European Tour Spring 2013: Impressions

Marleen’s European Publishing Tour: Amsterdam-Paris-London, April 2013

By Marleen Seegers – first posted in May 2013.

Now that the post-London Book Fair storm has started to calm down I’m happy to share the overall impressions of my spring 2013 European tour with you.


Amsterdam (April 2-7)

Holland is perhaps one of the most challenged publishing markets in Europe at the moment, or at least that’s how I felt after my week-long stay in Amsterdam. The bankruptcy of one of the big Dutch distributors, Libridis, in May 2012 has had a big impact on the industry. Book stores were left with empty shelves and publishers with unpaid invoices. One of the largest book store chains, Selexyz, almost went down the same road but managed to avoid this thanks to a merger with another big book store chain, De Slegte.

These events made the impact of the economic crisis gain momentum in Holland. It was already tangible during my previous visit last fall, only a few months after Libridis’ bankruptcy, but it seems that the definite blow came in the first semester of 2013. Publishers with lists ranging from literary to very commercial have been obliged to decrease the number of titles they publish per year, as well as their average print run. The number of translations is down as well, with publishers preferring Dutch authors who represent less of an investment (as in, no translation costs required—though looking at our international translation grants listing might be helpful here!) and are more easily promotable. Budget cuts have also led to lay offs, publishing houses have merged, and smaller delegations travel to international book fairs.

Yet, in spite of this morose atmosphere, I admire the way the Dutch publishing scene keeps its chin up and finds the energy to look beyond the current crisis. First of all, although the number of translation is indeed going downhill, I’ve sensed an increased interest in non-English language titles. Of course 2 Seas Agency very much welcomes this shift since we represent a great number of wonderful Brazilian, French, Spanish and Catalan titles in Holland!

Furthermore, as I pointed out in a recent article, a certain number of Dutch publishers has started to venture into alternative business models. Some of them have done so very successfully: Bertram + de Leeuw‘s Meet The Fokkens sold more than 60,000 copies in Holland, where the Fokkens twin has become a true phenomenon. 2 Seas Agency represents their translation rights and it’s currently our best-selling title, with six foreign sales and counting! Also, several publishing houses were founded recently in Holland, among others Uitgeverij Link, which will be publishing its first titles this spring and whose founder Jurgen Snoeren shared his innovating vision and ideas with me in Amsterdam; Xander Uitgevers, which recently celebrated its first anniversary and has already obtained a certain number of successes, among others with Lucinda Carrington’s Ninety Days of Genevieve; and Uitgeverij Nobelman, which did a wonderful job on the Dutch translation of one of our French titles, Rester sage by Arnaud Dudek.

And then there is World Editions, the new and exciting international publishing venture of Eric Visser, founder and publisher of Uitgeverij De Geus. I had the opportunity and pleasure to discuss his plans with Eric during dinner at the eve of the London Book Fair. Inspired by the success of Europa Editions, which publishes foreign literature in English translation in both the US and the UK (Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of a Hedgehog is one of their biggest successes to date), World Editions will start publishing English translations of mainly Dutch and Scandinavian titles before the end of this year. They also intend to publish translations from other languages though, and even previously unpublished English-language titles.


Paris (April 8-13)

The French publishing market is also facing difficulties at the moment. Virgin Megastore France filed for bankruptcy in January 2013, the Fnac has been going through financial difficulties for quite  while now, and it was announced recently that 12 Chapitre book stores will be closed and its staff laid off. There has been an impressive number of mergers and acquisitions among publishing houses in the past few years, with for instance Actes Sud buying Payot & Rivages, and of course Gallimard‘s acquisition of Flammarion. Yet the French socialist government is making a lot of effort to support publishers and independent book stores, reducing among others the VAT rate for books from 7% to 5.5% in June 2012—just two months after the previous right-wing government had increased it—and honoring the fixed book price (read our article about fixed book pricing here).

This might explain why I found the French publishers I met with in Paris generally more optimistic than their Dutch counterparts. For instance, on the Friday afternoon before the start of the London Book Fair (when everyone has usually just finished offering on must-have titles in pre-LBF auctions, or has left to start packing their suitcases—in any case, no-one is usually looking for a new pitch at that very moment), I received tons of enthusiastic requests from French publishers immediately after I sent them a newsletter announcing the release of Yoko Ono’s first book in nearly 50 years, an illustrated, “instructional poetry” book that we represent in France (and The Netherlands)!


London (April 14-17)

In London during the LBF I found that spirits were quite uplifted. Starting with myself—I initially feared that not having booked a table in the International Rights Center might put a strain on my meetings, but I quickly discovered that the opposite was true! You can read my musings about Why You Are Better Off Without a Table at the IRC, and other LBF tips here.

Since I had met with (most of) our Dutch and French publishing partners in Amsterdam and Paris, my LBF meetings were focused on our dear co-agents as well as our other specialty markets: the English language territory, The Nordic Countries, and China. A tendency I had already noticed in the months running up to the Fair is that Brazil, Korea, and Turkey are definitely on the rise. Looking at the contracts that we’ve recently signed and are currently negotiating, I’d say that these three markets make up the better share. Moving in line with this development, in London all eyes were on Turkey as it was this year’s LBF focus market, the Frankfurt Book Fair 2013 guest of honor will be Brazil, and Korea is up for next year’s LBF focus market.

The Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden), who traditionally acquire mostly titles from each other, seem to be opening up to books in translation from languages. Of course there has always been a considerable interest in English-language titles, but I’ve noticed a true shift towards more “exotic” territories such as Brazil and the French language. English language publishers from both the US and the UK were also very receptive to the titles I presented them. In fact, in the week following the LBF we received offers for the world English rights of two of our French language titles! One deal has already been concluded, with the wonderful Europa Editions which were mentioned earlier, for Joanna Gruda’s L’enfant qui savait parler la langue des chiens.

And finally, I am delighted to announce that during the LBF I reached an agreement with several publishers and agents to start representing them in our target markets. Check our updated clients page to see a full overview of who we represent and in which territories!

I was glad to return to sunny California after having been on the road for three weeks, extremely satisfied with my European tour.

As I pointed out previously, establishing personal connections with your publishing partners is extremely valuable in the foreign rights scene. Attending the Frankfurt (and London) Book Fair is a good start, but not quite enough to understand a specific country’s history and cultural heritage and truly grasp its current challenges and needs.

That is why 2 Seas Agency has planned further visits this year to Rio de Janeiro and Gothenburg before returning to Amsterdam and Paris, and attending the Frankfurt Book Fair.

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