on the sector, which provides around four percent of Spain&39;s economic output and half a million jobs.

"When families are clearly earning less, we must not let that lead to cultural impoverishment," said Pero Perez, president of the Spanish film producers&39; federation.

Others are scratching their heads for new ways to make money out of Spain&39;s big appetite for culture.

"I am 60 years old and I can tell you that people see three times as many films, go to more concerts, listen to more music and read a lot more than before," said Colome.

"Transforming that into economic value is another matter. Culture cannot be free but we have to find new formulas."