A panel of international guests from France, Holland, Israel, and the U.S. offered people attending Toronto's International Festival of Authors last week a sweeping view of how the economic crisis is affecting the publishing industry globally. IFOA, Canada's biggest English-language literary festival, which ran for 11 days, October 20–30, is primarily about authors and readings, but literary agent Denise Bukowski, of the Bukowski Agency, hosted the panel discussion that focused attention on the business of books.
Maria Campbell, president of the New York scout Maria B. Campbell Associates, was able to offer the broadest perspective. Starting with the good news, she said, "Brazil is booming," noting the healthy economy and vibrant Paraty literary festival in August. Although she only recently entered the Chinese market, representing Shanghai 99, Campbell said she believes it is a market that can be counted on to grow. Russia is another new market for her, and she said the publishing and bookselling giant AST Group buys a "tremendous amount" of foreign books, "probably more than any of my other clients." Korea is also doing well, and she thought Germany was on the mend. According to Campbell, Italy is still lively, competitive, and buying books. The Scandinavian market, especially Sweden, however, is depressed, and the economic crisis has hit both Spain and Greece very hard, she said.
Pieter Swinkels, v-p and associate publisher, De Bezige, in Bij, Holland, said 2010 will be a "devastating" year and 2011 does not look better. "We were expecting this year to be extremely difficult and now it is near November, we see the market is down about 5% for the first time.... Bookshops are taking a loss and many are going bankrupt nowadays." The bigger houses are doing fairly well, but smaller independents are struggling, he added. "The most difficult is the upmarket literary fiction in translation. It's become increasingly difficult to introduce new voices, but then once in a while someone breaks through and you have a staggering success." Swinkels said De Bezige has been trying to reduce the size of its lists and is shifting the focus of its translations away from American and English books to more European literature.
Ariane Fasquelle, director of foreign literature for Grasset in France, said that although strikes add a particularly French touch to the scene, the economic outlook there is similarly bleak. There is a big concentration of sales in a few titles at the top of the bestseller lists. An author can now be at 10th or 12th on the bestseller list, but still only be selling 100 copies per week, which means it is not a bestseller, she said. Grasset, however, is not cutting back on its lists, she said, listing obligations to its authors and the desire to publish the next bestseller. She added that cutting the list means less space in bookstores and a reduced market share. She also maintains the balance of translations. "I always try to do 50% of English language and with the other 50% we always try to be European or sometimes more exotic like Chinese or Russian books," she said.
Israel's economy has proved "miraculously resilient," said Ziv Lewis, foreign rights manager and acquisitions editor for Kinneret, Israel's largest publisher. "Our book market has been driven by hypercompetition on the retail side," he added, explaining that the lack of a fixed price agreement has led to extreme discounting. Kinneret, which owns 80 bookstores in Israel, is partly responsible for that deep discounting, he said. However, he defended the discounting by saying that it has had the effect of attracting "an ever-widening circle of readers and bringing new readers into bookstores for the first time, which is hugely important, in my opinion."
Bukowski asked Michael Morrison, president and publisher of HarperCollins, U.S. General Books and Canada, about the competition between the U.S. and the U.K. for international English language rights, particularly in Europe. While some multinational publishers carve up the world, Morrison said HarperCollins and others believe that European consumers should have the choice of a U.K. or American edition. One problem with U.K. branches having exclusive rights in Europe is that as the U.K. economy falters, fewer American books are being published there, he said. "What happens to all those books if we have decided that [only] our U.K. counterparts are going to be distributing to Europe? Then that doesn't allow us to sell our books there.... I think agents and authors realize that and obviously they want their books there," he said.
None of the panelists offered precise predictions for exactly how big the future of e-books will be. Kinneret said he is confident in the future of print, and then announced that the company is about to launch its own reading device—a Samsung Wave that will be Hebrew-friendly (other readers have not been able to accommodate reading back to front and right to left) and full color, targeted especially at the children's market. Swinkels said that he expects that the e-book market will open doors for books in smaller languages such as Dutch to be sold into the American market. "I think the real strength of the e-market will be that territories will fall away and it will be a truly global market," he added.