For quite some time, German publishers were thoroughly old-school. That meant they were not only very wary of electronic formats, but also quite shy of the internet and especially bloggers. That's been changing gradually, with the advent of reading platforms like lovelybooks.de and vorablesen.de – which I don't like personally but a lot of publishers seem to appreciate – with videos embedded via zehnseiten.de – which I do like but rarely watch – and recently with official guidelines for book bloggers interested in review copies. Suhrkamp, for example, has a special page of Information for Bloggers with a slightly patronising list of suggested titles.
So it seems like that sea change has come; it's now officially OK to request review copies if you're a book blogger. And since around the last book fair, a few major publishers have even launched their own blogs. Publishers' blogs are never going to be impartial, but it would be nice if they offered readers a little something extra that's not on the standard website. Do they? A road test.
Let's start with the much-feted Kiepenheuer & Witsch blog. So far it's mostly extracts from a translated book (Craig Brown's Hello Goodbye Hello), an interview with KiWi author Alina Bronsky by Isabel Bogdan, a couple of book-industry glosses and recycled speeches and two photos of pages from the publisher's notebook, annotated by the tech-savvier young'uns. There doesn't seem to be much character shining through as yet – Moby Lives it ain't.
Suhrkamp brings us the slightly more excitingly named Logbuch - deutschsprachige Literatur heute. I think they can just about get away with the title because they do actually feature a couple of writers (three out of fourteen) not published by Suhrkamp. It's more interesting than the KiWi blog because the writers are writing themselves, book industry stuff and diaries and other short pieces. I enjoyed Marion Poschmann on beauty, even though it could have been longer. They've also re-used a couple of making-of videos about Clemens J. Setz's last novel that were previously on a different Suhrkamp site, and an editor has an unfortunately-named column with the word daily in the title, last published on the 11th of November. Plus large numbers of apparently random photos. This one is certainly using all kinds of formats and has a fair amount of material to offer already, but I feel a bit cheated by the whole "German-language literature today" thing.
Thirdly there's hundertvierzehn, which promises a peek behind the doors of S. Fischer Verlag (114 is their house number). Endearingly, the head honcho has written a welcome letter. This one has a lot of background material on Fischer books and authors, including video interviews with Ai Weiwei, Clemens Meyer and Felicitas Hoppe (the last two in the manner of Hubert Fichte!), an audio interview with Anne Frank's German translator and writer Miriam Pressler, darling postcards from writers to their editors, a short essay by Uda Strätling on re-translating Brave New World, links to songs Thomas von Steinaecker listens to, and a tiny amount of recycled stuff (from the house literary magazine Neue Rundschau - but at least they tell us that). I like this one best because it's both quirky and intelligent – except there's no comment function.
There are others, even some that have been going for several years, and no doubt a few I'm not aware of. What I'd like, ideally, is a publishing-house blog written with wit and covering all sorts of bases. We all know the purpose is to drum up interest in their products and make us think they care about us, the readers. So it's fine for publishers to focus on their own authors as long as they're open about it, but I'd like to hear from others like editors, trainees, translators, illustrators, and so on. Which is why I'm a fan of the mairisch Verlagsblog with it's terrifyingly honest series about what a publishing house actually does. My friends at mairisch have the advantage that they're a small house with a small catalogue, and the disadvantage that they all have day jobs. What they've managed to do is make a blog with a big personality that is always fun to read, albeit with less frequent entries.
It's early days yet for the major houses' ventures into book blogging. I hope they add more exciting posts and interesting ideas, and I hope they're not the kind of projects that require people who don't care about them to provide content, which can over ever end up lacklustre. Certainly, they all look very pretty.