Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Farmyard Fun over Fixed Prices

I have no idea what publishers do all day long. I like to imagine they stroll into the office just ahead of a nice long lunch, go through their appointments with their attractive secretary and gracefully grant an audience to a few bowing, scraping minions in between, who beg them to publish certain books. Then they sign a few papers with a flourish and summon the chauffeur to take them to dinner at the club. With cigars.

Siv Bublitz, I suspect, doesn't fit into this pattern. Right now I'm imagining her more like a mother hen, struggling to keep all her cute fluffy chicks in line. She dashes ahead to pick some corn, and as soon as she turns her back one of them's up to mischief again. Siv Bublitz is the publisher at the Ullstein Group.

Hardly has she issued a whole load of statements over that little Axolotl Roadkill issue, than the next one is due. This time it's a Swedish author who's been causing havoc in the farmyard. According to German trade mag Buchreport, crime writer Liza Marklund went up to the pigs and poked her tongue out at them, not realising what an important role they play in the agricultural hierarchy. No, enough labouring this metaphor - here's what really happened:

Marklund gave an interview to Hannes Hintermeier in the FAZ (read it here). And despite being "motivated by class struggle and feminism" according to Hintermeier, she came out with the following humdinger (my re-translation), quoted in the context of the German fixed book price system:

"'Books should be on sale everywhere. I have zero interest in small booksellers. Let them disappear – who cares?' The idea that bestsellers take readers away from good literature is a misinterpretation, she says. 'It's the other way around: If it weren't for bestsellers no one would go into bookshops.'"

Cue massive email campaign by small booksellers, who boycotted her new book (trans. Anne Bubenzer & Dagmar Lendt). And then cue Siv Bublitz, who helped Marklund formulate a very apologetic press statement (which you can read via the first link). I quote:

"Siv explained to me exactly what role the small and medium bookstores play in Germany, that they often know their customers personally, actively recommend books and do a great deal to help titles to success. The German-speaking countries seem to have a different bookselling culture than in many other countries. That is presumably one reason why the German-language book market is very strong in international comparison. In this context, the fixed book price has a different purpose."

I can't help thinking it all sounds rather naive from a woman who set up the Swedish publishing company Piratförlaget, a house that shares profits 50-50 with its authors, as far as I understand. But maybe being in writer mode automatically transforms even the toughest businesswomen into fluffy chicks, who need a strict mother hen to show them how to deal with life. I'm just imagining all the angry clucking that must have gone on over at Ullstein.


Anonymous said...

Wow--"Let them disappear--who cares?"--what a shocking and sad thing to hear a writer say about smaller bookshops. Or any size bookshop. Very disrespectful. Thank you for blogging about this. I'll share it with my fellow American booksellers.

kjd said...

Well, do take the time to read her statement behind the link to Buchreport (if necessary Google will help you translate it - but don't tell anyone I said that).

Because she does actually acknowledge the role small bookstores play, in Germany at least.

And the interesting thing about the case is that it's shown that when working together, small bookstores do have power to make a difference.