The Italian Publishing Market Seen from the Turin Book Fair

Italian publishing

2 Seas Agency explores the current Italian publishing market together with publishing professionals from around the world

By Marleen Seegers – Article first published in May 2016

From 12 – 14 May 2016, 2 Seas Agency took part in the 15th International Book Forum (IBF), the international section of the Salone Internazionale del Libro di Torino. The Dutch publishing magazine Boekblad asked me to write a daily blog to share my impressions. Below article is based on the five blogs that covered my stay at the IBF.

Translated from the Dutch by Kristen Gehrman.

Before the IBF: the Turin Book Fair, an “after party” to the London Book Fair?
Italian publishing

2 Seas Agency: on top of the list!

Over the past few years, I have noticed that the Salone del Libro in Turin comes up more and more often in conversations with others in the international book industry. Apparently, it is no longer just a book fair for Italian publishers. It is has even made a name for itself as a kind of “after party” to the London Book Fair, taking place just one month afterward. It is all a bit quieter, as all of the ‘hot titles’ have already been sold in London, but a growing number of international publishers still go to it. The weather is (usually) nice, and you can enjoy delicious Italian cuisine. What more could a rights seller ask for?

After traveling around Europe for four and a half weeks, I find myself in a high speed train heading for Turin. Since the LBF will be held in March starting in 2017, this year is the last chance to combine a visit to the LBF with Turin. In addition to the LBF, my semi-annual European tour has included work visits to Barcelona, Amsterdam and Paris. After Turin it is over, and I will finally fly back to California.

I’m part of the Fellowship organized by the International Book Forum (the international section of the Salone del Libro), intended for international rights managers, publishers, editors, scouts, agents and producers of film, television and new media. All fellows get to take advantage of a very sophisticated online calendar. At first, I was pretty skeptical and I didn’t know if I could completely trust this online calendar (it seemed too good to be true), but several former fellows had confirmed that it actually works. The IBF also proudly claims that other international book fairs, including Frankfurt and London, are jealous with their online appointment system.

This year marks the 15th edition of the International Book Forum. According the IBF website,  more than 500 publishing professionals will participate this year, of which more than 250 people come from 41 different countries. This is a new record—last year 38 countries took part. The Salone del Libro itself was held for the first time in 1988, and now claims to be the largest book fair in Europe with more than 1,400 exhibitors and 341,000 visitors in 2015.

Italian publishing

Almost done with my 5-week meeting marathon in Europe.

And indeed it has a very international side to it, as I will also speak with non-Italian publishers, most of whom come from other European countries. Surprisingly, I also have many appointments with international scouts and will meet a number of Dutch and French publishers that I missed in Amsterdam and Paris respectively.

Despite the international nature of my appointments, one of my objectives during my stay in Turin is to get a better overview of the Italian book market. Since last year, it’s been all about ‘Mondazzoli’: the takeover of the RCS-Libri group (which includes Rizzoli publishers) by the Mondadori group (property of the Berlusconi family). Since then, the three largest Italian agencies have united into The Italian Literary Agency, reportedly in order to be able to tackle significant publishing concerns à la Mondazzoli.

Apart from the major publishers, I also sought contact with smaller and/or independent publishers. During my appointments in London, Barcelona, Amsterdam and Paris, it became apparent that translated (literary) fiction is in troubled waters; in some cases, initial print runs are half of what they were a couple of years ago. I assume that unfortunately, this will be no different in Italy. Often however crisis situations also create opportunities for unusual and sometimes surprisingly successful initiatives at independent publishers that have more room to do things differently. This is something that I have already noticed in other cities/markets, and I hope to see in Turin as well.

Day 1: The in-between moments count most

The International Book Forum’s online calendar also has a disadvantage: you can’t check the times of your appointments. I hadn’t kept track of how many publishers I had sent an invitation to meet, so my schedule for the first two days turned out to be completely full. Luckily, I had a last-minute cancellation around lunch time, so I could go out for a bite to eat. The ambience is indeed relaxed compared to London, the rights center is not too big and well organized, and the conversations are more casual and less rushed. An English scout who comes to Turin more often said that for him, Turin is mostly a good fair to maintain his personal connections. As I said yesterday, the ‘hot titles’ from the London Book Fair or even the Salon du Livre have all been sold.

Italian publishingFrederike Doppenberg from Ambo|Anthos puts it this way: “You are always catching up with each other in between meetings.” This is especially important to her when it comes to the Italian-speaking area. In Turin, she meets mainly with Italian publishers and agencies: “What you hear here in the hallways and over dinner, you don’t hear in London.” I do notice indeed that I have had much more time here to talk about the general state of affairs, whereas in London or Frankfurt, after a quick hello you get down to pitching titles right away.

I take advantage of the opportunity to ask multiple Italian publishers and scouts to comment on the takeover of RCS-Libri by Mondadori. This takeover has recently been approved by anti-trust supervisors provided that RCS sells two of its publishing houses (Bompiani and Marsilio). Most of the people I spoke with agreed, there is too much fuss around the whole thing. Mondadori already has quite a few publishers in-house—including Piemme, Sperling & Kupfer and Einaudi, which it acquired a few years ago—and according to the people I questioned, this new takeover will not have a big impact on the market.

An Italian publisher whose name I have been hearing more and more often is Giunti. A number of recognized publishers and editors have recently crossed over from Mondadori. It is even rumored that Giunti is one of the best candidates to take over Bompiani from RCS. This would be a nice, literary gain for the more commercially-oriented Giunti.
Several Italians let me in on THE Italian book of the moment: La scuola cattolica by Eduardo Albinati (Rizzoli), an unexpected bestseller of no less than 1,300 pages. This literary phenomenon is all the buzz in Turin and has already been sold in the Netherlands to Atlas-Contact and in Spain to Lumen. There is even talk about a time before and after La scuola cattolica in today’s Italian literature. Another one of the ‘hot titles’ in London that everyone was talking about was La sostanza del male (Einaudi-Stile Libero) by Luca D’Andrea that, even before its first appearance in Italy, was sold to 18 countries and Notti in bianco, baci a colazione (Einaudi-Stile Libero), a memoir by Matteo Bussola that he started on Facebook, and was to Germany and Spain in the meantime.

Day 2: The success of ‘niche’ publishers

Even though all the fuss surrounding the takeover of RCS-Libri by Mondadori is considered by many to be over-blown, it still is a topic that often comes up during my appointments with Italian book industry professionals. This morning I spoke with a Rizzoli employee who has experienced the developments from within. She pointed out that nothing has changed in their publishing program nor on the Rizzoli team. But on September 1st, they will move to Segrate, just outside Milan, where Mondadori is located. She expects there will be more changes towards the end of the year, but for now, everyone is more or less reassured after a 14-month period of uncertainty. Given Rizzoli’s success, it is no mystery to her why Mondadori took them over.

Italian publishing

Sellerio Editore, specialized in thrillers and noir fiction, who will publish MALA VIDA by Marc Fernandez next year.

I also spoke with a number of independent publishers of various sizes who said that they were happy with the takeover. A number of Rizzoli authors who didn’t want to be part of the “Mondazzoli monster” have since turned to them. Also, people point out that from the “monster”, La Nava di Teseo was born, one of many new literary publishers founded by the late Umberto Eco and former Publishing Director of Bompiani, Elisabetta Sgarbi.

What I also noticed in Spain, the Netherlands and France, is that after a couple of dark years, things seem to be going a little bit better on the Italian book market. Especially publishers who have specialized in a niche are happy, like Iperborea, which focuses on Dutch and Scandinavian literature, Keller Editore and ADD Editore. The latter publish mainly French and Central European fiction. Turin is a perfect fair to speak with them, as it is often harder to see them at bigger fairs.

Speaking of niches, I had a very interesting appointment with a Polish publisher from a small independent publishing house that mainly publishes translated literature discussing immigration-related problems in Europe. She had already published Problemski Hotel by Dimitri Verhulst, and she was also very interested in other Dutch titles on our list. The funny thing was that her English was not good enough to have a conversation, but that her Italian—a language that I understand reasonably well but don’t speak—was fluent. The International Book Forum quickly arranged an Italian-English interpreter however to facilitate the conversation.

During my appointments, I also generated new interest for a couple of Dutch books on our list that have already been out for a little while, but for which I just received—thanks to Eric Visser’s World Editions—a complete English translation. While a couple of years ago publishers from abroad didn’t hesitate to buy Dutch books with just an English sample and one or two positive reading reports (unfortunately many publishers don’t read Dutch themselves), I notice that it has become more difficult to sell rights for Dutch literary fiction, especially to major publishers, if there is no complete English translation. This is a direct result of the sales drop in translated literary fiction; publishers now want to be able to read a text themselves before they make a decision in order to limit their own risk. Fortunately, smaller and/or independent publishers are more flexible!

Day 3: Hendrik Groen in Italian

While the book fair in Turin will go on until Sunday, Saturday is the last day of the International Book Forum. After a five-week appointment marathon, today marks the last day of my European tour. The London Book Fair, the first stop on my tour that took place a month ago, seems like a long time ago. I have lost count of the number of meetings I have had in the last five weeks. But even still, I feel fresh as I walk back into the Lingotto Conference Center, where the fair in Turin is held.

Italian publishing

The Italian edition of Hendrik Groen’s ATTEMPTS TO MAKE SOMETHING OF LIFE at Longanesi’s stand.

Today I have some room in my calendar to finally walk around the halls and peruse the Italian publishers’ stands. I find it very instructive to visit these and page through the books on display, and in general, to see how publishers present themselves. So I visit a number of smaller publishers’ stands that seem to be greater in number than what I had expected.

Of course I visit the Longanesi stand, an imprint of Gruppo MauriSpagnol, and the Italian publisher of Hendrik Groen. I am happy to see that Piccolo esperimenti di felicità, that came out in early October, is prominently positioned. Furthermore, I see a few other Italian editions of non-Dutch books that have been sold by 2 Seas Agency. It is always a special moment to hold the fruits of your labor in your hands!

Early in the afternoon, I have a special appointment in my calendar: our new intern Francesca, who lives Milano has traveled today to Turin. In addition to our physical office in California, 2 Seas Agency also has a virtual office – this way I can keep up with business as usual during long business trips like these. Junior Agent Chrysothemis – originally from Cyprus – works for the agency from Porto, Portugal. In the past, we have had interns living in São Paulo, Seattle, Edinburgh, London and Denver, Colorado. Francesca starts her 6-month internship next week, and the opportunity to meet each other in person was just too good to miss.

Later that day, I realized that I had not met with all of the people who had confirmed an appointment in the online appointment system. In between two appointments, I happened to bump into a Portuguese publisher who I hadn’t seen yet, but whose appointment invitation I knew that I had accepted. Just as I was saying to her that we should meet later on, she said with surprise that she had just had her last appointment of the fair. And indeed, when I checked my schedule, I didn’t see her name anywhere. Some way or another something went wrong with this seemingly ideal appointment system. Luckily, I had some time before my next appointment started to have a spontaneous meeting with her, one of the very last of my tour!

After the Fair: Turin, definitely a place to come back to
Italian publishing

The roof of the Lingotto Conference Center, a former Fiat factory. In the background the Alps.

While I limited myself the first three evenings to only dinners (none of which started before 9pm, by the way; the Italian way), I decided to round off my last day at the International Book Forum and of my whole European meeting marathon with a party. After a dinner with several friends in rights sales, I ended up around midnight at the Scuola Holden, a famous school for storytelling and performing arts. This school is housed in an impressive building that from what I gathered, served as an armory in the 15th Century. It turned out that my marathon wasn’t over yet, as I was introduced to several publishers with whom I hadn’t been able to speak at the IBF. So I had a conversation with an editor from Nottetempo with whom I was supposed to meet at the IBF—a previously confirmed appointment that had also strangely disappeared from my online calendar. Luckily there are dinners and parties in the evenings.

On Sunday, I intended to explore Turin with a former colleague from France. But first I paid a visit to the roof of the Lingotto, the Conference Center where the Salone del Libro takes place. Both the hotel where the fellows sleep and the neighboring concert hall are part of an old 1924 Fiat factory. This can best be seen on the roof, where the whole surface was used as a test track for cars. With the snowy Alps on the horizon, this makes for a uniquely beautiful and surreal scene. Of course, no city visit would be complete without a little stop in a book shop. There, to my great joy, I see a pile of Italian editions of Hendrik Groen’s Attempts to Make Something of Life beautifully displayed. Longanesi did a nice job!

Italian publishing

The Italian edition of Pierre Lemaitre’s ROSY & JOHN, included in a boxed set with a few of his other thrillers, published by Mondadori.

Before I participated in the book fair in Turin, several people had told me they like this fair the best. Now I understand why! Over three days, I had the time to meet publishers from Portugal, Hungary, Poland, Turkey – and also get to know them better. I deepened existing connections and was able to investigate the Italian book market up close. And indeed, I enjoyed delicious Italian food! Many of my appointments would have never been made so quickly in London or Frankfurt, plus not everyone participates in these two fairs and sometimes I too have other priorities. In terms of timing, it was also convenient, because I was already able to pitch the new books in our Fall Rights Catalog. I am already thinking about coming back next year, or sending our Junior Agent Chrysothemis.

As soon as I’m back in California I’ll begin preparing for my next tour in Europe, this time around the Frankfurt Book Fair. But before I do, I think I’ll just let all of the impressions from the past five weeks sink in.

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