Once again the visitor has cause to marvel that Italy, which has a relatively small language, with little or no export market, still fields nearly as many world-class publishers as some of its largest neighbors. The country's leading trade imprints compete vigorously for world bestsellers, and aren't stingy with their offers. More, the books they turn out are deliciously attractive and competitively priced; the bookstores are state-of-the-art and then some (don't miss the stunning Feltrinellis, but on the way do look at the Mondadoris and Messaggeries).
Most book buyers are fond of the northern half of the country, so there's a kind of justice in Milan being the book capital (rather than Rome, the country's political capital down south). Italy's equivalent of Random House is Mondadori, whose Oscar Niemeyer—designed headquarters, a world's fair of a building on the outskirts of town, is shared by the group's book and magazine divisions, as well as the electronic publishing, printing and advertising departments.
On the upper floor, PW sits down with Gianni (for Gian Arturo) Ferrari, head of the book division, which includes the flagship logo and a number of hard- and softcover imprints, as well as several well-known book publishers located far from group headquarters, among them Sperling & Kupfer for commercial fiction; Frassinelli for upscale readers; prestigious Einaudi—still in Turin—for serious fiction and nonfiction; a famous classics series, Mondadori Electa, for museum-quality art monographs and exhibition catalogues; and Edumond Le Monnier for school publishing. Then there is Random House Mondadori, a joint venture with Bertelsmann for Spanish-language publishing in Spain and Latin America. Bertelsmann is also a 50-50 partner in the Mondadori book club and in BOL Books on Line (run out of a separate division called Mondadori Direct).
In Italy itself, the Mondadori companies claim some 30% of the trade book market. Educational publishing is harder to quantify, but Mondadori's share is estimated at 13%—14%, putting the group neck and neck with Bologna's Zanichelli for market leadership. (Gianni Ferrari's estimate is that the four major groups to be profiled here—his own, plus Rizzoli, Longanesi and Feltrinelli, together hold a 65% chunk of the trade.)
Last year was a good one for Mondadori Libri, which alone captured 20.4% of that market, the largest it has ever had. Even Einaudi, ailing for years, is back in the running. It reported a 9% return for 2001. Mondadori Electa moved into the black in 2000 and actually earned money last year.
As for Mondadori Libri: "Let me remind you that's we've always been Italy's 'American' publisher," remarks Gianni Ferrari. Translations, above all from English, have always been one of the imprint's best growth sectors. PW spots recent titles by Patricia Cornwell, John Grisham, Scott Turow, Martin Cruz Smith, Joyce Carol Oates and Dave Eggars. Einaudi does Philip Roth; Sperling & Kupfer does Stephen King.
So on to Sperling & Kupfer, one of Milan's oldest trade houses, where publisher Carla Tanzi works out of offices on the other side of town; Sperling goes out for list toppers, and in fiction, nine books in 10 are translations. Sperling is also the Italian home of Mary Higgins Clark, Dean Koontz, Danielle Steel, Sidney Sheldon and Nicholas Sparks; it also published The Bridges of Madison County—not an obvious choice for foreign readers, and will do the sequel. This year's discoveries include Luanne Rice, Douglas Kennedy and Takashi Matsuoka (Cloud of Sparrows, an upcoming Delacorte release). In nonfiction Sperling does Nicholas Negroponte and David Weinberger (Small Pieces Loosely Joined) and, on its well-known business list (30 titles per annum), Spencer Johnson's Who Moved My Cheese? Hillary Clinton's autobiography will also be coming out under Sperling & Kupfer colors.
Tanzi tries to get world rights for her best Italian writers, sometimes for non-Italians, too (like Russian crime writer Boris Akunin, whom she sold expensively to Random House and to the movies. There are nine books in the first Akunin series, and at Frankfurt last year, Tanzi gathered all of the foreign publishers to whom she had sold them in order to coordinate strategies.
All told, there are some 150 new titles annually at Sperling, another 40 at Frassinelli, the upscale sister imprint (Toni Morrison, Peter Carey, Richard Flanagan and similar fare from neighboring European and Israel (Meir Shalev), even from Africa. Blockbusters sell more copies than ever for Tanzi. "The challenge is to find new things—and they can come from anywhere, in any genre." She mentions a Latin American writer living in Australia whom she tracked through a Spanish friend; she acquired the books sans scout or agent—and sold them incredibly.
Although largely autonomous, Sperling and Frassinelli do have the benefit of Mondadori distribution and its rapidly expanding bookstore chain (expanding in part thanks to its franchising policy).
The Range at Rizzoli
Then there's that other giant, Rizzoli, also an amalgam of trade imprints, sharing headquarters with another mammoth periodical group (this one including Italy's prestigious daily Corriere della Sera). In addition to the flagship logo, the group includes Bompiani for quality; Fabbri for children's books and illustrated nonfiction; Sonzogno for commercial fiction; Nuova Italia for the schools; children's publisher La Coccinella; La Tribuna for law—and recently acquired (51%) Marsilio in Venice, known for upscale literature, art and architecture, urbanism and history. And don't forget the 48% stake in Milan's highbrow Adelphi (profiled further along in this article) and the takeover—a couple of years back—of France's Flammarion group.
PW talks to Rizzoli editorial director Rosaria Carpinelli, whose imprint covers the waterfront—Italian and translated works, the fiction ranging from the prestigious John Irving to the popular Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum—in all, some 200 new titles a year. Carpinelli's principal competitor is, of course, Mondadori, and she is convinced that in recent times, her group's renewed energy, combined with better coordination with Rizzoli magazines and daily Corriere, have given them a leg up—and gotten them some important authors. Having the famous BUR reprint line doesn't hurt either. Indeed, the fact that BUR is controlled by the Rizzoli trade house—thus by Carpinelli—allows her to get the most out of her books and authors.
This was one of the houses that wasn't affected negatively by September 11; in fact, the bad news from America stimulated the demand for serious books. Benny Morris's 940-page Righteous Victims made it to the bestseller lists, as did the Michael Hardt/Antonio Negri book on globalization. And then there was Oriana Fallaci with Rage and Pride—which moved a million copies in Italy. It made it to the top of the list in France too, despite or thanks to attempts to have it banned because of its anti-Muslim thesis.
Carpinelli is one of those who is following a recent Italian phenomenon closely: the release of inexpensive but reliable editions of contemporary classics on the newsstands along with two daily newspapers—the newspapers being the best, La Repubblica and Corriere della Sera. The books are priced at 4.90 euros (now worth a bit more than that in U.S. dollars); in fact La Repubblica gave away the first selection—the Bompiani edition of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose—to the tune of 1.2 million copies.
On another floor of Rizzoli group headquarters building, PW meets Bompiani's publisher, Mario Andreose. Andreose wants it known that he also does quality writers who deserve to become better known, such as Sandro Veronesi, whose Viareggio Prize novel will be translated in the U.S. by Ecco Press. Veronesi's book has already achieved bestsellerdom in Germany, France and the Netherlands.
And, of course, Bompiani is also a translating imprint., with 70 new titles each year; mostly fiction. Yet Andreose doesn't minimize nonfiction: he published Kershaw's Hitler; and: A Dictionary of Fascism is forthcoming.
The Personal Touch at Adelphi
Adelphi is representative of a rapidly disappearing phenomenon, at least in the major publishing countries: a personal imprint whose publisher is also a respected intellectual and novelist—Roberto Calasso, of course—and whose personal tastes are sufficiently in tune with that of other intelligent readers to make a market. And he can publish in just about any genre.
Translations represent about 60% of his annual production (80-odd titles)—and, as elsewhere, the lion's share is from English. Of the total, some 15 books go into the Biblioteca Adelphi, 20 into the Piccola Biblioteca Adelphi, both highly collectible series that include all genres, from poems and classics to new fiction and memoirs. In the Classici series, Adelphi recently released one of the final volumes in its complete works of Nietzsche, and most books published under this imprint will seem even more obscure to the general reader. Note that backlist represents about 45% of total sales.
But Adelphi also found a place in the catalogue for the last novel by Muriel Spark (Aiding and Abetting); Oliver Sacks's memoir Uncle Tungsten, Glenway Westcott's The Pilgrim Hawk and Alan Bennett's novella The Laying of the Hands.
Calasso admits that Adelphi has had some very good years. "It doesn't mean that the market is ideal, but for us, it has been excellent." He mentions unexpected successes, such as Mordecai Richler's Barney's Version, with 200,000 copies sold in hardcover in Italian—meaning that it has done better in Italy than in the U.S. He did well with Milan Kundera's recent Ignorance (published first in Spain at the author's insistence, and then in Italy—before U.S. publication). But he has also made a success of Hungarian novelist Marai Sandor, whose fourth book has just been published (one of them, Embers, is to be a film).
A new wrinkle here is a line of children's books—a dedicated series (whereas in the past, children's titles were always one-shots). There will be three titles this first year, four or even five next year. Finally: an online magazine called Adelphiana, which Calasso launched at the American Academy in Rome in June with the help of Robert Silvers. And the best of the online material will also be published on paper—which the trade magazine Giornale della Libreria notes as an interesting switch on the usual process.
The Fast-Growing Messagerie Group
Italy's newest group has also been its fastest growing. The Messagerie Italiane publishing empire, which rescued a declining trade star, Longanesi, and recruited Milan's best publisher of his time (the late Mario Spagnol) to run it, has been growing steadily—first through acquisitions, and then by duplicating Spagnol's success in choosing list leaders. Longanesi, the flagship house, has long been the Italian imprint of Wilbur Smith (a bestselling Brit almost everywhere except in the U.S.), also of Jean Auel, Clive Cussler, James Patterson, Richard North Patterson, Elizabeth George. Latest wrinkle: nonfiction crime (with Ann Rule's A Stranger Beside Me). It's clear that translated books continue to sell well here as elsewhere, although bestseller lists published in the Italian press tend to confuse the matter by running separate listings for translations and Italian originals. ("If they didn't do that," an editor confided to PW, "translations would win every time.")
In the Longanesi constellation, Guanda is the group's literary line, employing skilled scouts to cream the best from the west. Upcoming is Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything Is Illuminated. Salani, the children's logo (majority-owned and edited by Mario Spagnol's son Luigi), has climbed to the top of its market by getting hold of the Harry Potter books ahead of its more powerful competitors.
Corbaccio, known for its New Age when New Age was in flower, now goes for historical fiction, romance, nonfiction adventure—as well as upmarket contemporary classic fiction in translation (Thomas Mann, Robert Graves, Louis-Ferdinand Céline). TEA is the imprint for paperbacks (with a growing list of originals). Then Superpocket, which has successfully met the challenge of publishing for the masses in a country where the masses don't buy many books. It has done this by fine-tuning (with a couple of new series, for example, called Best Thriller and Women & Co.). The imprint Ponte alle Grazie, part of the Salani sub-group, goes out for more sophisticated readers—making for a smaller reader base but a more dependable one. Finally, there is recently acquired Nord (acquired along with its founder-publisher), an imprint for fantasy and science fiction—thus filling some gaps, as if the group needed to fill gaps.
PW's envoy sits down here with an old friend, Stefano Mauri, CEO of Longanesi and the other imprints majority-owned by the Messaggerie group (also CEO of Vallardi, the pocket reference specialist not part of the Longanesi group). Mauri grew up in the Messaggerie Italiane family and was a student of the book economy before getting an opportunity to practice it. As a confirmed techie, he can't resist talking about Internet Bookshop.it, another one of the Messagerie's goodies, Italy's market leader in online book sales and not losing money. Mauri attributes this to cost-consciousness and eschewing advertising; what they have going for them is having been established ahead of the others. Messaggerie, whose core business is distribution, now controls its own bookstore group as well. Mauri says that these stores don't give special treatment to the Longanesi group's books, for that would not be the way to maximize sales in the chain.
If Stefano Mauri is the money man at Longanesi, Luigi Brioschi, president of the Guanda imprint, is publishing coordinator for all of the group's trade leaders (including Longanesi and Corbaccio). It's a sizable list, with 60 new titles at Longanesi each year, 50 to 60 more at Guanda, 40 at Corbaccio, and some 200 TEA paperbacks (original and reprint).
In scouting for the group, Brioschi spreads a wide net, which for a time hovered over new voices among British and Irish writers. Now he speaks of the renewed vitality of American literary fiction, giving as examples the aforementioned Jonathan Safran Foer (a Guanda pick) and Jonathan Franzen (whose The Corrections is on the Einaudi list.). He is also finding a school of new fiction in Scandinavia, and Australia is another place where something seems to be happening.
Reference Is Key at Garzanti
Garzanti Libri is now a stand-alone company, 80%-owned by Messaggerie Italiane but not attached to Longanesi. It's a general publisher, just as it was when Garzanti was a family empire, except that the direct-to-consumer multi-volume reference division is now part of the Utet group (which itself should soon be part of De Agostini: see later in this report).
Importantly for Garzanti Libri, it has kept the Garzantine, the single-volume paperback encyclopedias in softcover that seem to be indispensable (to judge from people's bookshelves). There are now 29 titles in print, in subjects including philosophy, history, music, the fine arts, literature, religion, myths and symbols, science and medicine. Among the 29 is an Enciclopedia Universale, the latest edition of which runs to 1,728 pages (priced at about $35).
Equally important, through all the recent changes, Garzanti has been able to hold onto its publisher, Gianandrea Piccioli, and he has managed to keep both program and image intact. He oversees some 120 new titles annually (and twice that number of new editions, for this is eminently a backlist house). After all, Garzanti is the imprint of one of the giants of contemporary Italian letters, Carlo Emilio Gadda. It also publishes Samuel P. Huntington's The Clash of Civilizations in an active backlist running to 234 pages. The list also features nine titles by Chaim Potok, seven by Peter Handke, five by Henry Roth—and an even dozen books by Michael Crichton, Garzanti's past, present and future best claim to a niche on bestseller lists.
Feltrinelli: The Saga Continues
It's worth remembering that the current structure of the Feltrinelli group, with innovative publishing of literature and ideas attuned to the personal taste of the publisher, and the book division linked to a chain of retail stores also structured and decorated to the publisher's personal taste, was the conception of the house's founder, Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, half a century ago.
The early years were turbulent; backed by family money, Giangiacomo could indulge not only his literary tastes but his politics. When he struck it right, as in defying his Communist friends by securing and then publishing Boris Pasternak's samizdat Dr. Zhivago, or when he turned his back on literary trends by taking a chance with a heretofore unknown Sunday writer's posthumous romantic novel—Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's The Leopard—Feltrinelli put himself and his company on the world map. (Both books were the Frankfurt Fair books in successive years, 1957 and 1958.) Then, when Feltrinelli turned from his publishing mission to indulge his ideological fantasies in Italy's years of terror, he abandoned and nearly destroyed his publishing empire (also managing to destroy himself, apparently during preparations for a terrorist attack in 1972).
The years that followed weren't always good years, but the house survived, held together by Inge Feltrinelli's conviction that she was saving it for her son. And certainly, Carlo Feltrinelli has grown into one of Italy's leading publishers, combining taste and business sense. His group had its best year ever in 2001, in part because it captured most of the literary prizes that count in the bookshops. Almost as an afterthought, it took over the Rizzoli retail chain (36 shops covering the Italian peninsula, to add to the earlier acquisition from Bertelsmann of the Ricordi MediaStores, the country's leading vendor of music (23 points of sale in 18 cities).
Meanwhile, Carlo and Inge spurred expansion of the Feltrinelli bookstore network. In all, Feltrinelli's retail division controls 97 stores, including two prototypes of a multi-product chain called La Feltrinelli Libri & Musica.
Carlo Feltrinelli, now 40, receiving PW in the smallish offices that were his father's in the early years and then his mother's, defines the parameters of the trade list. There are some 80 new titles a year, divided rather evenly between fiction and nonfiction. Any recent prizes to speak of? "We don't go out for prizes," he insists. "We win some and lose some." He himself took a prize in Salzburg earlier this year for a biography of his father, thoughtful and scholarly, to be published in English by Harcourt this fall.
Feltrinelli seldom participates in bidding wars; its foreign list is sober (from English: Richard Sennett, Hannah Arendt, Doris Lessing, Jonathan Coe, Charles Bukowski, Nadine Gordimer, Amy Tan, J.G. Ballard, André Brink, Peter Brook). It maintains an impressive active backlist. A couple of years ago, the house launched a children's list (christened, simply, Feltrinelli Kids). More recently, Carlo has begun to introduce paperback originals (not always easy to distinguish from the regular trade list, for "we simply don't do hardcovers").
Despite a thriving business, no expansion is contemplated, although Feltrinelli did acquire a specialist publisher in information technology, Apogeo, which has a firm position in the schools—and for the moment publishes more titles than Feltrinelli does (most are translations or adaptations).
Luca Formenton, grandson of Arnoldo Mondadori, who was founder of the publishing group, wasn't old enough to have played a part in his grandfather's empire when it was still owned by the founding dynasty (although he has kept a connection to it as vice-chairman of the Mondadori board of directors). Instead, Formenton rented modest offices in an old Milan neighborhood and set up a mini-group of his own; with Feltrinelli and Longanesi, he reminds us, it's one of the last of the family groups. His flagship logo is Il Saggiatore—a name inherited from his late uncle Alberto Mondadori, who had run an innovative social science house under that name.
Alongside Il Saggiatore, which Formenton has developed into a general publisher—his benchmark is Grove/Atlantic—the group includes Marco Tropea (edited by the veteran publisher of that name), targeting younger readers of fiction and nonfiction, and not fearing to be labeled commercial; finally, there is Pratiche, a logo for serious texts on parenting and psychological self-help.
Not quite finally, actually, for there is also a reprint line called NET (the capitals stand for "new paperback publisher" in Italian), most of whose books come from the group's backlist, although worthy backlist titles from elsewhere are welcomed. Actually, most of the group's original production is in softcovers, differing from NET releases only in format. Sagiattore produces 35 to 40 new books a year, Tropea 25 to 30, Pratiche 15; translations account for about three books in four on each of the lists.
An increasing number of translated novels are literary thrillers, and Saggiatore does quite well with them. (The example Formenton shows is by British writer Jake Arnott, produced in hardcover if you please.) A recent success at Marco Tropea was Fast Food Nation, which suits his anti-globalization readership fine. Luca Formenton latched on to Carlos Fuentes and does exceedingly well with him, and recently hosted a Fuentes tour of Italy (there are seven Fuentes novels in print here). He made a success of a collection of political essays by French new-philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy. "September 11 brought a boost to books here," Formenton comments. "It was the first time in the history of this country that a foreign event meant so much to us."
Branching Out at Piemme
When Piemme—originally a dedicated children's book publisher of Catholic orientation working out of Casale Monferrato (some 50 miles west of Milan)—expanded into general publishing, including adult fiction and nonfiction, its publisher, Pietro Marietti (the "Piemme," or P.M. of the logo) decided that he had better open a branch office in Italy's trade publishing capital. That branch has since become an impressive headquarters for the editorial staff, both of children's and adult books. The children's list occupies the ground floor, heavily encumbered with artifacts connected with Piemme's phenomenally successful mouse character Geronimo Stilton. (The character enabled Marietti and his associate Elisabetta Dami—Geronimo's creator—to launch what was billed as Italy's first e-book, Mio primo manuale di Internet, di Geronimo Stilton, winner of the first Children's e-Book Award at last year's Bologna fair.)
PW's envoy makes his way upstairs, to a quieter floor, to meet Mariagiulia Castagnone, recruited by Marietti when he decided to become a general publisher. She is now editorial director for adult books. She and editor Francesca Cristoffanini are responsible for 100 new releases each year, two-thirds of them fiction. Importantly, eight books in 10 are translations, mostly from English (No surprise to the visitor, who first met Castagnone when she was a translator from English.)
Piemme's star is Michael Connelly, whose print runs reach 100,000 copies. Other popular bylines are Carol O'Connell, George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane and Mark Billingham. Obviously, thrillers are big at Piemme. But Castagnone also did well with a literary author from Pakistan, Mohsin Hamid (Moth Smoke). On the for-women list: Jennifer Weiner's Good in Bed. Then there's historical fiction, with a pack of books by the U.K.'s Candace Robb. Note also Paul Doherty's The Soul Slayer, billed as "an historical thriller."
A commercial list, admittedly. But it explains why Mariagiulia Castagnone can say that Piemme has been having a very good 2002; she thinks they are performing better than most of their competitors. "Even Italian authors, who are usually difficult to sell when they aren't famous, are doing well for us."
De Agostini's Partworks Niche
As a trade publisher De Agostini may seem small potatoes, but can one ignore an industrial giant? Clearly the business of the De Agostini group is book publishing, but most of its production begins as partworks. One should say "until now," for De Agostini is about to get much bigger, with the acquisition of the majority share of Utet, Italian market leader in reference and professional books sold door-to-door. Note that both De Agostini—which celebrated its 100th anniversary last year—and Utet are family companies. (The latter would have remained so were it not for the recent death of its chairman and publisher, Gianni Merlini.)
PW calls at De Agostini's impressive headquarters in a Milan industrial zone, trying to remember that this is only a branch office (the sprawling main plant is in Novara, half way to Turin, and there are large publishing offices in France, Switzerland, Canada, the U.K., Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Japan and elsewhere). Here we speak with Chiara Boroli, who explains that while the group's bread and butter is partworks—and they now lead to distribution in book form, or via audiocassettes, videos, compact discs, CD-ROM/ DVDs and the Net—the group also produces traditionally formatted school books, children's books, large-sized illustrated books and travel guides—all destined for the trade. Still, with all that, trade represents only 5.4% of annual turnover.
When Utet is fully on board (and the sale is subject to approval by Italy's antitrust authority), the acquisition will become the instrument for increasing sales of books to supermarkets. As for the rights market, Chiara Boroli explains that De Agostini had acquired rights for children's and illustrated books in the past, eventually winding down the practice (because it was costly and didn't leave the acquiring publisher with any proprietary rights).
Now, however, the group is shopping for rights again—but more selectively—in illustrated projects and occasionally in children's books), scouting for them in Frankfurt, Bologna, even BEA. It is even buying some English-language books to republish in the original for Italian children learning the language at home or in school. De Agostini also has something to sell: a new line of fantasy utilizing historical characters and geographical sites, designed for the eight-years-and-up bracket, linked to an interactive Web site. It's unique to Italy, and apparently to the world, so De Agostini is offering adaptations to other countries and languages.