Monday, 26 July 2010

Totally. Devoted. To Books. It's German Independent Publishers!

Don'cha dig that punctuation, chicks and malchiks? Saturday was Tag der kleinen Verlage am großen Wannsee. That means my most dearly beloved institution, the Literary Colloquium Berlin, invited 20 indie publishers from Germany, Austria and Switzerland to present their wares in their hallowed halls. With non-stop readings from 3 til 9 that had smoke pouring out of the poor sound man's ears, with sausages on tap from the poor guy manning the barbecue, with tables groaning under the weight of books galore and much, much schmoozing.

German-language indie publishing is not the same as in the UK or the States. One reason is that major publishers are still willing to take the odd risk, so experimental writing is broadly spread across the publishing spectrum. You can find debut novels by young things, neo-Marxist tracts, poetry, and translations from obscure languages in a lot of the big houses - maybe only one or two books a season, but still.

So some of the "young independents" have less of a niche catalogue than you might expect - Matthes & Seitz, for example, have a diverse catalogue of fiction and non-fiction with a lot of translations. But others take the opposite approach and go for maximum scurrility, like the Poetenladen with almost all poetry and a litmag. Or the lovely Mairisch Verlag who do young literature and audio plays. And are putting out a record - yes, on vinyl, fellow crackle-loving retro-auditors - because they like song lyrics so much. Or edition sutstein, who do limited-edition stuff you're only allowed to look at with gloves on.

But the ethic and the atmosphere is the same as anywhere else where enthusiastic people just decide to go ahead and - hey, why the hell not? - set up their own publishing house. So these are people who really, really love their books. I talked to Ricco Bilger from Bilger Verlag, who praised his little babies with such hyperbole I almost fainted. And Axel von Ernst from Lilienfeld Verlag, who publishes books he digs up at flea markets and in archives. And because they love them so dearly, they dress them up in the most delightful outfits, with illustrations like Onkel & Onkel and gorgeous visuals like Verbrecher Verlag and even bonus CDs like Voland & Quist.

According to various press reports, the indies are doing OK. Their main problem, like anywhere else, is getting their books into the shops. But people are still buying books and they're still getting a kick out of making them. And it's so refreshing to be around people who are in it for sheer love. There are photos of people browsing, reading and schmoozing at Börsenblatt.

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