October 25, 2020

The end of the million readers club | Culture

Every tragic end usually has its origin in a bad decision. The one that led to the Sinking Circle of Readers it was taken in 2014. At the end of the year before, losses had skyrocketed, and the German group Bertelsmann sold half of the company it held to Planeta. The Spanish multinational then takes the step that will betray the confidence of the reading partners that still had the historic seal that put literature at home. Someone, at some meeting took the step that the founders had resisted for so many years: "To correct and improve the results it is necessary to move from a club of readers to a club of culture, leisure and well-being," notes the audit Planet of that 2014. And thus the popular collection of novels of Agatha Christie went to the batamanta.

Antonio Carné, general director of Círculo de Lectores since 2014, has preferred not to make statements to this newspaper about the causes that led the company to dispense last Wednesday from all its commercial agents without prior notice. The company points out the change in the digital consumption habit of the Spaniards, but the agents wonder why Planet has not changed theirs to adapt to the new times. “The catalogs began to empty of books. There was only e-books, cosmetics, household items … I went from having 450 members in the best moments at 120 now ”, laments Belén Marañón, who has worked for Círculo for a dozen years. Until Wednesday he kicked the Madrid neighborhoods of San Chinarro, Las Tablas, Pinar de Chamartín and Virgen del Cortijo. With a commercial contract, without social security. She met the end of the golden age and came to earn 1,200 euros in a month. But he assures that the average of his best years was around 600 euros per month. Their working conditions remind them of the workers of the distributors of the digital platforms.

“I did not offer creams and cooking stuff. The Circle are books ”, Francisco Escudero is blunt, without a job after a dozen years dedicated to bringing literature at home. I used to sell 180 books every two months, now I barely reached 80. “Members didn't mind waiting for two weeks. They have not stopped buying because they also do it on Amazon, they had nothing to buy because there was no literary offer. It has been Planet that has sunk the company, ”says the commercial of Villaverde (Madrid). Neither Paco nor Belén liked how the club of readers whose brand identity was loyalty and trust was closed.

Yolanda Heras was one of those readers who, like thousands of others, collected the books of Agatha Christie. Now his daughter reads them, who for a time accompanied him door to door, attending to the requests. After working as an agent, she became a member, one of Belén Marañón's favorites. “We established a community. I meet all of them and we keep talking and wondering about life. Human relationship and contact were very important. That has disappeared with Amazon, ”says Yolanda, a teenager who loves mystery books.

Titles published by Circle of Readers.

Titles published by Circle of Readers.

The Circle was a business, but also a social network woven by personal treatment and literature. Marañón was invited to dinner, to Escudero some wines. With the crisis he got used to legit purchases and never knew how to deal with the death of his clients between one book and another. “I don't have good memories about the company; of partners and partners, yes, ”says Escudero, for whom the task of delivering orders with his car has been more occupational than survival.

In its best years, the company sold 1.2 million books. They were different times. Spain was an empty bookshelf and democracy was about to be released. The suburb was filled with a rural flood and the apartments had a refrigerator and a radio. Not a book. Times when the papers were signed with a cross. An illiterate country that wanted to bequeath the reading to its descendants and in which Bertelsmann's owner, Reinhard Mohn (1921-2009) in Mallorca, spent the summer. That country was a unique opportunity to go for readers that did not exist.

Hans Meinke participated in the founding of Circle in 1962 as a commercial agent and later took over the management of the group. He attributes to Mohn – recognized with the Prince of Asturias Award for Communication and Humanities of 1998 – the belief in the ethical principle that "business profit is only legitimized by social utility." Meinke understood the book as a cultural asset of first necessity rather than as a product. He introduced less obvious works in the reading club and led to the first pages of the catalog less commercial bets. He created Gutenberg Galaxy and opened a quality line. The model combined popular titles with illustrated editions (by Antonio Saura or Eduardo Arroyo) and complete works by great authors.

"The change in shopping habit may have affected something, but the decline happens with the change of focus," explains editor Joan Tarrida, who went to work in Círculo in 1998. Remember that in the seventies they tried to add in the television catalog , But it does not work. That tasty portfolio of partners was very appealing to bite her with other products. “It was an ongoing discussion: if you have a million and a half members you can sell them anything. But it wasn't like that, ”says Tarrida. In 2010, when Planet accedes to the shareholding, the publisher proposes to Bertelsmann the purchase of Gutenberg Galaxy with two other partners. They accept and until 2014 maintained a relationship with Círculo in some projects, but today it is an independent publishing house.

"The one from Tintin is coming!" Belén Marañón listened to him on the other side of the telephone. I used to arrive at the time the family was in pajamas and dinner. Remember the afternoon of talk with that reader with breast cancer and the painful call of her husband, or when asked to choose for them or the drought of the crisis. Too much memory. He has written a WhatsApp Farewell to all your partners, customers and friends. Thus closes Círculo de Lectores, the company that advanced to democracy and knocked on all the doors of censorship Spain to place books. Spain today already has the shelves occupied and Marañón hundreds of responses to the message with a emoji Who cries.

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