Twelve in the morning, the first Saturday of the new Madrid Book Fair designed against COVID-19. The line to access the enclosed area where the capacity limit is controlled goes as far as Calle Alcalá. Almost a kilometer of queue because in the space reserved for the 320 booths there are already 3,900 people passing between them. At the entrance, the digital meter with the occupancy percentage does not drop below 98% throughout the morning. In the afternoon it will remain there, but the line to enter will be double, with an average waiting time of an hour and a half. The organization expects even more people. The public agrees but hardly leaves. The organizers imagined that the filter of limited access would leave out the onlookers, that there would be less strollers and more readers, but reality contradicts the forecasts. “We are overwhelmed”, recognizes Manuel Gil, director of the Book Fair, who does not move from the entrance and does not stop still. The Fair has been overcome by desire. Madrid cannot last two years without his appointment with the books. The Lola Larumbe bookstore is “embarrassed” by waiting outside the venue. “We are not used to books getting so much attention,” he says. There are also lost sales, those of those who leave the queue, discouraged by the long wait time.
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Along with Gil is Pablo Bonet, general secretary of the Madrid Libraries Guild, who a few weeks ago ventured that what happened on the first weekend would be decisive for the rest of the days of this experiment in search of the complicated balance between health and sustainability . The organization also expected more restraint in the call for large firms to avoid large lines. As expected, the signatures were not a good idea. The booksellers didn’t like the idea, but the publishers wanted. So everything was in “self-control”. It has not worked. The publishers have brought their galactics to meet their readers. Despite the limited capacity, the blocks that are formed in front of Elvira Lindo, María Dueñas, Julia Navarro, Antonio Muñoz Molina, Fernando Aramburu, Santiago Posteguillo, Luis Landero … have made the circulation very complicated.
Gil recognizes it and Bonet also admits that this is the most questionable aspect of the difficult montage. “At least we have not seen any row of 300 for now”, comments the director of the Fair. In fact, the most popular was that of Raquel Brune (Madrid, 1994), who published the novel in Nocturna The gifts of death, first part of the biology Necromancers, in which he continues to explore “the possibilities of magic in the real world.” Slightly more than a hundred people, mostly young people, wait their turn.
“As a positive sneeze, we have a problem,” says one of the local policemen who supervise the fair. Minutes before the agent talks to one of the security managers hired by the organization, who conveys his doubts about the effectiveness of the control. The policeman asks him how many people make the percentage of the capacity go up or down a point. The guard responds that about forty, but that he is not very clear about it either. The two doors are coordinated and little by little they give way. The agent of the local tells this newspaper that if we criticize twenty young people from the bottle, this could also criticize him. But he points out that the same could be said of the platoon of walkers crossing Preciados Street. He wonders if this would have a better solution. “It is difficult because a solution to the density of the flow of people would have been to leave the booths in a row and with a much longer and easier route. But, how do you control the fences that block the way? Now the booths act as a barrier to not go out even in public without going through the doors. This has a very complex solution, “says the agent. In the afternoon, mischief comes into play and some people take advantage of the gaps between the booths to jump over the fences, the no-trespassing tape and the garbage containers, and in this way sneak in without waiting for access control.
There are fewer people than in previous years and the crowds are not as suffocating, but the capacity is high. The joy of booksellers and publishers, too. Because on Friday, opening day, they sold a lot more than they bargained for. “We are satisfied with recovering,” says Lola Larumbe, from the Alberti Bookstore, who does not believe that they will reach the sales figures of the last edition held. A good result would be to make a box of around 25,000 euros. The booksellers get a ‘peeled’ 30% of the price of each book. To recover the investment expenses they need to sell the books necessary to make a box in 17 days of about 5,000 euros. The rent of the booth for 1,600 euros must include wages and meals of the workers who serve the public. Publishers pay more for each booth because for each book sold in their catalog they get 80% of the retail price clean.