The Coup Against the Book

Image_Oto Vale


Why Paulo Guedes' project represents a setback to policies to encourage books and reading in Brazil

On July 21, the Chamber approved, in two rounds, the Constitutional Amendment Project (pec 1515) that makes Fundeb (Fund for the Development and Valorization of Education Professionals) permanent. Victory for teachers, children and young people who, for almost two years now, have been outraged by the Government's attacks and excesses on the country's culture and education. And the scores were overwhelming: 499 votes to 7, in the first round; 492 to 6, in the second. The “expense is heavy”, the dejected President just said. Undoubtedly, a strangely auspicious start to the week.

But, as the saying goes, revenge comes on horseback. Paulo Guedes, Minister of Economy, forwarded the infamous tax reform project to the Chamber of Deputies. No sooner was the week over than a new blow to intelligence was announced. The Minister's project goes back in time and taxes the book.

Let us remember that tax immunity for books, also called cultural immunity, is provided for in the 1988 Constitution: “Art. 150. Without prejudice to other guarantees assured to the taxpayer, the Union, the States, the Federal District and the Municipalities are prohibited from: [VI] – imposing taxes on: d) books, newspapers, periodicals and the paper intended for their printing”.

Undoubtedly, a great step forward for the citizenship charter, in a country that had only just freed itself from the shadows of the dictatorship. And the path was still arduous, both for book professionals and for an entire generation of Brazilians alienated from the world of literature and law.

Pursuant to the spirit of the Magna Carta, book sales carried out by printing companies, wholesalers and retailers were exempt from PIS (Social Integration Program) and Cofins (Contribution for the Financing of Social Security) rates, as authorized by item vi of art. 28 of Law No. 10.865 of 2004. The climate was one of hope and there was an urgent need to enrich the treasury in order to share bread. But book is food; it is a bet on a free and thinking country; book is merchandise and cultural yeast. The zero rate for book sales met a double prerogative: access to reading and market dynamics. This certainly attracted investments from small and medium-sized entrepreneurs in a high-risk sector, considering the low capillarity of the cultural goods market in a developing country.

Galloping against the grain, the tax reform project presented by Minister Paulo Guedes morally violates constitutional principles, although it is carried out in the letter of the law. The proposal consists of creating a single rate, the Social Contribution on Operations with Goods and Services (cbs), replacing PIS and Cofins. However, the document does not provide for many exemptions. Except for charitable entities, temples of any cult, political parties, unions and condominiums. Yes, the temples were maintained at a zero rate. The book sector, on the contrary, was thrown into the devouring rage of the market.

 A market in free fall

And the publishing market has been bleeding since 2016. The government programs, which in the last twenty years have leveraged the production of didactics and children's literature – even launching editorial and literary talents in Brazil and the world – have mitigated against the bewildered priesthood of the Ministry of Education, in these almost two years of the Bolsonaro government.

The crisis is much deeper. Between 2017 and 2018, according to data compiled by Fipe, the “general works” sector showed a negative variation both in terms of revenue and sales (-3,27% and -9,66%). The most eloquent decline occurred in the subsector of scientific, technical and professional books (ctp), which includes works on Law, Medicine, Pharmacy, Public Health and Hygiene, Human and Social Sciences, Economics, Administration and Business, Languages ​​and Linguistics. The variation in the same period was around -17,33%, while the number of copies sold was -20,43%. The shrinkage of research funding programs and their impact on university editions deserves a separate reflection, although it is directly related to the project to dismantle the country's education and culture. Let us note, however, that only religious books showed a small positive variation (1,07%). Even so, there were losses in terms of copies sold in the 2017-2018 biennium (-2,47%)[I]. There are no data on market behavior in 2019-2020. Does anyone believe in a recovery trend?

Bookstores, on the other hand, dwindled. According to a report released by the National Confederation of Trade in Goods, Services and Tourism (cnc), 21 stationery stores and bookstores across the country were closed from 2008 to 2018. According to the same source, the shrinkage of bookstores it was more accentuated from 2013, hitting the state of São Paulo, which “lost 8.764 establishments. Rio Grande do Sul lost 2.449; Minas Gerais, 2.251; Paraná, 1.659 and Rio de Janeiro, 971. The only state that showed growth in the number of bookstores was Amazonas, which gained 62 stores in the last ten years”[ii].

In logic, more guns, less books, the economy loses

It seems evident that the Brazilian publishing market cannot be left to its own devices. As much as health, social assistance and education, government incentives that support the book sector must be seen as an essential investment for the good of the health and intelligence of the population. And there is no exaggeration in this. Not even in the most developed countries, where the publishing sector is well established, booksellers and publishers are treated according to the wild rules of the market. French bookstores receive subsidies from municipalities, as the most significant sales are seasonal and follow the school calendar, especially in the more modest cities. University research publication programs, in turn, feed an internationally recognized publishing sector, which increases the country's symbolic capital and attracts new investors.

We must also consider that the economy of the book is quite dynamic and heterogeneous. It moves capital from different sectors and, in addition, involves the presence of small, medium and large entrepreneurs, who even represent transnational groups. In the last decade, the latter have captured the didactics sector and invested heavily in self-help literature and fiction. Books that sell, we could protest. But all this generates a virtuous cycle of the book economy. It is necessary to deal with quantity and diversity in all sectors, even more so in the bookseller. This is because the fragility of the book economy lies in the very conditions of its maintenance: a literate population, which welcomes reading as a routine and, perhaps, as leisure.

Therefore, there is an obvious virtuous cycle, which begins in educational and cultural institutions, transfers to editorial production and then to bookstores, until it reaches the target audience (or clientele). All this is already well known, which makes the end of the zero tax rate on the book, as provided for in the tax reform project and, especially, in the Social Contribution on Operations with Goods and Services (cbs), an immoral and irresponsible act.

The end of the tax exemption for books inhibits new investments in an uncertain and crisis sector; it affects the entire business class and workers participating in the book production chain; in addition to penalizing the reading public and projects to universalize reading, which must certainly be the target targeted by the current government. In other words, by confusing investment with spending, the government is shooting itself in the foot.

There is no future for a country that supports guns and hinders the circulation of books.

How long is this nonsense?

*Marisa Midori Deaecto is a professor at the Department of Journalism and Publishing at the School of Communications and Arts (ECA-USP). Author, among other books, of The Empire of Books: Institutions and Reading Practices in São Paulo in the XNUMXth century (Edusp; FAPESP).





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