“Buenos Aires has more bookshops per inhabitant than any other city in the world…”

El Ateneo Grand Splendid mega bookstore in Buenos Aires is an old theatre converted into a modern bookshop. Photograph: Alamy

El Ateneo Grand Splendid mega bookstore in Buenos Aires is an old theatre converted into a modern bookshop. Photograph: Alamy

Uki Goñi writes:

The country’s capital Buenos Aires has more bookshops per inhabitant than any other city in the world, according to a recent study by the World Cities Culture Forum.

With a population of around 2.8 million, Buenos Aires has at least 734 bookstores – roughly 25 bookshops for every 100,000 inhabitants. Worldwide, only Hong Kong comes close, with 22 bookshops per 100,000, followed by Madrid in a distant third with just 16 and compared to a mere 10 bookshops for every 100,000 for London.

Gabriela Adamo, who until recently was the president of the city’s annual book fair – an event which draws over 1 million visitors each year – says Argentina’s love affair with the book is related to the wave of mass immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

A century ago, Buenos Aires was the shining capital of one of the wealthiest countries of the world. European immigrants poured into Buenos Aires, creating a multicultural environment in which culture and the arts thrived.

At one stage Buenos Aires boasted two English-language newspapers, various German-language papers (including at one stage a pro-Nazi paper, an anti-Nazi one and a Jewish newspaper) along with a plethora of Spanish-language newspapers, magazines and literary and arts publications. “The book as an object became a cultural symbol back then. It’s something that persists today,” said Adamo.

But contemporary economics also plays a role: books are exempt from Argentina’s standard sales tax – a whopping 21% on most goods – and internet sales and electronic book readers have yet to make inroads on the local publishing market.

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