Stop the declining sales of Dutch-language books, ensure more attention to literature. That is the only way to reverse the trend of the CPNB figures presented Thursday, thinks the Authors' Union, the interest group for writers and translators with 1,750 members.
By 2022, 10% less Dutch-language fiction has been sold. One in five books is now purchased in a language other than Dutch. If these trends continue, readers will have less and less choice in their own language and creators will lose their audience. This is also a worrying development for publishers, booksellers, libraries and others in the book trade.
Declining sales of Dutch-language books in general and Dutch-language fiction in particular are not a natural phenomenon, but partly the result of decades of cultural downsizing policies and impoverishment of literary education. Cuts to the literary infrastructure, from literary festivals and literary magazines to libraries, have led to a barrenness. While that infrastructure is essential not only for Dutch-language literature to flourish, but also for it to grow by giving new, diverse voices a chance to reach a wider audience.
The impoverishment of reading and literature education contributes to the trend of deprivation. In this context, it is especially regrettable that attention to (Dutch) books is declining in newspapers, radio, television and other media. The longer these developments continue, the more clearly they are reflected in the figures (and not only in the figures).
Fiction questions reality
Gustaaf Peek, novelist and board member of the Authors' Union: 'In a free society, art is the canary in the coal mine. Fiction questions reality, but the space for fiction shrinks. Is that what we want as a society? A turnaround is only possible through political will and political policy. Attention does not arise by itself, you create it. Attention generates attention.'
Anne Marie Koper, translator and chair of the Translators' Section of the Authors' Union: 'For years, the dominance of English has been at the expense of other languages, such as French and German, but now you can see that Dutch is also being squeezed. The overrepresentation of English leads not to widening but to narrowing.'
The music world shows that it can be done differently, Gustaaf Peek observes: 'Dutch-language music has been unabatedly popular for years in a variety of genres; from pop to hip-hop, competing with English-language music. There you can see what you can achieve with attention. The same can happen with books.'
Reverse the trend
BookTok shows that young people want to read, but for the subject of Dutch and Literature education, they often feel little enthusiasm. So there are opportunities there. Help teachers by making children's literature a compulsory subject in secondary schools again. Make literature education about imagination instead of dissecting.
The Authors' Union calls on creators, readers and decision-makers: Be more proud of our language! There are 24 million Dutch speakers; that number of native speakers is equal to Danish, Norwegian and Swedish combined.
Dutch literature is alive and well and versatile. It deserves so much more than the CPNB figures reflect.