Newsletter Archive

Amsterdam, June 2007, Number 21
Editor: Hella Rottenberg

CONTENTS

Bulgarian Book Market Improves
Distribution Network in Ukraine Develops Rapidly
Grants
Books Recently Published
Funding


Bulgarian Book Market Improves

The book trade in Bulgaria has changed radically over the past decade. The quality of production, printing and binding has vastly improved. About 150 professional publishers are active on the market, with circa 65 publishing houses issuing several books per month, and some 15 companies producing more than 300 titles per year. Although there is still overproduction of books by countless tiny amateur publishers with often only one publication on their list, the number of titles published without ISBN is diminishing. The number of titles published annually is still growing, while the number of copies is falling.

The most significant change is the reappearance of bookstores. Just a decade ago there were hardly any to be found in Bulgaria. In the early 1990s, book publishing, catching up after the decades of censorship under communism, was a booming market. But the distribution and network of bookstores collapsed completely due to reckless privatisation policy. Books were sold only at street vendor stands in the open air.

Nowadays, in the vicinity of Slaveykov square in Sofia, which with its long rows of book stands still functions as the largest open air book market in Bulgaria, one finds dozens of bookstores of various kinds and sizes. There are still more than five hundred tiny street vendors selling books across the country, but the number of bookstores, estimated at two hundred, is steadily and rapidly increasing.
Apart from three bookstore chains with stores across the country - Pingvinite with 25 bookstores in seventeen towns, Helikon with ten large bookstores in eight cities, and Bukvite with several stores - a number of smaller ones operate regionally There are several specialized quality bookshops, among which Nissim - Colibri and Bulgarski Knizhici in Sofia are the most notable. Most large booksellers also run Internet bookshops, which account for some two to three per cent of the sales.

A remarkable feature of the Bulgarian book market, developed as a surrogate for the collapsed distribution, is the “Book stock exchange” (Knigite borsa), with two venues in Sofia and a number of smaller regional ones, where most publishers keep their stock, and wholesalers and booksellers come to select and buy books. In some cases, smaller publishers are represented at the Borsa by wholesalers, while the large bookstore chains also act as wholesaler supplying small booksellers.

The market grapples with a number of other problems. The VAT rate of 20% on the sales of books is the highest in Europe. There is no overview of books available on the market (Books in Print catalogue). Booksellers also complain about lack of information concerning books they receive from publishers. On the other hand, publishers do not know which and how many of their books have been sold in which cities, let alone in which bookshops. The main problem in the relation between publishers and booksellers is that books go to booksellers only on consignment.

The placement of books in the bookshops is chaotic, just as in all Central and East European countries. And while there are a few which place the books according to category, none put the books in alphabetical order, making it very time consuming and cumbersome for the customer to find what he is looking for. All parties agree that the book trade needs a Books in Print catalogue and professional training.

By Vera Ebels


Distribution Network in Ukraine Develops Rapidly

The Ukrainian book trade project, which the CEEBP has set up in cooperation with Ukrainian book distributors and the International Renaissance Foundation in Kiev, has been running now two years and will end in 2008. The projetc’s aims are to improve the accessibility of books of Ukrainian publishers across the country, enhance dissemination of information about books, and raise professional standards
So far, the project has resulted in a portal of the Association (http://uabooks.info) and in regional distribution centres in the cities of Lviv, Rivne, Dniepropetrovsk, Poltava, Zaporizhia, Vinnytsia, Chmelnitski, Mykolaiv, Odessa, Simferopol, and Kherson. The centres have been developed by the Kiev based wholesalers Dzherela M, and Summit Book. Dzherela M is focused on belles lettres and popular titles, while Summit Book specializes in academic books. Regional centres completing the distribution network are planned in five other towns during the last year of the project. The opening of the centres and their continuation is no sinecure, as real estate prices increase rapidly, and landlords’ breach of contract goes unpunished.

Apart from distributing books to bookstores and institutional clients like schools and libraries, the regional distribution centres play a remarkable role in stimulating and improving the local retail business. Not only do they - as one may expect - regularly provide bookshops with information about recently published titles, which is otherwise difficult to get, but they also assist the bookshop management in improving professional standards. All too often, the layout of bookshops in Ukraine is unpractical, dark, and chaotic. Employees of the local distribution centres therefore started to provide advice to bookshop personnel about how to enhance the design of the shop and how to arrange a better display of books. Also, they stimulate new bookshops, and propose other shops to sell books connected to their offer.

Improvement of information on available books and transfer of expertise receive extra stimulus during the second half of the project. An online Books in print catalogue with additional information services is being built by the distribution partners, while the regional distribution centres’ role in local book trade development is reinforced through participation of the management in a special trainers’ training.
This spring, ten distribution managers visited The Netherlands together with the local project coordinators for an intensive course under the guidance of the retired vice-president of the Dutch Association of Booksellers. The course included a seminar on bookshop managementand cooperation with the book chain, a tour along a variety of specialized as well as general bookshops in and outside Amsterdam, a lecture by the director of the renown Athenaeum bookshop about the Dutch book market, a lecture by the director of the publishing house Ambo/Anthos, and a guided tour at the highly advanced distribution centre, the Central Book House, conducted by its director. The distributors’ visit to the Netherlands is supplementary to the project’s regular training courses provided by Polish and Dutch book trade experts in Lviv, Kiev, and Charkov which are open to all book trade professionals.
Standards in Ukraine are further raised by initiating a book market research consisting of a repeated consumer research and a survey among professionals. The results can be found on the project website.
The project is financed by the Matra programme of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, CEEBP, IRF, and the project participants.

By Karel Markus


BOOKS RECENTLY PUBLISHED

The Czech publishing house Barrister & Principal has published the translation of Wer nicht mit dem Wolf heult, the autobiography of Gottfried Wagner, a great-grandson of the 19th century composer Richard Wagner. The author, born in 1947, is an opera director, historian of music, and writer.

His book tells an uncompromising, disenchanted story about the Wagner family’s post-war repression of its contribution to Hitler’s rise to power, and the hold of the Wagner tradition on German cultural and political life before, during, and after the Second World War.

At the same time, the book recounts the grip of the family tradition on the storyteller himself, his discovery of the close family relations with Hitler, his loneliness and his loyalty to his parents as a child, his fear of being excommunicated from the tribe, and his own growing awareness, learned through painful encounters, to a full recognition of the role of Richard Wagner’s cultural and political thinking in national-socialism.

As a child, the author discovers in carefully sealed rooms Nazi paraphernalia, documents and family photographs with Hitler, who – apart from the ideological closeness - since the 1920´s used the Wagners to become acquainted with members of the upper classes. In his adolescence the author becomes a rebel, organising clandestine rock’n’roll parties in the family’s Wagner music temple Festspielhaus, and secretly collecting evidence of his family’s history.

The author traces how the family has been cultivating the glorification of Richard Wagner and his music, while combining fierce antisemitism and warm feelings for Hitler with ostentatious philosemitism when expedient for the Wagner music festival business in Bayreuth.

It was only in 1992 that the author became painfully aware that “Wagner’s antisemitism cannot be separated from his personality or from his music”. The undeniably self-centred character of the book has been all too often used in Germany to discredit the discovery of this unpleasant truth.

By Karel Markus


GRANTS

In April 2007, the CEEBP awarded twenty-eight grants for books and four special grants. The grants for books were awarded for eleven West – East translations, and seven East – East translations. Eight of the grants concern works in the humanities, and twelve are belles lettres titles. The special grants were awarded to Transitions On Line for its book reviews, to the Central & East European Online Library (CEEOL) with various partners from Eastern and Western Europe for a joint stand at the Frankfurter Buchmesse, another one as matching funds for entries of Central and East European publishers in the Frankfurter Buchmesse catalogues and e-Stands, and to the Bulgarian Society of Publishers in Humanities for a website.

Books

Other grants


BOOKS RECENTLY PUBLISHED

The Romanian publishing house Ideea Europeana recently issued a translation of a book by the American-Romanian author Andrei Codrescu, A Bar in Brooklyn. Novellas and Stories, 1970 – 1978 (originally published by the Black Sparrow Press in Santa Rosa in 1999) into his native language.

I first met Andrei Codrescu in Washington DC in May 2001 when he gave a lunch-time address to a gathering of distinguished political and business analysts on Romania, his birth-place. His insights, delivered with an acerbic wit, left his audience convulsed with laughter, so much so that the post-lunch session had to be put back by thirty minutes. Best-known in the United States for his weekly reflections on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered”, Codrescu brings his humorous musings on America to the fore in A Bar in Brooklyn, a collection of his first published fiction after immigrating to the United States from Romania in 1966. These novellas and stories were written between 1970 and 1978, and have recently been translated into Romanian.

As Codrescu points out in his word to the reader, ‘my true break in fiction proper came in 1973 when George Plimpton accepted my novella, ‘Monsieur Teste in America’ for The Paris Review.’ The title novella of this collection, ‘Monsieur Teste’, offers, to quote the New York Times critic John Krich, ‘an intriguing premise’. Codrescu invites ‘Monsieur Teste’, Paul Valéry’s creation, to help him decode American symbology. The result is a sparkling subversion of the obvious and mundane in American life by a flamboyant display of linguistic fireworks. “America can be taken for granted,” advises Codrescu. “The obvious is very serious about itself here.” Codrescu acknowledges that “contagious words imbued with mass-market meanings like a sponge full of ink crowded my mind to dictate their grammar to me!” “The words of America’s language brought me an incalculable dowry.”
That dowry is evident in the shorter pieces where his inventiveness with metaphor just stops short of parody. In the eponymous ‘A Bar in Brooklyn’ a priest seeks asylum from the eternal verities by drinking Manhattans and conversing with a flirtatious woman who “held the priest’s gaze in her own. Between them, ionised particles and magnetised atoms rushed to form an intense field.” In ’Samba de los Agentes’, a Colombian immigrant is sacked from the New York City police force and becomes a filmmaker, then a poet and novelist, while living with his mother and two sisters, both of whom are prostitutes. In ‘Three Simple Hearts’, a man and two women embark on a decadent road journey across the States. Codrescu’s own journey through American life is one of ontological speculation spiced with constant humour.
By Dennis Deletant

Back to the Long-Eared Owl is the title of a book by the Hungarian author Ádám Bodor, recently published in Polish translation by Czarne. The book can best be described by its atmosphere. A train station where the railway ends. A forgotten bus-stop on the outskirts of a miners’ settlement or on the top of a mountain pass between two distant valleys. Locations where a violent and confused civilization ends, but not without leaving his imprints on the landscape and on the persons who consider their sojourn as provisional even if they know it will last forever. Bodor’s heroes are often travellers without destination, released prisoners, exiled ex-intellectuals, bureaucrats allocated in a nowhere land by an anonymous superiority. Their speech and behaviour sometimes seem to be absurd and unreal, but always frightfully consistent with the dreamlike reality they live in. As nightmares used to be, Bodor’s oniric world is at once strange and familiar. It is true also for its spatial and temporal dimensions. If you wish to locate it, look for places where snow-capped mountains with cattle-tracks, sheep-cotes and cow-berry fields look down upon arid hills speckled with ruins in construction of a brusque and senseless industrialization. Look for places where languages, ethnies, cultures and religions mix without melting, producing a conglomerate of sharp particles persisting without knowledge of and reference to their original context. Look for places where a man can be cold Adam Selim or Mustafa Mukkerman. Look for places where the customer of a barber’s shop wants to know, „where the risk begins”. These places should be somewhere between Turkey, Poland and Romania… between Slovakia, Georgia and Bulgaria… Clearly, you will have problems if you try to locate this region on the map. But somehow you feel that there are places where such things can happen. And that these places cannot be very far from you. Otherwise, why would be everything so familiar? Somehow you feel that the risk has already begun.

[Biographical note]
One used to say, the biography of an author is not relevant to an understanding of his work. In the case of Bodor, the double opposite of this statement seems to be true: the reading of his works helps to unravel an absurd knot of biographical facts. He was born 1936 in a Hungarian family in Cluj, Romania. When he was forteen, his father was sentenced in a forged (?) process. When he was sixteen, he was arrested for the distribution of an anti-communist leaflet. He spent two years in Gherla, one of the worst prisons of the Socialist Republic of Romania. Later, the only study he was allowed to pursue was protestant theology. He published his first book in 1969, and left Romania for Hungary in 1982.
By Gábor Csordás


FUNDING