The Great Italian Book Emporium
Herbert R. Lottman -- 3/6/00
The country d sn't only buy rights; as publishers and printers, its book people have a great deal to offer to overseas customers
When book traders think about Italy at all, they usually have in mind that country's enormous appetite for English-language books, making it one of the leading translating nations (see box below, "What's What in Italy"). But one mustn't forget that Italy is also an exporter -- indeed, in printing and the graphic arts, it is a net exporter, shipping its dazzling color-illustrated books around the world. Yet one is more likely to remember Armani than De Agostini, Gucci rather than Electa or Rizzoli, despite those occasional displays of tempting jackets in our better bookshops.
Our hope is to help readers remember some of the facets of that other Italy.
PW's tour begins in Milan, capital of Italian publishing, and never mind that many of its authors and artists prefer to live in Rome or Florence. In the pleasant atmosphere of Italy's Publishers Association (the AIE), with the association's director, Ivan Chechen, as host, PW talks with representatives of giant De Agostini, actually a two-headed monster with a sprawling state-of-the-art printing plant located in Nova, an industrial town on the road from Milan to Turin, and editorial offices in Milan. Publishing in 17 languages, operating in 29 different countries with a payroll of 3,000-plus, De Agostini makes everything from slender partworks to bulging encyclopedias, CD-ROMs and DVDs, compact discs, and video and audio cassettes.
De Agostini's Cristina Cappa Legora, in charge of illustrated, reference and children's books, sits astride an operation responsible for outsized art books as well as practical handbooks on subjects such as cooking, but also encyclopedias and dictionaries (including language dictionaries).
Actually, observes Legora, considering her company's varied production, books don't count as much as they used to, but they remain important for the group's image. There is a rights office in London to deal with partworks and spin-off encyclopedias, but Milan is where you go for illustrated books.
"Our strategy is to promote the export of things that make Italy unique -- art, of course, but also food. In children's books, our illustrators are now in demand all over the world, and so is our editorial approach." De Agostini's best customers are only a border or two away; the U.S. is also a good market, although the group only began to approach it seriously a couple of years ago. A line of adult Compact Guides on nature -- with planned extension to fields such as gardening and do-it-yourself -- has been sold around Europe and is now being groomed for a U.S. debut. Then there are the large-format cookbooks (on simple themes such as pasta, Mediterranean cooking and Italian regional cooking), presently being shown to regular publishing partners.
At Legnano, less than a 20-mile drive from Milan, Ezio Cagnola presides over a children's book industry. Founded in 1986, Edicart rapidly became a market leader in its specialties, above all in books for the 0-to-6 brackets. They do some 120 new titles a year, a third or more created in-house, which allows them to sell rights or finished books, chiefly board books, around the world. Upwards to 40% of group revenues come from exports. In imported books, Edicart holds the Italian franchise for Warner Bros., as well as for Fisher Price and Playmobile (via Reader's Digest Children's Books). Edicart opened the Italian market for gift books and holds market leadership, with no little help from Exley in the U.K.\
Edicart is a major player in Bologna, where Americans are among its customers. There is a hefty catalogue of 100-plus pages showing its children's offerings (sold under the logo Edibimbi). EdiDecora is the label for coloring books, EdiVideo for books packaged with 30-minute videos, aimed at the supermarket trade. And Cagnola tells of plans to package books with CD-ROMs, which are only now attaining credibility in Italy's traditional market.
Founded at the end of WWII in Florence, its first publications dedicated to Florentine-American art historian Bernard Berenson, Electa electrified the Italian publishing world when it sent forth its first upscale art books, at once preempting tabletop shop space at better museums. In more recent times, a series of financial maneuvers centered on the ownership of trade publisher Einaudi led to the establishment of an art and educational group called Elemond, later absorbed by the Mondadori empire.
To everybody's credit, Electa has kept its head high, continuing to publish to astonishing standards in the fine and decorative arts and architecture. It d s some of Italy's best exhibition catalogues -- more than 120 of them annually, including this year's show stopper in Rome, One Hundred Masterpieces from the Hermitage.
Obviously co-publishing is important here. Last year, some 40 titles went into that channel (of the year's total output of 250 new titles), for an aggregate print run of some 500,000 copies. Half of co-edition revenue derives from the world English market. In the export of finished books, Electa sells (on a non-exclusive basis) through an American distributor supplying some 500 retailers, ranging from specialized art shops to the biggest superstores.
Perhaps Jaca Book is Italy's sleeper among illustrated book publishers; despite the quality of its productions, it hasn't attained the global recognition of its competitors. The founders, back in 1966, were recent political science graduates with a taste for human sciences; the superb art books that are now its forte came later. Jaca has managed to maintain its independence, although some of its peers, knowing of its religious priorities and the lavishness of the volumes that come out of the Jaca Book studio, hint darkly of a connection with the Church. Publisher Sante Bagnoli and his colleagues would reply that their secret is not a Vatican affiliation but cautious planning, which means lining up as many co-publishers as possible before launching a project. Thus an Atlas of Christianity is being done in 13 languages (and the English partner is all-electronic). Much of the focus here is on the eastern half of Europe, its cultures and cults, but Jaca Book is also the official publisher of the Corpus Precolombiano, on commission from the Mexican government. Ten volumes are ready, and the project is likely to fill 10 more; co-publishers include the University of Oklahoma, M.E. Sharpe and the Antique Collector's Club.
No fewer than 150 new titles come out of the Jaca Book workshop each year, and one in three of them is a major illustrated project or a large-format children's book (here America's Lerner and Grolier are frequent partners). For samples of what Jaca Book can do, visit your favorite bookstore for a look at Tibetan Art or African Art (both Antique Collector's Club). Coming up: Rome -- The Pilgrimage, and Jerusalem -- The Pilgrimage (Continuum).
Milan's Federico Motta Editore is named for the founder of the company, the late grandfather of present owner and CEO Federico Motta. The first Federico was a printer, innovating with partworks that when put together became an encyclopedia. Motta is still a big-book, direct-to-consumer specialist, although today the purchaser of the 21-volume flagship encyclopedia gets Web access to a wealth of cultural and practical information. It also happens to be a first-class art publisher, doing books in co-production, most of them house creations. A children's list produces 40 new titles per annum in all brackets up to age 14. This is a joint venture with France's avant-garde Actes Sud -- a change from the customary dependence on books from the U.S. and Britain. Motta announces a plan to turn the Italo-French partnership into a truly multinational affair, with the same mix of partners for each new project.
The turn to the fine arts and architecture came in the early 1990s. Co-edition director Lorena Vazzoli displays a catalogue of house-created titles crying out for co-publishing partners. The house d s one major project a year, the first a complete Giotto (which became a $95 whopper for New York's Abbeville Press). The most recent, Leonardo (centered on the printing), is a Harry Abrams release for fall.
A series of upscale books on photography -- Italian and international -- is also co-published. And a Motta photo series in a smaller format, made to sell at lower prices, is being done in the U.S. by no less than the Smithsonian. Projects are unveiled each fall at the Frankfurt Fair, but the BEA and London shows have also proved rewarding.
Readers of PW's regular market studies of Italy don't need to be introduced to the Rizzoli group, even if the usual approach is via its prestigious trade imprints, including flagship Rizzoli and Bompiani (and what they buy from American agents and publishers). The visitor talks to Rizzoli publisher Rosaria Carpinelli, responsible not only for the trade list (whose stars include Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum and Thomas Pychon) but for a famous illustrated book line -- some 40 new titles a year, many of them produced for Rizzoli International Publications in New York.
Carpinelli points to one highly successful series created under the Fabbri imprint, The Red Wolf, consisting of a line of hardbacks for the 5-to-8 group in which good manners are taught in an amusing way. In another vein, Rizzoli produced what it calls the Jubilee book on Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre, showing rooms and rituals never photographed before in such detail. Of course, Rizzoli's stock in trade is books on things Italian, notably a series on Italian Renaissance painters.
The first Ulrico H pli learned the book trade in his native Switzerland, working his way through the bookshops of Europe in the traditional 19th-century apprentice rite, until he was ready to take over a bookshop in Milan in 1870. Now look at the impressive six-story H pli bookstore in that city, located as it deserves to be on Via H pli. The present CEO, also an Ulrico H pli, observes that the place is about the size of the new generation of Italian city-center bookstores that are being called superstores.
In 1987 H pli published its first bilingual dictionary -- appropriately an English-Italian, Italian-English technical lexicon (it's now available on CD-ROM, for H pli keeps up). PW's guide stops at a counter displaying the house's pride, an entirely new Grande Dizionario Inglese-Italiano, Italiano-Inglese, the 175,000 entries putting it ahead of the pack, its lead increased even further because it is bundled with a CD-ROM that contains the entire printed version and allows full-text search and cross-reference. (At press time, U.S. distribution of the new work was up for grabs; meanwhile, a shorter version is being prepared for the U.K.) Coming up: a Spanish-Italian general dictionary and a German-Italian technical dictionary.
PW has kept its readers up to date on the astonishing rise of the Messaggerie Italiane group, still a family enterprise despite the fact that it controls not only the country's leading independent book distributor and a bookshop chain, but some of Italy's fastest-growing and respected publishers -- the Longanesi group, the Garzanti trade imprint, a slice of Rome's social science imprint Laterza. PW spoke to Alberto Ottieri, nephew of the group's CEO, Luciano Mauri, and in charge of Messaggerie Libri, which runs the distribution network, three Waterstones-like city center bookstores in Milan, Florence and London -- this last located on Leicester Square -- and four (so far) superstores.
Ottieri describes the group's international reach. Messaggerie Internazionale, for example, serves as exclusive Italian distributor for major American and other foreign newspapers and periodicals, including the New York Times and International Herald Tribune, while Messaggerie Libri's export department supplies foreign booksellers with a pre-selected shelf of Italian books. The group is co-owner of Italy's Internet Bookshop, set up with Britain's W.H. Smith (which operates the original Internet Bookshop), offering 220,000 Italian-language books to Italian and foreign readers. The newest wrinkle is a print-on-demand service, with delivery via Internet.
At Piemme, a significant and still growing Catholic-oriented publisher some 50 miles north of Milan, the best known product is children's books, representing a third of total revenues. Until now Piemme has been a net importer of rights but henceforth, so says Elisabetta Dami (who left her family's famous children's imprint last fall to become general manager of the Piemme children's list), the house will be creating its own.
PW's roving correspondent was to meet a number of small publishers during this Italian tour. The first on the list -- described by its owner as small, although it has 600 titles in the catalogue -- is Maurizio Rosenberg Colorni's Red Studio Redazionale, a 1977 company now doing between 80 and 90 new titles annually, most of them translations (from German as well as English). The specialties here include alternative medicine, psychology, education and parenting.
The Web Culture
Italy's multimedia publishers have banded together in ANEE, which spells out as Associazione Nazionale dell'Editoria Eletronica. It includes all or most of the biggies involved in online or offline, the makers of the hardware as well as the software, familiar imprints such as Mondadori, Rizzoli, De Agostini and Giunti Multi- media, together with leading newspapers that have joined the Web culture. The membership list reveals the close ties Italy maintains with friends across the seas: Disney Interactive Italy, Edizione CondÃ© Nast, McGraw-Hill Libri, Microsoft.
It's a fast-growing industry, the association's people will tell you; they describe short-term prospects as simply "brilliant." Thanks to deregulation of the telephone industry, telecommunications are booming here, as everywhere else. Web publishing is currently the media business with the highest growth rate.
One of the most active of the new media companies is Rizzoli New Media, set up in 1994 to develop and sell multimedia products. The chosen form is CD-ROM, and in due course Rizzoli moved into hybrid CD-ROM (integrated online), seizing upon the opportunities created by DVD when it came of age. Rizzoli New Media went online to do encyclopedia updatings as well as language-teaching courses. Up till now, production has been equally divided between ambitious encyclopedia projects and educational products for children and young people.
Thus a dandy new release is the Enciclopedia Multimediale Rizzoli Larousse 2000, available both on CD-ROM (seven discs) and DVD-ROM, integrating dictionaries, interactive atlases (art, the human body, mythology, etc., as well as geographic), an anthology of p try, musical extracts and much more. It retails at the rough equivalent of $100.
Opera Multimedia is another of Italy's young pioneers. It made its debut with an impressive multimedia guide to European civilization christened Encyclomedia, put together under the direction of Umberto Eco; watching a demo of it at one of the early Milia fairs at Cannes, the observer could only regret that its sole language is Italian. Encyclomedia is built around its "library" of 1800 monographs, each on a specific subject and, of course, linked to all the others.
Since those early demos in Cannes, Opera Multimedia has grown. While the flagship house expands its activities in CD-ROM, DVD and online content, it recently acquired three other companies with compatible or complementary lines.
UTET -- the acronym stands for Unione Tipografico Editrice Torinese -- is not only the largest publishing house in Turin, but probably in all Italy; with its founding in 1791 it is certainly the oldest. The forte of this family enterprise is big books -- encyclopedias, dictionaries and other reference works, preferably in series, books on medicine, law, economics, architecture and other professional subjects, sold on the installment plan in dedicated shops and by mail. All this has kept UTET afloat in difficult times for trade publishers. Under much-admired family head Gianni Merlini, recently deceased, it moved into a number of new areas, including trade publishing (with a 50% stake in a buyout of Garzanti with partner Messaggerie Italiane, and a joint venture in trade paperback publishing with Messaggerie's Longanesi group).
PW meets Renzo Guidieri, CEO for trade publishing under the logo UTET Libreria, a significant if little-known operation responsible for 150 new books a year -- university-level and professional books for general trade release. Many of these are translations. Thus Balanced Scorecard, a manual on benchmarks for judging corporate performance by Robert Kaplan of the Harvard Business School and David P. Norton of Renaissance Solutions, is a typical product of the trade list.
A visit to Turin would hardly be complete without a call at Einaudi, long Italy's prime cultural publisher under founder Giulio Einaudi, the Italian home of Proust, Freud and Samuel Beckett, now carrying on as a distant star in the Mondadori constellation. PW sits down with editorial director Ernesto Franco, who describes the other side of Einaudi least known to trade colleagues abroad: the house-produced "big books," ambitious projects such as a multivolume history of the novel with considerable input from other language areas and contributors as prestigious as Mario Vargas Llosa (Princeton University Press is the American co-publisher here). Another project, a history of music, is also being put together as an international collaboration (and still needs an English-language co-publisher).
Obviously Einaudi buys from the U.S., when the authors are as good as Paul Auster and Don DeLillo. But they can no longer sell authors to us as they used to, if only because Americans don't translate as they used to. (Einaudi was the imprint for Italo Calvino, Cesare Pavese, Natalia Ginzburg, Primo Levi).
In Turin a meeting had been arranged for PW with a group of small presses of the region who belong to a group called Editori Piemontese Associati, and they do seem to get on well with each other, as if competition were the last thing on their minds. The point was to make possible joint promotions, such as booking collective stands at book fairs (eventually they'll be producing a catalogue together).
The visitor meets Annamaria Bertolina of Editrice Tirrenia Stampatori, a 1945 company that she took over in 1997. As the corporate name indicates, it was a printer first, for itself and other houses, but eventually did away with that side of the business. Starting with academic and school books, it gradually moved into the general trade, notably with titles of regional interest that might range from a literary essay to the story of a local sports team, or a book on village life as it is lived and spoken. Still, the bulk of the publishing -- some 30 new books this year, about 50 next -- here is no-nonsense scholarship, even if the subject matter is likely to tempt the general reader.
Roberto Giachino of Graphot (standing for Graphics-Photographs-Torino) makes a specialty of sports (soccer, cycling), and also of calendars. Giachino explains that he really is a printer at heart. He runs his own plant, keeps it humming with outside customers.
Turin's small publishers association has a secretary in efficient Anita Molino, who doubles as a publisher using the logo Il Leone Verde, specializing in religious texts of ages past, with a leaning toward spirituality and mysticism. She sees her books as ripe for translation into English (along with the critical apparatus she adds to the original texts). One little gem is an anthology of symbols from the Bible, compiled by a fifth-century French bishop, with a present-day introduction and annotations.Her modern list is in the same vein, notably with a contemporary monk's account of Vegetarianism in Spiritual Tradition.
Then there's AdYar, whose logo derives from a town in India with a library of esoterica dear to spiritualists. Turin's AdYar publishes with California's Quest Books, and shares a tie to the Theosophical Society and to the Theosophical Publishing House in India. Grazia Pasianot, owner and publisher of the Italian company, publishes 10 or so new titles each year, many from the Theosophical Society backlist, others from contemporary Italian authors on spirituality.
The last of the small publishers met in Turin, Testo & Immagine, is a big one in scope. The chief line here is architecture -- its history and contemporary achievement, with a separate series on computers in architecture. CEO Vittorio Viggiano and editor-in-chief Roberto Marro also show a new line of city guides (Rome, Palermo, Buenos Aires are the first releases), which will, of course, put the emphasis on the makers of these buildings and monuments.
What makes T&I small is its output -- some four books a month, a backlist of 70. What makes it big is its stunning series of heavily illustrated trade paperbacks devoted to architects ancient and modern, a series conceived and directed by Bruno Zevi. Among those profiled: Frank Gehry and Franklin D. Israel, as well as Brunelleschi and Bernini (this last makes a smashing book). If any Testo & Immagine series cries out for an English-language co-publisher, it is this one, and the company is equipped to produce finished books for an eventual partner.
Need anyone be persuaded to stop over in Florence? Actually, one must travel out of town to reach Casalini headquarters, sited in a hilltop castello at Fiesole. Casalini Libri is a convenient one-stop source for everything worth reading -- reading in whatever format -- in the Italian language. It was created in the late 1950s, almost as an afterthought, by prescient Mario Casalini when a Harvard professor begged him to find and send a much-needed book. Casalini found and mailed it, and filled other requests, and then made a habit of it. When the Library of Congress was looking for an Italian purchasing agent, Casalini seemed the best bet. Today the family business is the leading supplier of Italian books and periodicals to the libraries of the U.S. and Canada, also to the U.K., Germany and France.
PW talks to an old friend in Barbara Casalini, CEO and co-owner (with brother Michele, who manages the computer side of the business). They continue to represent America's Library of Congress, choosing for LC (and other major customers) what they know they'll need -- and only occasionally, she says, d s one of these customers return a book, or request something Casalini Libri overlooked. They send out a quarter of a million volumes annually (with a staff of 50 divided between the castello on the hill and the office-cum-warehouse in the valley). The U.S. represents 43% of sales, edged out by Europe (44%).
Since 1975 the Casalinis have been publishing their own books under the logo Edizioni Cadmo to fill gaps in what their database shows is available. Their subjects are serious literary criticism, linguistics, philosophy, historical and contemporary science. Most of the books are in Italian only, with an occasional bilingual edition.
Rome's Gremese Editore began as a bookstore, a family affair. Then one of the family, Gianni, moved on to found a publishing house to which he gave the family name in 1978. As a bookseller, he knew what kind of books were lacking in Italy. Movie books, for example, and when he announced his intention to fill the need, all of CinecittÃ climbed aboard. Filmmaker Federico Fellini was an early and ardent supporter; that alone gave the new logo star status. Soon the house was doing the film books of America's Citadel Press (and vice versa). Gianni Gremese expanded the list to include illustrated books on a variety of subjects, from art to sports.
Gianni's son Alberto shows the latest list to PW's envoy. One title could have been of Italian origin but isn't; although the author of Recipes and Memories is Sophia Loren, the book came from America (acquired by Alberto in a three-way struggle with Mondadori and Rizzoli).
Obviously Gremese d s its international books in subjects that are likely to work abroad -- movies of course, or wine and cheese. (Books enter the American trade via the National Book Network.) A new series of illustrated star books opens with Italy's latest gift to the cinema, Roberto Benigni, but also includes a non-Italian, Maria Callas. Both books will soon be available in the U.S., where an earlier title, Greatest Stars of the Opera, did very well for the firm. Gremese hopes to find an American publisher for Looking for My Father, a book by Romina Power, Italian-born daughter of movie star Tyrone Power (who died when she was seven). Romina has since gone around the world collecting material on the actor from his women (among others). Gremese prefers to sell rights to this one rather than sending finished books.
Just outside of Rome, in the industrial town of Ciampino (known better for its airport), Fratelli Spada has staked out a respectable piece of land for its presses. Much of Italian industry is a mix of state and private ownership; Spada thinks it's the largest printing group in the country entirely in private hands. It's still a family enterprise, now in the charge of Marco Spada. PW sits down with the boss and his sales manager, Marco Marziale, who describe a network of affiliated companies in printing, glossing, spiraling, varnishing, binding and packaging, plus production of compact discs and multimedia products, including online databases.
With its fleet of sheet-fed and futuristic web presses, Spada is a significant printer of full-color magazines, newspapers and catalogues, as well as encyclopedias, textbooks, directories and handbooks. Its customers are as likely to found in New Zealand as in Britain. Marziale observes that exports still depend a lot on exchange rates, leaving aside inner Europe's single currency. A recent product is a large-format Book of Britain's Walks, done on order for Britain's Automobile Association and Book Club Associates, Britain's Bertelsmann club. Another is an illustrated Lives of the Kings and Queens of England by Antonia Fraser, under the Weidenfeld & Nicolson imprint, also for the Bertelsmann club.
Spada shows at the Frankfurt, Bologna, London and Moscow fairs, and will be present at BEA this year. Spada delivers a lot of quality for the price. It has taken pains to keep capacity available for the U.S. market, and reduced make-ready time in order to come up with estimates that can't easily be refused (especially given the recent fall in the value of euros, to which Italian lire are pegged). "It's a shame not to be in the American market," comments Marziale, who remembers when the firm had a great customer in Western Publishing. With Fratelli Spada's present profile, it is ready to return.
The visitor enters a different universe at Laterza, housed in a villa off Rome's Borghese park; it is one of the capital's rare trade imprints with an international reputation, a net exporter of content (earning more selling rights and co-editions than it spends buying translation rights). "It's paradoxically the result of commissioning work from non-Italian authors, and then handling their world rights," observes Giuseppe Laterza, president and editorial director of the old family firm. Among these authors are the French new historians such as Jacques Le Goff and Georges Duby; Polish historian and Solidarity veteran Bronislaw Geremek; British historian Eric Hobsbawn; and geneticist Richard Lewontin, an American whose book was sold to Harvard University Press by Laterza. Then there is Geoffrey Burton Russell, whose history of paradise was done by Laterza, then passed on to Princeton University Press.
Meanwhile Laterza's showpiece is a co-publishing program of multivolume summae, done with a consortium of like-minded publishers, American as well as European (and not always the same mix). If the first of them, The Making of Europe, lacked an American publishing partner (it made do with Britain's Blackwell), a History of Women included Harvard University Press among its eight prestigious co-publishers, while Medieval Man found Chicago University Press among its 12 partners.
The visitor trolleys across the Tiber River to Trastevere, Rome's Montmartre, for a meeting at small imprint Armando Editore, in whose offices representatives of several small presses have gathered to talk about their work. They are part of a small publishers group, Associazione Italiana Piccoli Editori -- something one d sn't often find in Europe. Created 10 years ago, the association now counts a membership of 120 companies (but with a potential of thousands), AIPE endeavors to help its members survive among the giants.
PW talks with Enrico Tacometti, whose Armando Editore -- formerly called Armando Armando Editore -- is one of Rome's oldest imprints, specializing in academic and professional fields, the human sciences and manuals for teachers. It publishes some 150 titles a year, while a separate textbook department d s 10 new titles for high schools, covering the same subjects as the general list. A more recently established imprint, Sovera, is saved for general trade books, including first fiction; that adds 50 more books to the count. Publisher Iacometti buys American books for his academic list but rarely sells anything to anyone.
Sinnos Editrice is a pro bono enterprise, founded a decade ago by a group of volunteers working with prison inmates; those on the free side are pledged to help soon-to-be-released convicts adapt to the outside world, and why not via publishing? Along the way, it took on the training of young people waiting for their first jobs. Sinnos's publishing program is similarly well-intentioned, targeting children and teenagers.
On the adult side, Sinnos publishes stories written in prison, research on immigration and diversity, on cultural institutions. Elena di Paola, in charge of promotion at Sinnos (which is the Sardinian word for signs), explains that the company lives on its sales -- with a little help from local government subsidies. No foreign rights have ever been sold by the house, but Paola is convinced that many of the books -- or their themes -- could be adapted, notably for a society as diverse as America's. She d s show one likely international property: an autobiography by the murderer of Pier Paolo Pasolini, "transformed" by his victim into another writer and p t (the preface is by Dacia Maraini).
Sometimes a small press is a publishing group. Claudio Maria Messina describes his: Edizioni Voland is a fiction imprint for Italian and foreign authors, favoring writing from East Europe, but with some French and Brazilian signatures, too. Founded as recently as 1995, it led off with the likes of Gogol and Tolstoy (an indication of who still needed exposure in Italy). The common denominator here is "discovery" -- of unknown cultures, of writers deserving an airing.
At first glance Naples may seem a world away from Italy's book scene, but we know that fine publishing is done there, and even further away (in Sicily notably). It's just that nobody takes the trouble to find out about it. Guida, which has made a significant contribution to the preservation and renewal of southern Italy's book culture, would like us all to know more.
Guida had its origin in a bookshop opened in 1920 in the historic center of old Naples by young Alfredo Guida, who soon made his intentions clear by calling it Libreria Internazionale. Today his grandson Diego Guida describes for PW a network of nine outlets in Naples and nearby population centers such as Salerno, Caserta and the isle of Ischia.
The original site, renovated and expanded in the early 1990s, has long been one of the city's chief cultural centers, port of call for Benedetto Croce in the early years, later for visiting Americans such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, and, of course, contemporary Italians like Moravia, Pasolini, Eco. It now offers close to 12,000 square feet of selling area, and Mario Guida (Alfredo's son and Diego's father), thinks it fair to call it a superstore, especially in this region where bookstores and book buyers are still thin on the ground.
Guida extends its field of influence via e-commerce, and was actually the first bookseller in Italy to try it out; now it offers an impressive (for Italy) 350,000 titles, adding new ones daily. And the site is enhanced by a catalogue of old and rare books -- long a house specialty. Thanks to the Internet, the Guidas have discovered a promising overseas market for things Italian, selling art books to the U.S. and Japan, history to Latin America; the firm was cited by Italy™s Ministry of Culture for its efforts in promoting Italian culture abroad.
The affiliated publishing house employs three logos: Guida Editori for philosophy; Alfredo Guida for classics (G the, Shelley, Ibanez, Stendhal writing about Naples and other Italian cities), fiction and general nonfiction; then Lettere Italiane for first novelists and p ts. Diego Guida tells of a visit from Borders buyers looking for product; not finding any cookbooks or movie books on the list, they walked out empty-handed. "Small publishers can™t do popular books," explains Guida.
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What's What in Italy
It's easy to speak of Italian publishing in superlatives, given the outsized proportions of its media groups, market leaders in the periodical press as well as books. Or those smarter than smart book jackets -- each worthy of a prize -- that make Italian bookshop windows so appealing. Yet it™s also true that most Italians prefer to walk and talk in the sun, to listen to music or to watch a movie, rather than buy and read. Grouping newspapers, magazines and partworks as well as electronics (on- and off-line) and even home video with traditional publishing, the Italian Publishers Association reports a slow but steady decline in the share of consumer spending on books .
You almost want to say that the one thing -- the decline in book-buying -- explains the other: the variety of books on offer, the quality of production, in a kind of Darwinian adaptation. Most book buyers are found in the north and central provinces of the country, most books are purchased in downtown retail outlets, and an increasing proportion of these outlets are studying to be superstores. The Publishers Association also notes a growing trend toward cheaper paperback editions and a rise in translations from other languages (English above all).
PW has been reporting on this lively rights market regularly. In 1998, the latest year for which final figures are available, of the 44,964 new and reprinted books issued, 12,526 were translations, of which 7,423 -- 16.5% of all books published that year -- were taken from English originals (PW, January 10). There was a good reason for this: The average printing of an Italian original was 4,756 copies, vs. 8,624 for a translation from English. Note also that of the 44,964 titles produced, 27,991 were new. Average printings declined that year by 13.1%, or 6.5% for new titles alone.
Recently Italy's leading publishers sat down together to hammer out a reading promotion campaign, the hope being to hook young readers still in school and reachable, and then to try to hang on to them (PW, Nov. 15, 1999). The total Italian book market for 1998 is estimated at 6,589 billion lire (when $1 bought 1,600-1,650 lire). Recently the euro has been sliding -- and Italian currency is pegged to it -- and at press time a dollar buys 1,950-1,975 lire, good news for anybody shopping in Italy for clothing or jewelry -- or for printing, say.
Italy is one of the European nations pledged to retail price maintenance, although unlike France and Spain, fixed prices aren't enforced by punitive legislation, and publisher/bookseller agreements governing consumer sales are regularly breached by publishers' marketing practices and booksellers who feel they ought to be able to use every available enticement including price.
Italy counts more than 3,000 declared publishing firms, although only 2,000 are active. PW regularly reports on the top 15 or 20 who buy and publish English-language authors. These houses are all but ignored in the present survey, which is designed to find out what Italy has to offer us. --Herbert R. Lottman