It was a great honour when Reykjavik became a UNESCO City of Literature in 2011 and we Icelanders are very proud to be counted as one amongst seven amazing cities carrying this title.
Realising this is not a temporary title, but a title for keeps which carries a certain recognition and prestige, we have become apprehensive about it and would therefore like to bring a few points to your attention.
In a new budget proposal, the present Icelandic government has proposed to raise the sales tax (VAT) on books from 7% up to 12%. The immediate and obvious consequence would be that the price of books in Iceland, which are already rather expensive, will rise. Already, it is extraordinary how the publishing companies in Iceland manage to stay afloat in the small market that Iceland is, especially in these post-recession times, but we fear that if this proposal goes through, Reykjavik, as a City of Literature, will not be able to uphold at least 2 of your criteria that you list on your website:
Libraries, bookstores and public or private cultural centres dedicated to the preservation, promotion and dissemination of domestic and foreign literature;
Active effort by the publishing sector to translate literary works from diverse national languages and foreign literature;
We cannot envision how publishers are going to be able to continuously produce translations of foreign literary works if the final product is too expensive for the average citizen in Reykjavik to acquire, and consequently the demand will decline and production will decrease. We cannot envision how bookstores and libraries are going to be able to conserve and promote domestic and foreign literary content that, in turn, is not produced.
We are seriously concerned for the continuation of Reykjavik as a City of Literature and we are therefore petitioning for your assistance. As a respected organization and the giver of the named title, we believe that you can help us prevent this dire development. The Icelandic government needs restraining, and the pressure that we, the citizens, have put on has been to no avail. We believe that external pressure would help, from a strong organization like UNESCO who certainly has full interest to prevent the Icelandic government debilitating the Icelandic literary market and undermining the Icelandic literary culture.