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9 March 2024

Interview with Alberto Ottieri, President of the Umberto and Elisabetta Mauri Foundation

Laura Pugno

In the broad and multifaceted panorama of the Italian publishing and book world, the Umberto ed Elisabetta Mauri School for Booksellers, organised by the Foundation of the same name, represents a very special reality. For newitalianbooks we interviewed the president, Alberto Ottieri, with a specific focus on the activities of Italian bookshops abroad.



How would you describe the activities and initiatives of the Umberto ed Elisabetta Mauri School for Booksellers to newitalianbooks readers abroad?


The Umberto and Elisabetta Mauri School for Booksellers was founded 41 years ago as an advanced seminar in bookshop management for experienced booksellers or booksellers wishing to learn more about the economic and financial aspects of management. With motivation, passion and curiosity for the world of books, without which one cannot be a bookseller, the participants study subjects such as marketing, customer service, assortment, social networks, and personnel management. They learn the necessary tools to compete in a more selective market. Today in Italy, independent bookshops account for 16% of the market and are competing with book chains, but above all with e-commerce, a channel that has grown considerably in recent years. The School is structured with a five-day Advanced Training Seminar in Venice at the Cini Foundation at the end of January, and one-two-day courses from March to April held at the Milan Triennale. Both independent and franchised or chain booksellers take part in the courses, sharing experience and professionalism with each other. The lecturers are mostly bookshop operators, university professors and national and international speakers who are experts in bookshop management.



What opportunities and challenges do bookshops in Italy have in common, and instead, differentiate from Italian bookshops in foreign countries?


In the world of books, the language and traditions of a country have strong roots, which must also be interpreted and assimilated by those who manage or open a bookshop. If the techniques for managing a sales outlet are the same everywhere there is a bookshop, the assortment and the ability to create one’s own identity, especially in a foreign country, changes a great deal compared to managing an Italian bookshop. The opportunity and the challenge will be to be able to interpret readers’ requests with a deep knowledge of the reality around them, adapting to a standard of service that may vary from country to country. Italian book abroad is generally comparable to a strong specialisation and requires a great ability to build relationships and contacts, not only with private readers but also with the world of companies and institutions.



Last January, there was the 41st edition of the School’s Advanced Training Seminar, dedicated to professional booksellers. Among the topics discussed were economic market scenarios, artificial intelligence, new developments in digital publishing, reading and the loyalty of the younger generation. What conclusions were drawn and what wishes for the future?


Since the pandemic, the world of books and bookshops has gone through a Copernican revolution in which readers in general have rediscovered or discovered physical books and new content such as romance books, comics, manga, even the classics, thanks to the use of social networks (TikTok above all) and their virality. In this new world, the bookseller and the bookshop have found themselves at the centre of a new interest, extended beyond the physical confines of the bookshop towards younger and non-younger readers and their search for reference points. Digital has given a new role to the physical, the mix of young people, digital and bookshops offers hope that the new generations will rediscover their passion in physical books and their stories, rather than in video games or TV series. A new generation of readers is ready to be served by a new generation of booksellers. To the coldness of e-commerce, the bookshop responds with the competence and passion of the bookseller.

Yuma Martellanz