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So much time to read and Italy's bookstores closed

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Rome (AFP)

Plenty of time to read and no bookstores open -- such is the situation in Italy under coronavirus lockdown that is making independent booksellers see red.

The already struggling sector now questions why they've been asked to close while deliveries of books from online giant Amazon.com are allowed to continue on the streets.

"Online bookshops are open with their delivery men on the move and employees doing the packing," said Paolo Ambrosini, a bookseller in Verona and president of the Italian Booksellers Association.

"If books are deemed unnecessary, then let them be blocked everywhere," he said, complaining of inequality in the system.

A bookseller in Florence, Umberto Panerai, called the closure until April 3 -- and perhaps longer -- of all the country's bookshops "disastrous" and questioned the logic of the decrees that force him to close his shop while other sellers are exempt.

"Newspaper kiosks or supermarkets can sell books, while perfume shops remain open," he said.

The March 10 government decree that put all of Italy on lockdown due to the spread of the coronavirus shut most non-food shops deemed non-essential, yet exceptions include pharmacies, electronics stores, pet food supply stores and newspaper kiosks.

Italian publisher Mondadori said the closure of its 600 or so bookshops had been "partly offset" by the strong growth of online sales which had risen by more than 50 percent.

Amazon declined to provide sales figures.

- Zero profit -

Marie-Eve Venturino, who took over a historic French bookshop in the heart of Rome three years ago, said financial viability of independent bookshops "is very fragile, almost at zero profitability".

"In France, the economic model is aided and subsidised. Not in Italy. A business stoppage of more than a month could be fatal for us," she said, adding that "the big winner will still be Amazon, which will be able to deliver toilet paper, pasta and books."

A first round of government aid to people and businesses did not include any help to the shuttered sector.

In Belluno, to the north of Venice, a mayor on Monday allowed the five booksellers in the municipality of 27,000 people to deliver to people's homes.

Thanks to the mayor's dispensation, Alessandro Tarantola now locks himself in his bookshop, closed to the public, to take calls and deliver books immediately, wearing a mask and gloves.

"Reading is a fundamental thing, it opens the heart, the mind, allows us to lose ourselves in a world other than the one in which we live now," Tarantola said.

Customers had been asking for recently released novels, or books for children suggested by their teachers, he said.

Among the books most requested? The 1947 classic novel from Albert Camus -- "The Plague."

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