L’EDITORIA IN EUROPA
Dialogo tra Bruno Caillet (Madrigall), Valeria Ciompi (Alianza), Nora Mercurio (Suhrkamp), Stuart Proffitt (Penguin) e Giuseppe Laterza.
Dear friends and colleagues, welcome to this meeting on European publishing at the time of the pandemic.
Usually these days we meet in Frankfurt, at the bookfair, together with publishers from all over the world. From Laterza, in addition to my cousin Alessandro, we travel with our editorial director Anna Gialluca, senior editor Giovanni Carletti and the head of foreign rights Agnese Gualdrini, who are with me today in our office in Rome.
In Frankfurt we browse the lists of books proposed for translation and the proposals for future projects. Some of us may also participate in auctions to acquire the rights of anticipated bestsellers. Yet these are all things that can be done online too. What really makes Frankfurt unique is that we exchange ideas and experiences.
Yet this year, due to the Covid pandemic, publishers will stay at home. We will still send around our titles and exchange offers for foreign rights, but we will not be able to meet in person. This is something we at Laterza are missing, which is why we invited you to this meeting: to share ideas regarding this dramatic turn of events.
A recent report of the Federation of European Publishers states that the loss of sales in the months in which book shops were closed was around 80%. It also says that in none of the countries in which book shops had to close did online stores compensate for the loss of sales.
So we are all exposed to a completely new situation. I think that particularly in this period it is necessary to learn from others experience and to figure out the best way to react to this great problem. This is the reason why we thought of this webinar, and we thank you all for taking part in it.
The participants in this webinar have been working together for many years. Were all part of companies that have a long history, some of the most prestigious publishers in the 20th century, with remarkable catalogues and long sellers. Together we have published such names as Thomas Mann, Hemingway, Marcel Proust, Jurgen Habermas, Bruno Munari, Jacques Le Goff, just to mention a few. All of us are also pocket-book publishers, working for a wide audience. And though of course we do not represent its entirety, I believe we can say a lot about the European market. This is particularly true because of our common views but also of our differences, which derive from our diverse nationalities and our different roles within our publishing houses.
Valeria Ciompi is publisher at Alianza, a very distinguished Spanish company founded in 1966 by Jose Ortega Spottorno and based in Madrid. Bruno Caillet is the Sales Director of the Madrigall group in Paris, which includes such prestigious companies as Gallimard, Flammarion, Casterman and others and whose publisher is Antoine Gallimard, grandson of the same Gaston Gallimard that founded the company in Paris in 1911. Nora Mercurio is the Rights Director of Suhrkamp, the Berlin-based publishing house founded in 1950 in Frankfurt by Peter Suhrkamp. Last but not least, Stuart Proffitt is Publishing Director of Penguin Press, founded in 1935 in London by Allen Lane. In this debate we will discuss Covids impact on the book market but also on how we can help build a stronger European-wide culture.
Thanks Giuseppe for this opportunity to be together and share our thoughts. I would never have thought I would miss Frankfurt but I do, not so much for the appointments as for the corridors, the hotel lobbies and the informal occasions to meet colleagues and talk about apparently unimportant things which always turn out to be the most meaningful.
I believe that if we had answers for all of the questions you raised in the introduction we could solve the worlds problems. Yet I do believe that even without any answers, it is vital to be here to discuss these issues.
I would like to start by saying that now more than ever I feel very proud of our craft. I feel very lucky, because while most of our colleagues from the creative industries are struggling in our socially distanced world, so detrimental for shows, music, theatre, opera, museums and travel, this has not been the case for books.
While you were speaking of catalogues and backlists and pocket-book collections I also felt very fortunate because our new books and projects can bring forth new contributions to the understanding and thought about our present world, which is true also for new presentations of our universal classics. Catalogues can be living museums and I believe that can be a great privilege in our difficult times: to focus our creativity on breathing new life into older titles while giving space and opportunities to new creations.
Speaking about Spain I must say that the present situation, as we are facing this second wave of the virus, is characterized by even greater uncertainty compared to the first wave. However, figures are not as disastrous as predicted by the more pessimistic forecasts. By the end of September, the overall decrease in sales is 10% and forecasts are now showing a maximum likely decrease of 5% by the end of the year. These figures, however, are shrouded with uncertainty as parts of Spain are now under a partial lockdown and we cannot know how this will affect the market. Also, it is predicted that once government support comes to an end, the economy will begin to deteriorate quickly.
During the lockdown we witnessed an amazing display of solidarity as readers followed all of the initiatives put forth by booksellers, allowing sales to bounce back up when physical stores reopened and to stay high even during the summer, when figures in Spain generally decline. However, October has seen a worrying start, despite the great number of new releases.
I must say that Alianza Editorial is among the lucky ones. For the time being, our domestic sales are almost 20% over past years, though mitigated by a difficult situation on the South American market.
What has happened in the past months deserves our attention. During the lockdown people have had more time to read and they have indeed read more. At the same time, books in print have benefited from the lack of new titles, being given more time to stay on physical and virtual shelves. We have also had a significant growth in digital sales, which have more than doubled. This in a way has inspired us to make more digital editions of our modern classics, a strategy that has seen very good results.
More than 50% of our sales are through bookstores, and we have been cooperating closely with booksellers, supporting them and building up communications with readers to strengthen the sense of community which is so necessary in times of crisis.
We also had an unexpected bestseller: Woody Allens autobiography. We launched it when bookstores were officially allowed to reopen and it has fuelled their revenues.
However, the next months will be extremely challenging. Christmas celebrations may be cancelled due to partial lockdowns, a terrible menace for booksales. Also, we need to think about what to publish, when to publish it and how to reach our readers. We also need to get the government involved in recovery programmes. Finally, we need to keep being proud of our craft, keeping an eye on the data while giving importance to our creative role, something which needs all of our energy and cooperation.
Thanks Giuseppe and Valeria. First, I have to say that I am not very familiar with sharing information on the market in an international meeting but I agree with Giuseppe that the situation requires it.
In the period between March and May sales dropped by 60% in France. This was followed, in June, July and August by a great recovery. If we consider September sales, we can evaluate the decrease compared to 2019 at only 8% compared to the 10% cited by Valeria regarding Spain.
Regarding digital sales, they have increased, according to our Madrigall figures, by at least 30%. For audiobooks, sales have tripled. These figures highlight a very new trend for what is happening in our market. It is also interesting to note that our backlist has remained stable even as sales decreased. On the other hand, new releases decreased by 16%.
Another interesting point is that the market share of bestsellers, for example the top one thousand books, has increased from 25% to 28%. Regarding the evolution in different sectors, France has seen a 5% increase in educational books and a 1% increase in childrens books, a similar figure to that of the graphic novel and comic book sectors.
On the contrary, sales have dropped steeply for literature (7%) and technical and human sciences (15%).
As Valeria mentioned, publishers have delayed lower and middle selling publications to 2021 to help booksellers finances by allowing them not to stock on slower-selling books.
I wanted to finish by hinting at marked decrease in returns, a phenomenon which is strongly linked to the dearth of new titles.
Finally, with regards to what has happened to independent booksellers, their sales have increased significantly in France too.
I have to say that I feel slightly intimidated by all the numbers that have been flying around though I intend to interpret and develop them in a positive light. It is easy for me to say so because Germany for different reasons has not been affected by the virus in the same way as many other countries, though the situation can always change. Germany being a strong bookmarket anyway, we didnt see the same losses and frightening figures you have been citing.
In the weeks between mid-March and the middle of April there was a decrease in sales of nearly 65% though we have been catching up. The market right now seems to be at -6%, a figure that includes both e-commerce and bricks and mortar, the latter sitting slightly below at -10%. If things continue as they did in the last 3 months, the end of the year forecast is showing that we should succeed in ending the year with -3% overall and -6% for physical bookstores.
In a year like 2020 -3% is bad but not as bad as it could have been. In February, March and April we thought it was going to be a total catastrophe, while now there is some confidence that things could turn out better than we anticipated.
Online and digital sales have, of course, increased, although I should say that digital is not yet as important for us: we cant compensate for anything through e-book sales. Local bookstores have instead been crucial. They have been incredibly creative and we cant but be grateful for the energy, passion and time they have displayed in fighting back against the worst effects of the crisis and keeping customers close. By showing an incredible amount of attention to the customers needs, being always available and able to reach them wherever it was required, they managed to keep the real crisis at bay.
I must add that Amazon had delivery problems in Germany during the first phase and they were not prioritising books, which ended up helping out physical bookstores.
There has also been a lot of media resonance around the cultural industries: dozens of articles have come out in defence of theatres, the film industry, publishing houses etc., creating a lot of public attention on these themes. A relevant amount of space has also been given in the public discourse to book sellers talking about their industry, which has helped a lot too. These are all aspects that we can be proud of and on which we need to build a possible future.
Of course, we also have had to shift some titles to the next year and it has been incredibly hard for those books that came out in the spring while the stores were beginning to shut down.
Even at Suhrkamp our backlist publishing has been going well. With regards to our foreign rights, from March until now we have kept selling them in good numbers. On average, we do around 450 new contracts each year and by September we usually have little more than half of them signed. This year the numbers are more or less the same, though of course they all come from the backlist with very few new books sold from March to now.
What has really stopped for the moment is the translation sales of new books, both fiction and non-fiction, though we have seen an increasing focus on non-fiction. Literature seems to be difficult to sell not only in France right now, though the backlists and the classics have truly kept us afloat. Also, last autumn we won the Nobel prize with Peter Handke which is still helping our sales.
I remain optimistic that the foreign rights trade will start moving again from Germany and from other countries as well. From my perspective, since I am responsible both for selling and for the contracts handling of our acquisitions, I can see that the latter remains very active, as we are acquiring many new titles from all over the world, while the former is struggling to catch up, though I am optimistic that this will change soon enough.
However, we need to focus more on what books we actually offer, how we offer them, and we need to make very thoughtful decisions in the times ahead.
Giuseppe thank you very much for inviting me to participate. You spoke in your introduction about European culture and I think that if European culture is in your hands we will be safe! It is easy in these times to bunker down but that makes it evermore important to share our thoughts and come up with new ideas for the future. So thank you not only for the work you have done for today but also for all the work you do with each of us to get us to think internationally. Laterza is a truly European publishing house.
I want to begin by echoing some of the other interventions. Valeria and others spoke about the situation of the creative industries in their respective countries and their stories are very similar to the situation in the UK. Just this morning the Royal Opera House has announced that it means to sell its single most valuable moveable asset, a painting by David Hockney of one of its former chairmen. It hopes to raise around 15 millions pounds through this sale.
Today we have also been told that one of the UKs main cinema chains is closing until the spring and the release of the new James Bond film has been delayed for a second time. Without big hits of this kind the cinema business cannot keep going. Similar stories can be found in every sector of the creative industries. We are extremely fortunate as book publishers that we are not suffering in the same way.
A glance at the raw data from the UK shows that we are in a remarkable position in so many ways. It appears, even though the data is incomplete, that people have been reading more during the lockdown. As far as we can tell (I make that Cavea because the data is not available for three months of lockdown) the UK domestic market is up in the sale of physical books. The recovery in the last few weeks has been dramatic, though this is dependent heavily on Amazon which sales of physical books (let alone e-books and audio) are massively up. They were already eating the world, they are now going to do so even more.
As Nora said, the demand through Amazon is now so strong that they cannot actually cope: they report that now its like Christmas all year round. Their warehouse capacity has simply not been able to cope with either all the orders that have been coming in from the publishers or with the demand that has been coming from the customers. Thus one of the results of the crisis is that existing trends will be magnified massively, in the case the move to online physical book sales.
E-book sales are also up dramatically: in April they were up by nearly 40%. So far as we can tell overall they are up by 20%, near to date. Audio sales are dramatically higher, as in France, though we were already in a position in which some books were selling as many audio versions as they were in paperback, another trend I believe will be accelerating in the future.
Patterns of purchases in bookshops have also been changing. As Giuseppe said, the sales have been shifting towards smaller bookshops in provincial towns, a trend which is mirrored in the UK. If you go into central London, in the huge shops you can often see only two or three people on the floor, outnumbered by staff. The city centre shops are still really struggling.
One of the ways in which independent bookshops are trying to cope with what is going on is the launch of thebookshop.org, an independent website already up and running in America. On this website people can go to the pages of independent booksellers and buy their books from there. The bookshop then gets 30% of the sale value of those purchases compared to the more common 50%. Interestingly, in the USA, the website jumped from 250 booksellers at the beginning of this year to about 850 today. This seems to be a rapidly growing channel for bookselling in the USA.
Like Nora, we find that buying books has not diminished at all. As we were getting used to working from home and conducting virtual meetings, the authors were also working on their outlines. Suddenly, a great flood of material arrived over the summer, and we found ourselves having extended on line editorial meetings to deal with a huge number of submissions. Authors also no longer need to travel around to give talks as they can do them online, freeing up more time to write books. I think this has been another big effect.
I think one of the effects of the absence of people going into the big, city-centre bookshops is that paperbacks have suffered. If you rely on display – big tables filled with paperbacks to sell your books – that opportunity is much diminished. And, as we know, paperbacks sell less on Amazon. Paperback publishing is going to need some refreshment once the crisis is over.
Lots of books have been moved from the second quarter in the third and fourth quarters, so we are now facing a big digestion problem.
And a last thing we might want to talk about is the importance of the Black Lives Matter moment, which in the UK has not only had a dramatic effect on some of the books that we are reading but also on the way publishers think about who we are publishing for and who we are publishing with.
You all put forward a lot of very interesting subjects. I wanted to add a few words about Italy. Italy shut bookshops from the 12th of March to mid April, though in reality they remained closed until the half of May, particularly in the North, where the virus has been more pervasive. Sales have fallen dramatically and only a small part has been compensated by online sales.
As Nora said, we have also seen some amazing initiatives by independent publishers, in particular in the case of Libri da Asporto, which literally means take-away books, where independent booksellers delivered books to their clients. This is also one of the reasons why the clients rewarded them when the bookstores opened again later.
In Italy, as elsewhere, the vast majority of publishers have shifted their production to next year. At Laterza, for example, we have postponed about 20% of our books, though we decided to keep the stronger commercial titles which were meant to be published and the results have been rewarding. We have been selling them at a pace which is comparable to the past.
We also strongly enhanced our online promotions, especially through Instagram and Facebook, and this has been very successful. For example we promoted a series of online conversations between editors and authors.
The statistics show that in Italy, during the lockdown, people did not read more. They were very confused, watched a lot of television and the internet, but they didnt have the concentration to read books. Apparently, people started reading more after the lockdown. As a consequence, the bestseller list was affected in that period. Not only for new books but also classics. In Italy, as I suspect in other countries, Camus La Peste, for example, was a bestseller.
What happened, interestingly, is that in May the forecast from the Association of Publishers was that by the end of the year we would lose a minimum of 20%. This was based on the idea that at best we could recover the same turnover as last year in the coming months. This was worsened by the fear that the economic consequences of the crisis would have a terrible impact on the demand of readers.
At the end of July, however, the forecast had improved, to a decrease of 10%. Now, it seems like we are looking at a 5% decrease, which is possibly going to improve even more by the end of the year. Obviously this is strongly due to Amazon, which covers around 40% of the market in Italy. This is a lot more than the 25% it used to cover last year.
Now I wanted to start a second round regarding what we should do to maintain diversity within the market. Possibly, one of the biggest risks we face is a situation in which a single actor in the market, Amazon, has such a big share that it can influence all of us. And if this, in some aspects, is not a problem, as Amazon is very efficient and sells a lot from our backlists, there is a problem with such a big actor also being so anonymous. In Italy, for example, there is no Mr. Amazon. There is a group of people that tend to tell you what you should do, and this does not allow for easy interaction.
I believe Amazon can in some ways benefit us all, but I also think we should work to preserve a number of bookshops. I remember in January of this year when at the Mauri Bookseller School in Venice James Daunt, director of Waterstones, said that bookshops should invest less on discount and more on display. Booksellers should work everyday to change their shelves and displays to make them more attractive and to transform bookstores in social spaces where people can gather and share experiences. I believe this is an interesting evolution, especially with regards to preserving bookstores.
James Daunt is a very innovative bookseller and he has transformed the Waterstones chain, the only national chain remaining in the UK, even though they suffered very badly from April to July. Their online sales on the other hand were up at least 20%, though this wasnt nearly enough to compensate for the fall in high street sales. They have been brilliant at developing events within their shops.
The other aspect we might like to talk about is that the means for promoting books have changed. A lot of it still relies on the traditional review coverage, features and interviews with authors. What has changed is that events almost entirely take place online. You dont sell books in a book queue afterwards but there is strong evidence that people do go and buy books online as a result. Now that the systems are up and running and the habit is there, many of the online events are gaining huge audiences in ways that merely physical events could never have done.
Two authors who weve published this year who have given many talks online to huge audiences are Anne Applebaum and Michael Sandel and their books have really thrived as a result: they have been able to talk to many more people than they would have usually.
The other aspect is that book festivals have also changed. One of the main UK festivals is the Hay Festival, which in recent years has grown enormously, reaching 250.000 attendees in 2019. This year, the very entrepreneurial director of the Festival, Peter Florence, rapidly moved it online at the end of May and it had 500,000 attendees. This is enormous: even if people are not paying to be there, many of those listening to the authors are still enjoying the experience and are buying the books as a result. I believe this is another case in which pre-existing trends are going to accelerate in the years to come.
In Germany, the distinction to be made between those who struggled more and those who did better during the crisis is that between independent bookshops and chains. Germany, as a federal state, didnt have a regulation adapted to all states at the same time, so curfews and shop closures were different from state to state. Yet chains found themselves often unable to remain open because the buildings in which they were hosted, for example shopping centres, were forced to shut down even when bookstores were allowed to remain open.
As a consequence, we all witnessed a return to smaller independent bookshops, both in the cities and in more rural areas. The initiatives that booksellers took to make themselves more available and attractive to potential clients definitely played a part in this return. We should not forget how much a reader needs or wants a consultation regarding books, and even though the internet tries to cover this aspect through its algorithms, it is not the same as talking to someone, the unexpected that can spark from conversations with booksellers, leading to new discoveries. I think people have rediscovered the pleasure of having a discussion with a bookseller and receiving recommendations for books they didnt know they were looking for. This is happening both through social media and publishers websites for example. I believe this is something which is going to remain in the following years.
I think that we as publishers are also changing the way we are speaking with booksellers. It has now been two or three months that our representatives and publishers have been meeting mainly online. Yet I am not sure this is a good evolution. The internet has some very strong limitations: right now I find it very difficult to truly express what I am thinking and feeling because there is a real barrier between us. Right now this situation is required though I hope it wont last for long; it is very difficult to give the complete picture of a book when you are using these tools.
Compared to what Nora was speaking about with regards to the importance of booksellers, we have a real chance in France to have a strong network of booksellers thanks to what we call the single price for books, where publishers are fixing the price of books. It has made it possible to keep a very strong bookseller network that limits the presence of Amazon in the market to around 15-20%.
If we are able to keep these booksellers in good health financially things should start picking up again. And while online sales will definitely keep on growing, they will do so in less dramatic ways.
The French government gave a huge hand to booksellers thanks to a plan consisting of around 50 million euros to help them be able to face the fact that they will have lost customers and money by the end of the year.
With regards to chains, in France we are lucky to have such chains as FNAC that are strong and have been selling well, and it is important that strong chains remain in good health or we will lack a way to launch books: these chains are very helpful to launch authors and bestsellers. However, FNAC has 25% less customers than before the virus, with empty bookshops in Paris, Lyon or Marseille, a real issue for the coming weeks. I truly hope that the end of the year, traditionally a crucial moment for book sales, will show an increase in sales.
I think we all agree with what Bruno has said. We all want to see a world not just made of small bookshops, but of big ones too. We want specialised bookshops and generalised ones. We need to defend the freedom of choice of the customer so that he or she can always find what they are looking for. And as Nora said, we want to preserve the unexpected too: we want people to enter a place where they cannot imagine what they are about to find.
I was hoping Valeria could comment on this but also pick up the task of talking about European culture. I believe the work we do has a lot to do with exchanges made of mutual understandings and solidarity. Europe has passed a very difficult moment with the pandemic. In the beginning, the impression we all had was that every country was going their own way. Yet through discussion, conflict and public debate we arrived at a strong form of investment in our common future. The Recovery Fund is not just a huge sum of money, it is also a strong link to common policies in the future, making it ever more important to construct a common fiscal policy.
I believe that a political union is very difficult if one does not share a common culture. Which doesnt mean that we will be all the same. All of our countries are made of very different cultures and histories yet this didnt impede their unification under a shared idea of nationhood.
In the last few years the translation of books from different European countries has surely increased, yet the bestseller lists are still in large part national, with notable exceptions such as Elena Ferrante.
And maybe we as publishers can do a lot to improve this process of cultural integration at the popular level with the help of the media. What is your opinion Valeria?
I would like to start with a small thing on Amazon. During these months in Spain, Amazon has become more and more important, yet they do not take risks and are not very good at keeping books in stock. For this reason I also want to express the importance of bookshops: we need to do everything in our power to support and work with them.
In Spain too we have seen amazing initiatives coming from independent stores. In Madrid for example there have been authors signing books in the streets since people could not gather inside stores: Almudena Grandes signed hundreds of books on a small table in the middle of the street with everyone respecting social distancing measures.
With regards to the decline of bookstores in city centres, the same phenomenon is taking place in Spain too. Yet this makes me think of a more general question: what have we done to our city centres? We have transformed them into places that only serve tourists and travellers, so that when these flows of people stop these places slowly die. The centre of Madrid today is, for example, completely empty.
Regarding European culture I believe the confinement and lockdown has empowered more local authors. Now that it is so difficult to have foreign authors travel for presentations, local authors have become a very important asset for sellers.
I believe it is crucial to maintain the diversity you were talking about Giuseppe, though I am afraid that this is under threat for yet another reason. Publishers have been deferring the launch of books and we are trying to focus on big books and big names and this might be going against the diversity we should be seeking.
This is something that worries me a lot. Translations are also becoming more difficult and expensive. And while we can work together as European publishers to launch books simultaneously this is very difficult to organise. I worry that with the development of the economic crisis we will all feel compelled to focus on our national markets at the expense of international collaborations.
I might be naive but I think that a European culture already exists. If I consider the number of European books that are sold in France and that win prestigious prizes I can only believe that a European culture is already there. I can also see this in the way bookstores give ample space to translated books and in the programmes of French publishers that seem to be giving more and more relevance to authors from across Europe. I know that it is not easy for French authors to be translated into English or other languages and I regret it but I truly believe France is a very good place for European authors to be translated and published.
I think what you have been saying Bruno is complementary to what Valeria said before you. Certainly a European culture already exists, what I am interested in is to understand whether we can and should strengthen it as an essential instrument to increase understanding and solidarity among Europeans. I believe that on this point Nora can give us a very important perspective as she is in charge of translations and the sale of rights.
I have to say that I dont fully agree with regards to the focus on a common European culture. Instead, I think we need a common curiosity towards all of the other cultures around us. What I would like to see most is the open-mindness of Americans, Asians and other people from all over the world that are curious to learn about Europe, and vice-versa. Also, I would like to see European politics being able to respond to this curiosity with funds that can encourage and increase the publication of translations.
Some of the most powerful tools we have to build bridges with other cultures have been translations. If Suhrkamp manages to sell Habermas’ rights in many countries, the people of these countries will probably understand the thought of a philosopher who gave shape to German culture and therefore they will also better understand the mentality of Germans. And this I think is true for all our writers, philosophers, sociologists and so on.
As Bruno said both Germany and France buy many rights and publish authors from all over the world, more than I believe the Italians or the Spanish do, let alone the Americans and the English. In Germany it seems to me that we buy much more than we sell with regards to translation rights. Consequently, the Germans seem to me to know more about what is happening in the world than some others know about Germany.
Thinking about the Recovery Fund, there should be more funding and subsidies for translations in order to have a better mutual understanding not only within Europe but also between Europe and other cultures. To give just one example, this year we successfully published for the first time the work of a living Chinese philosopher and this despite Suhrkamp having a great catalog of philosophy. I am sure that there are many other interesting Chinese philosophers that we could have published in the past, if we knew about them, and if we received contributions and expertise for the translation.
Thanks Nora, it seems to me that you have indicated an essential and very concrete point on which publishers like us should mobilise: the request to increase funds for translation in our countries. In Italy the situation is not good: funds for translations have always been small and have forced publishers to endless procedures without ever having any clear criteria for allocation.
I would like to close this conversation with Stuart Proffitt, thanking him for the kind words he had for us. I am very pleased that he reminded us of Laterza’s commitment on the European front: for many years our publishing house has been involved in the translation of many important authors, from Habermas to Hobsbawm, from Duby to Bauman, just to name a few. In the 80s we started to add coeditions with several European publishers to our translations. Among these I remember in particular the History of Women, which in 1995 we commissioned from two great French historians, Georges Duby and Michelle Perrot, selling their rights all over the world.
And on what Nora said about China, I remember that when the Chinese edition of the History of Women came out, I told my colleague from that country that I was amazed he wanted to propose to his readers a five-volume history of Western women. He replied that I shouldn’t be surprised: the Chinese know our history well, we are the ones who ignore theirs.
The most challenging and also the most significant of all was the series Fare l’Europa (Making Europe), which we promoted with 4 other European publishers and which was directed by a great European historian like Jacques Le Goff, then translated in many countries even outside Europe. A series in which all the volumes were designed together and published simultaneously in five countries: I remember as one of the most beautiful professional experiences of my life the meetings we had in Frankfurt at the Beck publishing house and then in spring in Paris, Oxford, Barcelona and Rome to discuss about which author in the world we should entrust with a certain theme, as if we were really one European publishing house.
The last innovative venture we put into the field was the web magazine “Eutopia”, also created together with three European publishers and this time also in collaboration with three prestigious universities such as the London School of Economics, Sciences Po in Paris, and Wissenschaft in Berlin. Also in this case we wanted to build an intellectual network to discuss the great issues of Europe, from immigration to the environment, from political and institutional issues to economic and cultural integration. I remember that at the beginning we were a bit skeptical about the possibility of enlisting prestigious authors, as we couldn’t give them any compensation, since the magazine itself was free. Instead, all of the authors – all of them, without exception – responded positively by writing several articles reflecting on the present and future of Europe. Of course we did not expect to come to a communion of ideas, but to know different ideas and understand them, which is already a great step forward. I would now like to ask Stuart Proffitt to end our conversation.
Thanks Giuseppe. Before answering your question I would like to come back to what Bruno said about the new links with booksellers, the ways in which we sell books and the fact that virtual meetings are not as effective as those in person.
We haven’t talked much about the way we work inside our publishing houses but what Bruno said seems to me to apply more generally to this aspect. With the web everything takes more time. Our publishing houses live, so to speak, of creative capital, a capital that is built through the continuous exchange between colleagues and that has certainly supported us in these difficult months. For this to be nourished also in the future it is important that we can soon return to meeting in person because nothing can really replace that. Both within publishing houses and between publishers in different countries. Human contact is by all means vital to all of us in sustaining our energy and our creativity. Only connect As E.M. Forster so beautifully says.
Coming to European culture, I am reminded of the famous phrase by Massimo d’Azeglio after the Risorgimento that “We have made Italy, now we have to make Italians”. If I understand well the Italian history of the last 150 years, the process of building Italians is still in progress: Italy is still a country of regions, as is Germany. I suspect that the process of making Europeans will still be taking place in 150 years time.
Such a process requires strong cultural and political leadership, which seems to me to be lacking in most of our countries at the moment, perhaps with the exception of Germany. But I would also like to remember another remark that I often think about. The phrase of the great English journalist, lexicographer and man of letters, Samuel Johnson, who once said that The chief glory of every people arises from its authors.
I believe that the most important thing for all of us is to maintain that faith in the power of literature and words by continuing to believe that we can spread them, by continuing to meet and exchange ideas, and as Nora said a few moments ago, to maintain our curiosity about each other. We should never lose the belief that books can change lives in the way that each of us has experienced, which is why we do what we do.
So in conclusion I would like to thank you once again Giuseppe for bringing us together: it is precisely the continuous exchange of ideas, of our own beliefs and knowledge, that I believe will be the greatest support for each of us and for European culture in this very difficult time.
I believe that we could not have concluded our meeting better than with these words of Stuarts. Zygmunt Bauman, whom I mentioned earlier and who has written a lot about Europe, thought precisely this: that Europe is based on openness to diversity. Europe is a privileged place for commercial exchange and cultural exchange: a place of conflict certainly, but also of mutual and continuous enrichment. What Stuart said I believe is essential for all of us: trust in the power of ideas and their ability to change the world.
Thanks again to all of you for the really precious contribution you have brought to our discussion in which I think we have highlighted in an interesting way many things that distinguish us but also many things that unite us in this cultural as well as political and economic transition.
We hope to see you again soon in Frankfurt, but before that in Berlin, London, Paris, Madrid and of course in Bari and Rome.