Award for Publishing Labour

Media Vaca has obtained the 2018 National Prize for Best Cultural Publishing Labour, awarded by the Ministerio de Cultura y Deporte (Ministry of Culture and Sport). The jury has highlighted “the exquisite care of its catalogue, the quality of its books, the respect towards readers and the rest of agents in the book chain”. The award, which has the aim to distinguish the overall publishing work of a natural or legal person who has made an outstanding and innovative contribution to Spain’s cultural life, is of honorary nature and lacks monetary retribution.

Can a publisher of children’s books run by two people publish only three titles a year -in occasions investing five or ten years in their production-; devote itself mainly to its own projects; keep alive a catalogue of 64 titles; confront the infinite prejudices that affect the publishing market without losing its sense of humour and survive for 20 years? The answer is yes, and the publishing house is called Media Vaca.

Story, trajectory, catalogue: Media Vaca is founded in Valencia by Vicente Ferrer Azcoiti (Valencia, 1963) and Begoña Lobo Abascal (Bilbao, 1963). The publishing house begins to publish books in December 1998. As of today, its catalogue is composed by 64 titles divided into six collections: Books for Children, Last Readings, Big and Small, My Beautiful City, and The Map of my Body. Although the presence of illustrations is fundamental in Media Vaca’s books -and this is perhaps their most distinguishable trait-, all projects frequently stem from literary proposals and preexisting texts. Throughout its twenty years of life, the publishing house has received a good number of national and international awards, including the Bologna Ragazzi Award, granted by the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, the most important fair in the industry. Media Vaca has won the award four times, and is the only Spanish publishing house to have done so.

Creation of a library: Media Vaca publishes greatly illustrated books for children and for not-so-children. The purpose of the publishers is to contribute to the creation of a library where varied and different things can be found, and which could serve people of all ages or the same person in various stages of their life, since the books are built to last. The fact of being dedicated to such a wide audience, offering a very specific type of books -and with a high production cost-, would be an obvious obstacle for any publisher, but Media Vaca has been able to take this opportunity to construct a coherent catalogue, which stands out due to its choice of authors and themes, and for the care given to graphic aspects and, in general, for thinking of the book as an object. The editorial line has been promoted by the publishers through interviews and articles, and the lecture Begoña Lobo gave at the Bologna Book Fair on good publishing practices has had great impact.

Good publishing practices: From the start, the publisher’s aim has been to encourage their readers to be critical, not only mere consumers. Books should be tools for the imagination, not only for literacy, that is, they should be literature works, but they should also contribute to the development of conscious and committed citizens. It is not understood that books, which are expected to transmit ethical values to readers, are not made according to criteria of good practice. To fulfill this idea, the publishing house made some decisions: to not participate in the purchase of rights, but to produce its own projects; to not multiply new titles, but to manage resources to make a limited number of books a year; to not dedicate to advertising the human efforts and economic means that could be invested in the production of its own projects.

Commitment to authors: Authors should be the core of any publishing house that is devoted to literature and art. Authors are not only those who write: the illustrators who publish in Media Vaca are also authors of their images, and the translators, the authors of their literary versions. It is of upmost importance in order to create the best possible book, which is the shared goal, to provide authors with the chance to work under the best conditions: with wide timeframes that allow space for research and experimentation, and by maintaining a fluid dialogue before, during, and after the development of the project. This commitment leads the publishing house to reprint out-of-stock books, a rare practice in the Spanish market, and to pay in advance the totality of the authors’ rights, without waiting for the book to sell, aware that de commercial risk must be assumed by the publisher. Another matter that has always been taken into account, is that of supplying information within the books about the authors, with small portraits, and sometimes with longer articles that include caricatures and photographs. Media Vaca has also given the work of illustrators greater visibility in the international market thanks to its participation in fairs and the awards it has won and, especially, to the effort of making the catalogue known beyond our borders.

Care for the object: The considerable amount of work required to produce illustrated books is often underestimated. Uninformed readers, who are not aware of the process, usually fixate on the price. However, many factors intervene. It is necessary to use the appropriate paper, to process the images and the respective digital files supplied by the illustrators to ensure the best reproduction of the originals, and to work with specialist technicians and supervise the process attentively. It is also important to review the texts and correct any errors or spelling mistakes. Media Vaca always prints in Spain and the editor personally supervises the printing of the books. For fourteen years the publishing house has worked with Brizzolis, a printing company that works with a high quality standard and has been chosen by the Prado Museum in Madrid and the MoMa in New York to produce their catalogues. Also by Media Vaca to print its children’s books. The books receive the same treatment as art books: they come with a dust jacket (which is a rarity in the Spanish book market) and bound in hardcover; however, the prices are popular, because what matters is giving the book the dignity it deserves and not creating an object that is only accessible to an exclusive few.

Investigation and experimentation: The documentation and research carried out by the publishing house since its beginnings should be highlighted. This work has recovered titles and authors that had been discarded due to the idiosyncrasies of the national market, which lives exclusively through novelties. Also, unique and necessary projects such as the collection Books for Tomorrow, originally published by the publishing house La Gaya Ciencia in 1977-1978. These books about politics for children (How Democracy Could Be, So This is a Dictatorship, There Are Social Classes, and Women and Men), signed off by an unknown Equipo Plantel, and which were found after an arduous search, have been reintroduced in 2015 using the original texts. They also feature new illustrations by young illustrators who perfectly understood the need to recover these books. In this way, the Books for Tomorrow, originally conceived for the Spanish transition to democracy, have been useful to other societies which are currently undergoing changes, and have been translated into Portuguese, Polish, Italian, Korean, Japanese, Russian, and even Filipino.

As the publisher Vicente Ferrer states: “Making books is just as good or as bad as anything else, but why make them for children? In my opinion, if making books makes any sense, it is especially those made for children. Because (and sometimes we forget) the world belongs to children. The best books must be for children, the best stories, the best illustrations, the best paper, the first bookshelves. Enough of giving them the leftovers and condemning them to the most remote corners of bookshops, no more dedicating them undemanding texts and illustrations that are nothing but a sad caricature of what children themselves do. This is not right, it is not nice”.

In 2018, Media Vaca is 20 years old. To celebrate the anniversary, a series of activities will take place under the motto ‘Toast to the Sun’, because if toasts hold any meaning, how could a toast to the Sun, to which we owe our good moods and joy, not? This is the reason why children all over the world draw it as the roundest circle and with the widest of smiles.

[The image that heads this article is a fantasy by Alejandra Hidalgo].