This small but flourshing market is doing better than most of its European neighbors.

They'll tell you in the Netherlands that 1998 was a very good year. Or they won't tell you -- but it comes through in such observations as that if you use better bindings and paper, customers will gladly pay more to take your book home. That's not what you hear these days in France or Italy, or even in Germany. In a recent tour of trade publishing in the Netherlands PW heard a lot of enthusiasm, not much grumbling.

Yet it's a mini-market in our terms: some 15.7 million inhabitants, to which might be added the nearly six million Flemish-speaking Belgians south of the border who are usually targeted by Dutch publishers. Last year they sold 40.2 million books for some $555 million. In all, some 500 publishers are responsible for 7000 new titles annually, while that wondrous national wholesaler, the Centraal B khuis, keeps 40,000 Dutch-language books in stock.

Bestsellers hold an increasing share of the market, Veen group CEO Bert de Groot tells PW. That's good for the bottom line, but it d s reduce the range of titles. Midlist is a tougher sell (that sounds more like what we're used to hearing). While translations usually grab most of the top 10 slots on bestseller lists, often with five- and six-digit printings at higher-than-expected list prices, most of the sturdiest sellers are Dutch originals, accruing from 50,000 to 100,000 sales over their life span. Yet during PW's rounds, the bestseller list of the country's leading chain placed Nicholas Evans at the top with The Loop (and again at number 9 with The Horse Whisperer). The Lazarus Child was number three (number one on the lists of four other chains); Frances Mayes on Tuscany was number 4; John Irving number 5; John Grisham number 8.

Amsterdam-based Marijke Lijnkamp is one of a handful of local but world-class agents who sell translation rights into the Netherlands, along with colleagues such as Menno Kohn and Caroline van Gelderen. While nearly every famous translating imprint is part of a group, Lijnkamp finds that individual publishers make their decisions without reference to a central authority. She can name a score of publishers, each with an identity of its own, worth trying with a good piece of fiction, while another 15 houses might be prepared to bid on a potential list leader.

"We're a country where Bertelsmann d sn't own a publishing house, where the top 100 books d sn't include anything by Danielle Steel, a country of individualists who may look to America for their reading matter but choose what they want from it." Thus speaks Chantal d'Aulnis, new publisher at J.M. Meulenhoff. She is one of the publishers who stresses the growing importance of native Dutch authors-less introverted than they used to be, and more accessible.

Group Culture

Perhaps it's because of the dimensions of their book trade, and the limits to its natural growth, but Dutch publishers find strength in union. In comparison, Germany and the U.S. are open markets. Four Dutch groups account for most publishing activity, and all four think they're not as big as they should be (so look for further takeovers).

Surely the model for Dutch corporate culture is mighty Meulenhoff -- itself now the autonomous book division of a still larger entity, the PCM media group. The visitor meets Meulenhoff's book group co-chairmen, Laurens van Krevelen and G.E. Schouten, the former a veteran book man, the latter the money man. Schouten estimates that more than 50% of the total market is controlled by groups, but the true figure may be as high as 70%-80%. What's certain is that Meulenhoff's share is a bit over 20%. But, Krevelen adds, Dutch publishing combines are so decentralized that they don't behave like groups at all.

Decentralization means that you do a good deal of walking along Amsterdam's canals to get from one group component to another. At Meulenhoff PW had a first meeting with new publisher Chantal d'Aulnis, who runs a top-of-the-market literary logo, with upscale nonfiction to match. Meulenhoff is such a good name it is now also used for the imprint Meulenhoff*M, standing for quality category fiction: fantasy and science fiction, thrillers, true crime, New Age and romance. An acquired imprint, Arena, d s young fiction -- multicultural, trendy or tough. (D'Aulnis returned from New York -- where she worked for Holt, then DC Comics and Mad magazine -- to run Arena when Meulenhoff took it over. She moved into the J.M. Meulenhoff slot on the departure of her predecessor, Maarten Asscher, for the Culture Ministry.)

All told, there are some 200 titles in a year in the d'Aulnis shop. Translations account for half the J.M. Meulenhoff list, 80% at M and at Arena. Meulenhoff is the Dutch home of Philip Roth, James Salter, Jay McInerney, also of Peter H g, Mario Vargas Llosa, Amos Oz and the new Nobel, José Saramago.

Like her colleagues, d'Aulnis must publish not only well but quickly, in order to compete with the original U.S. or U.K. editions of the book she has acquired for translations. The way to do that, Dutch publishers know, is to get an early copy of the manuscript; it's the reason, she says, that the Dutch are usually the first foreign country to acquire a hot American book -- or they're number two after Germany.

De B kerij had its origins in the successful commercial fiction list of Elsevier, way back when that Dutch scientific giant was still involved in the trade. Under publisher Marijke Bartels it has maintained its profile within the Meulenhoff fold. PW found Bartels all smiles, with titles at the number one and two spots on the best bestseller lists (The Loop; The Lazarus Child). She publishes under the logos De B kerij for fiction, Forum for nonfiction, Van Goor for upscale children's books and Piccolo for board and pillow books and such. In all, there are about 130 new titles a year, plus 48 mass market reprints.

Translations are obviously fundamental here (Jane Starr is their New York scout); it's the house of James Clavell, Len Deighton, Sue Grafton, Jack Higgins, Judith Krantz, Mario Puzo and Sidney Sheldon. Not quite everything is from English, Bartels points out, for there is input from Spain, Germany (Heinz Konzalik), less frequently from France. When a book takes off, it can sell half a million copies-prodigious for this tiny nation; otherwise a sale of 250,000 is considered out of the ballpark, and the term "bestseller" applies honorably to 50,000 copies, although 20,000 will place a book on the list.

When the stakes are as high, as they are on a new Nicholas Evans, the De B kerij team makes sure it is in the shops before any U.S. or U.K. edition is available. That often requires the cooperation of the original publishers and agents. In nonfiction, Bartels sometimes has to turn down a promising title because she knows that the Dutch newspapers will review the original English -- and bookstores will stock it -- before her book is ready.

In sitting down with Mai Spijkers, PW was talking to three publishers in one, for Spijkers is in charge of traditional literary imprint Bert Bakker; the more eclectic Prometheus (founded by Spijkers during a brief spell of independence), which follows trends more closely and has a higher input of Dutch writers); and Ooievaar (Dutch for Stork), a reprint line serving both houses. Actually, most Prometheus and Bert Bakker releases appear in what Americans would call trade paperback format -- which the Dutch, like the French, favor for new releases.

There are some 250-300 new titles annually, divided about equally between the logos. At Bert Bakker 40% of the titles are translations, at Prometheus 30%. Most books on all lists are fiction, and most translations by far are from English.

Meulenhoff group ownership of a Flemish house just over the border in Belgium gave PW the opportunity to explore that strategic side of Dutch publishing. Antwerp's Standaard Uitgeverij, founded in 1919, is now the leading publisher in Flanders, producing books under four imprint -- flagship Standaard for travel and reference; Standaard Jeugd for children; Manteau, a respected name in fiction for six decades, with the likes of Don DeLillo, David Leavitt and Ian McEwan; Icarus, Belgian Flanders' leader in nonfiction, with Samuel Huntington, John Lukacs, Richard Pipes and Tad Szulc.

Rudy Vanschoonbeek, managing director of the Standaard cluster, describes a program of 200 new titles a year, with some 80% of production sold on the Belgian side of the border (which leaves a hefty 20% for export to the Netherlands).

One unexpected side of this crossborder book trade is co-publishing, i.e., a Dutch publisher bringing in a Belgian publisher with better knowledge of the Flemish market in order to maximize local sales, a Belgian publisher finding a Dutch publisher to improve its chances. In such translations Standaard is free to work outside the Meulenhoff group.

Big Leap at Veen

For long years the Wolters Kluwer professional group had been putting down its trade publishing side as a weak sister, all the while continuing to hold on to the high-profile Veen cluster and its high-profile managing director, Bert de Groot. But PW's tour coincided with the final stages of a MBO that will set Bert de Groot and his associates free, with the help of majority investment partners (and even of Wolters Kluwer, which is holding on to a significant minority share -- as if it was already sorry to see them go). In addition to the Veen trade houses, most of them based in Amsterdam, the buyout includes the Van Dale dictionary company, whose turnover represents about a quarter of the new standalone group.

When it's all done, the Veen pack will stand at number two in the Netherlands. De Groot repeats what the visitor has already heard: Dutch imprints within a group do compete with one another. "We don't have the kind of monolithic publishers you find in some places."

In a word, no big changes are expected here. But with senior staff owning shares in the company, operations should run better than ever. De Groot's forte is management, and he is known to butt in during editorial meetings at all of his houses. He edits some Dutch authors but confesses a weakness for big-ticket fiction, hence his active presence at Frankfurt fairs and American bookseller shows.

Veen's best-known international house is Luitingh-Sijthoff, whose publisher, Hanca Leppink, won't say that her double imprint is the group's biggest earner because in the long run Dutch originals still do better than foreign ones. But up to 90% of her annual 100-plus books are translations, and Leppink's category books -- fantasy, horror and science fiction -- are 100% translated. This is the Dutch home of Stephen King, Patricia Cornwell, Danielle Steel, Michael Crichton, Dean Koontz, John le Carré and Robert Ludlum.

Ludlum and King are this year's bestsellers for Luitingh-Sijthoff (not just the latest book of each, but recent backlist, too). A big book here means 50,000 copies sold in 12 months but the figure can rise to 100,000. Hanca Leppink calls a 10,000-copy sale a bestseller in a nation where the average print run can be as low as 5000-6000. Obviously, her kind of book is particularly vulnerable to early export editions (where a new Patricia Cornwell might be ticketed at 39 guilders -- less than $22, or cheaper than it could be found in a London bookstore). She never finds it easy to block such imports. Sometimes she can do it through the original publisher (but even if the rights department sees her point, the sales department will push for exports all the same). But when she is dealing with the subagent of the prime publisher in New York, say, the agent can't easily convince a British publisher to go along.

Marij Bertram, managing director of Veen's Contact subgroup, describes another empire within the empire, beginning with flagship imprint Contact for quality nonfiction, Dutch literature and translations; Atlas for travel, Flemish literature, general nonfiction; L.J. Veen for Dutch and translated classics, Dutch literature, also sports; and Business for management titles, 70% of which are translated from Harvard University Press.

All told, there are 190 new releases per annum. Contact is run from a canal house in Amsterdam shared with Luitingh-Sijthoff. Business is a 15-year-old company, originally part of L.J. Veen. Market leader in the field, its present speed is 25 titles per annum, while 150 are kept alive. Bertram stresses the autonomy of her imprints: each house is quite distinct in profile and endeavors to be tops in its field in an expanding market, although a single scout, Maria Campbell, reports from New York for all Veen components.

Atlas managing director Emile Brugman confesses that much of his list overlaps with Contact's-and yet they don't come out with the same books. "When we're on to the same thing, we toss a coin," he explains. His own translation ratio is 50-50, divided between fiction and nonfiction. For the Brugman list, a bestseller is 10,000 copies. Most books at Atlas are done in trade paperback format, but an increasing number are hardcovers, "because people are now willing to pay more for them," explains Contact's Mizzi van de Pluijm-who wasn't the only publisher to mention that upbeat news during PW's tour.

In Utrecht, Hans Janssen presides over the merged imprints Kosmos-Zomer & Keuning, grouping market-leading catalogues in travel, gardening and cooking, plus more recent ventures into health and New Age, and one-shots like The X-Files and the Guinness Book of Records, as well as the line of Chronicle books.

With sure fare, the house has grown into the country's number one in nonfiction. Half of the up to 300 new books produced annually are translations. Most illustrated books come from U.K. packagers, with America supplying most movie and TV tie-ins. Janssen sells a great deal of foreign rights, mostly in that Dutch specialty, gardening.

Rising Star

As a group, Bosch & Keuning had made few ripples in the sea of Dutch publishing, but that is changing rapidly. Until last year its single largest activity was printing. Now, following the lead of larger groups such as Wolters Kluwer and Elsevier, which years earlier divested themselves of capital-intensive, low-return printing, Bosch & Keuning has sold its plants, shifting the proceeds into more profitable book publishing.

Until recently Bosch & Keuning's market share was some 7%. With the acquisition of two specialized houses -- Tirion for cookbooks, lifestyle, hobby and leisure, tourism and other subjects lending themselves to illustrations, and Kok for religion (both theology and popular), esoterica, social science, and primary school textbooks, postcards and calendars -- B&K watched its market share soar to some 18% this year, putting it neck and neck with the Veen group for number two.

More, B&K intends to keep moving -- upward. "We'll be buying more companies," promises B&K's managing director Jaap Atema. Among the cluster of trade houses in Baarn, corporate headquarters of the group 25 miles south of Amsterdam, De Fontein, De Prom, De Kern and Aspekt do popular fiction and nonfiction, crime, children's books and current affairs (in the care of publisher and CEO Wim Hazeu).

PW sat down with Jaap Atema and Robbert Ammerlaan, the latter in charge of the group's literary houses, Ambo and Anthos, houses that have put the group on the world publishing map. They confirmed what PW was hearing just about everywhere (business is good).

Ammerlaan, assisted by publishing director Eva Cossée, presides over one of the Netherlands' most envied literary lists. Ambo and Anthos are not really alike, explains Ammerlaan. Ambo is more European in orientation, with contemporary and classic authors (Milan Kundera, Robert McCrum, also J.M. C tzee and David Grossman). Anthos is more American, with a strong frontlist, including Don DeLillo, whose Underworld was published with considerable success after a rare personal appearance by the author.

To protect the Dutch translations of the popular John Irving, Anthos actually produced an English-language edition of A Son of the Circus simultaneously with Random House and Bloomsbury release. Then, for Irving's A Widow for One Year, Ammerlaan got a one-month franchise to do the only extant edition- -- in English, and it's a dead ringer for the book subsequently released by Random.

Anthos also did Joseph Heller's Closing Time in English (but without that one-month exclusivity). Also on the Anthos list: E.L. Doctorow, Alice Hoffman, Anne Michaels. Clearly, upmarket publishing is doing better these days than commercial books. His competition, says Ammerlaan, comes mainly from Meulenhoff's Prometheus/Bert Bakker and Veen publishers Contact and Atlas. There are 100 new titles a year at his twin imprints. And his New York scout is a newcomer to the field, ex-Hanser editor Bettina Schrewe.

Media Mix

The canal publishers De Arbeiderpers, Querido and Nijgh & Van Ditmar are familiar brands to dealers in literary rights; less well known is the Weekbladpers Gr p that holds them together, and which includes a wide range of magazines and school textbooks as well as general books. With its most recent acquisition, fiction publisher De Bezige Bij ("The Busy Bee"), whose list includes Harry Mulisch, Hugo Claus and Jan Cremer, the group claims a 30% market share in Dutch-language literature.

The Weekbladpers trade imprints were formerly known as the Singel 262 group -- named for its canal house in central Amsterdam. Number 262 remains the headquarters of some of the group's best-known imprints -- Querido, with its respected Dutch literary catalogue, and the traditional Nijgh & Van Ditmar. "Both our strength and our weakness are in being tops in Dutch literature," explains Ary Langbr k, publisher of both lists (only one book in 20 at Querido is a translation). Being a collector of literary prizes at home d sn't help to make Querido a name to reckon with abroad.

There are some 100 new titles a year in Ary Langbr k's shop, including the Queriod adult and children's lists, and Nijgh & Van Ditmar for younger and more popular writers, with a wider range of subject matter. The nonfiction includes travel, mountaineering, even popular songs. Some four books in 10 here are translations; the recent backlist includes Seamus Deane and Roddy Doyle.

One group imprint PW used to visit at Singel 262 had been upgraded to the parallel but more fashionable Herengracht canal, symbolizing De Arbeiderspers' status as a freestanding publisher in the Weekbladpers family. It remains an upmarket literary house, doing more translating than its sister imprints, with the likes of Paul Auster, James Ellroy, Annie Ernaux, Cormac McCarthy, I.B. Singer, John Updike and Derek Walcott.

Here publisher Roland Dietz provides the vital statistics. There are some 110 new titles a year; 140 with a new label, Archipel, for what he calls "good reads" in women's fiction, thrillers, and other genres that had not seemed appropriate for De Arbeiderspers. Fiction used to represent two-thirds of the parent imprint's list, but the ratio is changing. A big book at the time of PW's tour was Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World by Mark Kuriansky (from Walker); another was Fermat's Last Theorem by Simon Singh (Fourth Estate and Walker). "It's clear that we look for something extra in our nonfiction," comments Elik Lettinga, house fiction editor who is also involved with the "something extra" in nonfiction.

Flying Solo

Years of watching Joost Bl msma in action, say at BookExpo America or on the trading floor at Frankfurt, helps make it possible to understand how he has been able to make his singleton imprint Het Spectrum walk and talk like a group. Technically, it is one, since the country's giant independent operates now as three companies, based in Utrecht. The flagship house publishes for the general trade; a second is designed for new ventures in multimedia; the most recently established explores the possibilities of the Net (and is the busiest and least profitable for the time being).

PW talks to Bl msma trade publisher Sander Knol, formerly associate publisher at De B kerij, and sales manager Ivonne Koolen (in private life Mrs. Joost Bl msma). Trade publishing is done in five distinct departments; dictionaries; reference books (published both for the house and for third parties, and increasingly for the group's electronic sector); fiction -- stressing commercial titles like Jean M. Auel's; general nonfiction, with travel, health à la Andrew Weil and child care. Bl msma is also market leader in books about wine, with the Hugh Johnson corpus and an impressive house-originated catalogue; in serious nonfiction, with Chris Patten's Chinese memoirs published simultaneously with the original. More than 100 new titles annually, and a gratifying 6% to 7% market share in trade publishing, which represents half the share of the smallest Dutch publishing group.

In general trade, 90% of the list is translated. Nearly all the commercial fiction comes from Anglo-America, "the cradle of the entertainment industry," as Knol puts it. In nonfiction, there are translations from French and German, and some Dutch originals -- because they are closer to the concerns of Dutch readers.

And Joost Bl msma lets the visitor know that his Internet company now sells books online -- books of all publishers -- and it's the first Dutch company to do this. By arrangement with the country's booksellers association, representing 1100 outlets, the new venture cooperates with local retailers, who can run their own home pages on the system, while consumers can pick up their orders at the shop of their choice. The service (www.b was launched with Dutch-language books only, but it will soon escalate to include English titles as well.

The imprint Vassallucci also serves as a monument. It began as a partnership of Frenchman Michel Vassallucci and Lex Spaans to publish international literature under the logo Arena, with a smaller art imprint, Vassallucci. On Vassallucci's premature death in 1994, Arena was sold, and Spaans and his editors formed a new trade house they immediately called "Vassallucci."

When they started afresh, the partners -- Oscar van Gelederen and Lex Spaans -- began by building a Dutch list, innovating by engaging agents to sell rights abroad, and for good money. Now Linda Michaels represents some of their most promising writers, including Lulu Wang, a Dutch Chinese, who was taken on by Doubleday's Nan Talese and a dozen other mainline houses abroad. A Dutch Moroccan, Abdelkader Benali, found a home at Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Then came books by Charles Bukowski, Charles Johnson, Harold Brodkey, Meir Shalev -- their bestselling foreign author -- and now a young American who couldn't find a publisher in his own country until everyone else wanted him, Tristan Egolf. (Their U.S. scout is Nancy Kricorian, who also reports to Bloomsbury, Gyldendal and Berlin Verlag).

There are about 25 new books a year, and the co-publishers intend to stay small, although they don't sneer at success. They shipped 250,000 copies of Lulu Wang's The Lily Theater, and in fact do best with Dutch originals. Two books in three here are translations, but Spaans and van Gelderen intend to turn the proportions around.

De Geus, another upmarket logo, operates out of Breda in the south, closer to Antwerp than to Amsterdam -- the only literary house not based in the country's cultural capital. Publisher Eric Visser says the logo translates roughly as "dissident," and he publishes a lot of them. He begin with a writer he felt had been overlooked, Maya Angelou, and built a list dotted with exotic names, taking on Janet Frame, E. Annie Proulx (notably The Shipping News), Carol Shields. Then Pat Barker, Jamaica Kincaid, Diane Johnson (Le Divorce). But you don't have to be American or even write in English to get published here. In a recent year De Geus had books translated from 17 different languages, and one recent bestseller was Andrei Makine's Dreams of a Russian Childhood (from the French).

Success came early, and De Geus has grown 40% a year every year, until it became the country's leading independent literary imprint-doing nearly 100 new titles annually, 90% of them fiction, 90% translated. Visser works without scouts, since the point is to publish established writers who haven't been translated although they deserve to be. Besides his forays into the Third World he looks in new places for his writers, hence publication of Sweden's blockbuster Marianne Fredricksson, whose 120,000-copy sale made her a nominee for author of the year (with John Irving).

Try to find out what the logo BZZTIN signifies; you'll have to be satisfied with publisher Phil Muysson's explanation that it signifies nothing but attracts attention. The company is headquartered in the country's official capital, The Hague -- the only mainline publisher in town. There are 130-odd new titles per annum, about a quarter of them fiction, and three in four are translations. English-language books are important here, with Chaim Potok as the star (and Linda Clark as New York scout). Other good sellers for BZZTIN are Caleb Carr, Pete Hamill and Robert Goddard.

Phil Muysson takes pride in his company's independence (he and his financial director are 50-50 partners). To keep it, he d sn't hesitate to try new things, such as a joint venture with the biggest Dutch daily, De Telegraaf, for books that can benefit from journalistic talent but also promotion. A cookbook line is also important here, and many come from abroad (notably from the BBC).

Bertelsmann, at Last

ECI is one of the fortunate Bertelsmann clubs just now. It is a moneymaker, and has no competition to worry about. Indeed, it was recently decided to double the monthly offer, increasing the number of titles in commercial fiction and the thriller line. But if publisher Joop B zeman can remember a time when the club could list any good read as a main selection, buyers no longer accept that. They now expect quality.

Club management -- based south of Amsterdam in Vianen -- d sn't deny that ECI is losing members, but the erosion is less serious than in neighboring Germany or France. To keep sales steady, they now do more catalogues a year, and by skillful database management can identify and target serious readers with special offers.

ECI now holds on to its members for an average 3.2 years -- considered quite satisfactory in the club culture. Main selections average sales of 10,000-15,000 copies, and can reach 25,000 -- all by choice. Upgrading will continue. If next time round the double selection features John Grisham and Patricia Cornwell, another "literary" selection will follow shortly thereafter-and it won't necessarily be a translation. ECI buys from all Dutch publishers and enjoys good relations with them all, affirms B zeman, who himself will be in a new job as this is published.