Holland: In Defense of the Book

An insight into the Dutch publishing industry:

We are a small and spoiled country, it’s refreshing to have the opportunity to tighten our belts. A little bit of realism can’t hurt.

2 Seas Agency is your gateway to the international publishing scene, which means we get to check in with industry professionals from all over the world. After our popular series on Alternative Business Models in Publishing, we’re starting a new series of articles entitled Publishing Industry Insights, featuring interviews with publishing professionals from all corners of the globe.

Logo PodiumThis month, we talk to one of our Dutch clients Joost Nijsen, publisher at Podium in Amsterdam. Recently, he called attention to his blog by emphasizing the severity of the current reading crisis in the Netherlands, but his message was not all doom and gloom. Even in a struggling industry, Nijsen feels strongly about the power of reading, advocating for a national campaign in defense of the book.

By guest contributor Babette Dunkelgrün – first posted in December 2013.

Babette: You have said that the “reading crisis” has been especially severe in the Netherlands. Why?

Joost: For several decades the Dutch economy was among the strongest in the world. Our publishing industry flourished in a remarkable way, which was not just a consequence of our economy but of our reading culture, too. Foreign agents and publishers were often surprised to find out how many bestsellers we could sell in Holland. Novelist Herman Koch, for example, can sell five-hundred thousand books easily, and that is just one example in a country with a population of about sixteen million. Another example is our author Ray Kluun, whose autobiographical novel Love Life did well both within the Netherlands and abroad. This all goes to show that Dutch society is typically middle class. We do not have many true intellectuals, compared to France, Germany, and Italy, but on the other hand there is very little illiteracy here.

Perhaps our publishing industry seemed particularly doomed, due to the fact that it was going so well for such a long time. Publishers were not expecting such severe cuts. One of the things we are dealing with here as well is the rise of smart phones, tablets, and games. Naturally, our reading time suffers and we will need to get readers excited. Though, to me, it’s not all doom and gloom. We are a small and spoiled country, it’s refreshing to have the opportunity to tighten our belts. A little bit of realism can’t hurt.”

Babette: As a publisher in the Netherlands, how do you view your position in a global industry?

Joost: The hard fact remains that we are dealing with a market which decreases by about fifteen percent every year. We came rolling down a golden hill, and now we’re hoping to find our way back up and out of the valley. We’ll have to see whether the additional sales channels can have the impact that our outdated book stores are lacking.

Here, we were relatively late to e-books. We were cautious, and rightfully suspicious of the profitability of new business models. But the world keeps moving and we had to get on board. That is what we are seeing now. As publishers we are also looking to alternative sources of income, such as sub-rights, additional sales channels, and online points of sale.

Babette: If you look ahead at the upcoming year in publishing, what do you see?

Joost: As a publisher I am already making drastic changes, including a revised author list. In cooperation with our authors, it’s really about finding media and sales opportunities that no longer rely on traditional mechanisms such as catalogues, fairs, galleys, and book presentations. The slight decrease of sales will persist at first, but then we will see the market stabilizing on the one hand by offering quality rather than quantity, almost like a gallery, on a very small scale, and on the other hand with mass market trajectories as we have seen in the music industry.

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