A decision to drop the books from a small Canadian independent publisher has created an outsized headache for Weltbild, one of Germany’s largest booksellers, which also has a publishing arm.
The controversy began earlier this month when Robert Christofle, publicist for Vancouver-based Icon Empire Press, which specializes in romantic gay fiction for men, noticed that his company’s German titles were not listed on Weltbild’s Web site. He contacted Weltbild to ask about the reason and received an e-mail reply that said “As a company owned by the Catholic Church of Germany our leadership is devoted to rather traditional values und thus has decided not to sell your titles.”
That stance may not have been that surprising for a company owned by the Catholic Church, but it stands out more in the light of the fact that the company was also caught in controversy in late 2011 for selling soft core pornography titles, after which the Church looked into selling Weltbild. But the sale did not happen and according to Christofle, pornographic books are still being sold by Weltbild.
“That’s where we’re all crying hypocrisy because [Weltbild is] saying [it is] dropping our books, which are not erotica, which are not porn —these are G-rated love stories— and citing traditional family values,” said Christofle, adding that Weltbild’s publishing operation even publishes erotic books.
Christofle says Icon Empire won’t know what the financial impact of this decision will be until returns start to arrive. He gave the story to German media, and it stirred up quite a storm receiving wide coverage, including in the magazine Spiegel. That was followed by a heartening response from the public, mostly German, including 523 e-mails sent to Icon Empire and a protest Facebook group that has 900 members, says Christofle, noting that about half of the e-mails they received were from people who are straight and were saying they objected to Weltbild's action."That’s really touching that it is sort of a Germany-wide upset, not just the LGBT community," he said.
Icon Empire still doesn’t know why Weltbild, which has not issued any public statment on the matter, suddenly dropped its books, which it had been selling for more than a year. Christofle says he received one phone call from someone who would not identify himself but insisted he was giving Icon Empire the inside story from Weltbild. The caller said that Icon Empire’s press release for Robert Joseph Greene’s book The Forbidden Scrolls, about books that the Catholic Church had banned over the centuries, suggested that “most philosophers felt that limiting men to heterosexuality bred mistrust among men and thus allowing religions and governments to control them better.” The caller told Christofle that this was seen as a direct affront to the Catholic Church.
Whether that is the correct reason or not, Icon Empire will still have to handle the fallout and is hoping to avoid having its books, which it printed in Europe, sent back. “We’re going to [ask] the Canadian government to ask the German government to approach the libraries… Libraries view this as censorship, and they’ll be sympathetic and understand the situation and take the book. That’s what we’re hoping. We’re not talking about a huge sum of books, but it would still be costly for us if it is what we are anticipating,” he said.