Newsletter

Amsterdam, June 2005, Number 17
Editor: Hella Rottenberg

CONTENTS

Business strategy in Serbia: doing everything yourself

Book market project in Ukraine
Grants
Books Recently Published
Funding
Business strategy in Serbia: doing everything yourself

Publishers in Serbia and Montenegro persistently try to establish small monopolies.  Although these efforts do not bring economic success, they do not dare to adopt another course, the course of cooperation and free trade. I myself am convinced that with better organization, with more understanding of common economic interests, the Yugoslav book market could improve considerably.

Yugoslavia used to be a big market with 24 million customers and classic market rules, until it was destroyed in the 1990s as a consequence of the tragic wars. Now only 8 million impoverished potential customers are left.  The GDP per capita is only 2.200 dollar, the economy has been ruined, the middle class has dwindled, 150.000 young educated people have fled the country, while we are left with our memories of a glorious past when books were a serious business. During the 1990s almost all big state owned publishing houses collapsed. The new private publishing companies that emerged have to survive in an adverse economic climate, in which inflation is rampant, pauperisation is continuing, bookshops disappear and libraries merely vegetate. What we called a crisis in the 1990s has become the normal situation of today.

In the middle of the 1990s a group of publishers emerged which today exerts the biggest influence on the book market. They think that a vertical connection of activities is the most profitable and stable way of doing business. The companies they have developed publish books, print them in their own printing house and sell them in their own bookshops. Considering the fact that printing and selling are profitable activities, they conclude that it would not be smart to let others pocket the money involved. On the printing industry this business policy does not have any effect, because there is enough work for printing houses anyway. But it has a crucial influence on bookselling.  By giving large and permanent discounts (20-50%) to the customers of their bookshops,  these publishing houses hope to attract readers for the titles they publish. 

There are, however, some publishers who have proved during the past ten years that it is possible to be ‘only’ a publisher and be successful.  The secret of their success: they carefully think about titles and design, do good translations and editing and make a lot of effort in promoting their books. By simply bringing good products on the market they beat the competition.  In spite of their results these publishers too want to have their own bookshop. If they do not own a bookshop, they start readers clubs, giving 30-45% discounts on their titles.

A significant influence on the trade is the so-called book fairs. These book fairs do not aim to bring together producers, distributors and sellers or to promote books, their only purpose is to sell books with big discounts to customers..

With the discounts in their own bookshops, on book fairs and through book clubs publishers are destroying independent bookshops. Does this mean that publishers do not need bookshops and want to communicate directly with the customers? An absurd idea, because it blocks the book market as such.

The results of this business strategy are manifest. In many towns there is no bookshop anymore, even if there was a bookshop before. Maybe we should ask a publisher why anybody would open a bookshop? If a merchant (bookseller) buys products (books) and after a few days 80% of the producers (publishers) come to his part of town or at a book fair and sell the same product (books) with 40% discount, the merchant has the choice between committing suicide or changing his activity. The bookseller could start selling cigarettes, alcohol or bicycles. In these markets producers need the merchant and do not want to destroy him by offering discounts themselves.

This is not the end of the absurdities. If we do not need bookshops, maybe we do not need publishers! Some authors, female writers of novels, have founded their own publishing houses and added a new activity to the vertical chain of activities: ­ writing! They are writing, publishing, distributing, promoting (very skilfully), and even selling their own books in their own bookshops.

On our book market all publishers communicate with all bookshops. If we multiply for example 300 publishers, 300 bookshops and 600 accountants who every day purchase books, exchange bills and other documentation we see a lot of wasted time and money. In the last three years two book distributing companies,  Book Bridge and Krug Commerce, have been founded. They are successfully covering a hundred middle and small publishers, but we still don’t have distributors who cover the bulk of the publishing industry.

One of most important problems of our book market is the lack of professional associations. The large publishing companies lack the will to resolve common problems for the common benefit.  For most of them an association of publishers is just another chance to win more influence and advantage over competitors. Even problems like a new tax on books, piracy, promotion of books, a new law on publishing, or the government policy of buying books for libraries cannot bring them together in one room and discuss solutions.

Libraries are in a very difficult position. They have a minimal budget for new books and no budget at all for development. The National Library of Serbia is doing a great job modernizing its system, but the situation in public and university libraries is lamentable. 

The project BibliOdyssey (implemented by the National Library of Serbia and CEEBP, and funded by the Matra program of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, CEEBP, the National Library of Serbia, Fund for an Open Society-Serbia, Next Page Foundation, the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Serbia and Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Montenegro) has been designed to resolve some of the infrastructural problems and to raise the entire cultural and economic potential of the book sector. As a result a book information system (KnjigaInfo) in Serbia and Montenegro has been created, a distributing centre Book Bridge is functioning, lots of seminars and consultations for publishers and booksellers are being held and  bookshops in provincial towns are being opened.

We have known better and worse times in the book trade in Serbia and Montenegro.  The enthusiasm with which new titles are welcomed, gives rise to our hope that in the long run the problems will be overcome.

By Saša Drakulić

Director of KnjigaInfo


Book market project in Ukraine

At the request of publishers and booksellers in Ukraine, a three year project has been developed to overcome some of the obstacles in the local book trade (see Newsletter 16). The project aims at improving access to reliable professional book trade information, enhancing variety and availability of books by Ukrainian publishers across the country, and improving the professional skills and standards of publishers and booksellers. The Ukrainian Publishers and Booksellers Association in collaboration with the Business and Technologies Development Centre / Vlasna Sprava are to launch an elaborate Internet book trade portal, that will supply information and services to professionals. The distribution companies Dzherela M and Summit Books are jointly setting up a network of 16 distribution centres covering the country. A series of training seminars and workshops for publishers and booksellers will be organised in Kiev and Lvov. The project has started on June 1, and is financed by the aforementioned organisations and companies, the Kiev based International Renaissance Foundation (IRF), the Matra programme of The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and CEEBP.  Coordination is in the hands of the IRF and CEEBP.


BOOKS RECENTLY PUBLISHED

In Tirana, Dituria has published an Albanian translation of Joseph Rothschild’s East Central Europe between the Two World Wars. The original was published in the United States by the University of Washington Press in 1974. It is a volume in a series of ten entitled ‘A History of East Central Europe’. 

The late Mr Rothschild (he died in 2000) was a professor of history and political science at Columbia University for more than 40 years. He was considered one of America’s leading experts on European comparative politics and East Central European studies and ethnopolitics. In 1993, Joseph Rothschild published another widely acclaimed book on Eastern Europe, Return to Diversity: A Political History of East Central Europe Since World War II.

East Central Europe between the Two World Wars is a thorough, fundamental survey and is quite useful as a starting-point for those who do not have much previous knowledge of the area. It is required reading at universities.

The book offers countless details and numerous graphs, tables and maps. Instead of clarifying statements, however, this occasionally has the effect of making you feel overwhelmed by information, detail and statistics that distract rather than explain. Another idiosyncrasy of this book is the fact that some countries receive far more space (e.g. Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia) than others, such as Albania.

East Central Europe between the Two World Wars mainly focuses on the political history of the region. In ten essays it offers the reader an insight in the interwar political cultures of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania and the Baltic states. Although each chapter deals with a specific country, in some cases certain thematic topics are treated within these chapters as well; for instance Yugoslavia as a case study of the politics of ethnic diversity and Romania of radical right movements.

In essence, Rothschild argues that the interwar territorial settlements have proved to be a failure, and that on the whole the political trend in these years has been one of degeneration from parliamentary solutions to authoritarian ones. This was mainly due to the inability of the ruling elites to instil some sort of shared political national sense in the religiously and linguistically heterogeneous ethnic groups in their newly founded countries.

The whole area lay in shambles at the close of World War I, which marked the end of the Habsburg, Ottoman and Russian empires, and the onset of several newly formed sovereign national states in the region. Because of the internal turmoil and overall weakness and vulnerability, one by one these states fell prey to the revisionist threats of Germany. By cleverly manipulating the fears of Communist Russia and by offering generous economic assistance, Germany was able to draw many of these countries into its camp. Making their economies dependent and assuring their loyalty was not all that difficult.

Rothschild argues, however, that the ease ‘with which Germany, and later Soviet Russia, was able to regain control over interwar East Central Europe was based on more than just ideological manipulation.’ Germany and Russia also ‘capitalized on the abdication of the other Great Powers and on the deep politico-demographic and socio-economic weaknesses and conflicts within the area itself.’ Rothschild believes that, in part at least, the region had itself to blame for the complete lack of power-credibility (which subsequently made possible Hitler’s program of conquest). It proved to be unable to achieve internal regional solidarity and some system of mutual assistance. Instead, these states were preoccupied with irredentist territorial claims, ethnic-minority tensions and ‘sheer political myopia’.

SIC! in Warsaw has published the Polish translation of Shari Benstock’s Women of the Left Bank (Paris, 1900-1940). The original was published in the United States in 1986.

In this extraordinary book, Shari Benstock weaves together the stories of some two dozen American, English and French women who lived in Paris as expatriates between 1900 and 1940. It is both an extensive socio-historical account of the lives of women such as Djuna Barnes, HD, Colette, Gertrude Stein, Edith Wharton, Nancy Cunard, Sylvia Beach and Nathalie Barney, and a literary and feminist critical study of their works.

Although their professions differed (there were writers, editors, journalists, poets and publishers), they shared one important thing: they had come to Paris to define themselves. As writers, women and individuals. They escaped an oppressive society unfriendly to talented, intelligent and ambitious women. In Paris, they felt, they would be free of ties, traditional roles, of the obligations that women at the beginning of the twentieth century had (marriage, having babies). In Paris they were able to discover their own private needs. Women of the Left Bank devotes quite a few pages to their (mostly homosexual) relationships.

These women were quite modern, leading liberated (sexual) lifestyles and working hard to make a name for themselves. Life for Renée Vivien and Jane Heap and the others wasn’t easy, however. Many struggled with anorexia, alcoholism or drug abuse and all of them remained in the shadow of their male counterparts, no matter how hard they worked. This ‘marginalisation’ was a direct result of what Benstock calls ‘the patriarchal code’. Even in Paris these ladies were unable to break away from the male-dominated (and dominant) culture they had tried to escape. It didn’t matter how liberated they were, they were always hampered by ‘the code’. Success, however marginal, only came within this framework, so naturally some women mirrored themselves to males, for instance by cross-dressing or writing in a way and style that was considered appropriate. Some women tried to avoid the code by writing in their own unique style. The larger public, however, ignored them, for their messages and ways of writing were unknown to and unwanted by the ‘dominant culture’. Some women, particularly the lesbian ones, were able to form their own ‘power base’, completely immersed in a secluded ‘lesbian lifestyle’ that excluded men. Many others, especially the heterosexual ones, were not so lucky. They didn’t have a safe haven in a feminine shelter. They were, like Jean Rhys, ‘wives’, secondary to the male effort, unable to rewrite the paternalistic law. Instead, the Paris community offered a ‘further reinforcement of it, the more painful because masked by many illusory freedoms [like extramarital sex]’. Most women in Benstock’s book quite soon discovered that in Paris they were being exploited by men -at their service as wives, publishers or editors- in all too familiar ways. Whatever way you look at it, then, the end result is that the expatriate ladies of literary modernism were de facto on the margins of the heterosexual and paternalistic society –even (or especially) in their self-chosen exile Paris.

I was taught in school that the Modernist movement in English literature was predominantly a male one. Female contributions to the modernist endeavour, in spite of Stein and Barnes, today appear to be virtually non-existent, at least compared to the works and reputations of men like Henry James, Ezra Pound, James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway.

This is, one could argue, a result of the previously mentioned ‘patriarchal marginalisation’. Thankfully   the record is set straight by ms. Benstock. She makes it necessary to re-evaluate and redefine literary modernism and what and whom it was about. She successfully shows that these expatriate women did have a lasting effect on the movement and played a much larger role in shaping it than they have been given credit for. Women of the Left Bank forces you to define modernism as a ‘far more eclectic and richly diverse literary movement’ than has previously been assumed.

An absolute ‘must read’.

By Bronja Prazdny


GRANTS

In April 2005, the CEEBP awarded grants for nineteen books and a grant for the participation of Central and East European publishers in the Rights Catalogue, the Rights managers meeting, and e-Stands at the Frankfurter Buchmesse. The grants for books were awarded for two titles in the original language, eight East – East translations, and ten West – East translations.

Books                

                   

Other grants

FUNDING


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