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France vs. Google, Amazon, and Apple

posted January 21, 2010

Posted by Thomas Riggs in Bookselling E-books books publishing technology world literature

Nicolas Sarkozy - Meeting in Toulouse for the ...

French President Nicolas Sarkozy; image by guillaumepaumier via Flickr

Imagine the plight of the French. They want to protect their language and culture. They have what many consider to be one of the most beautiful languages, and their literary history is rich. From Molière to Flaubert to Sartre, the French have given much to the world.

Unfortunately for those who think literature is more than mere Internet “content” to attract advertising dollars, the times are changing quickly. Google is in the process of digitizing every book it can (admittedly to the great benefit of people who don’t have the resources otherwise to obtain certain texts), and soon Google and other American companies, such as Amazon and Apple, might dictate the publishing terms of books both old and new worldwide.

Faced with the possibility of losing control of its literary heritage, the French are mulling over possibilities. Even the conservative French president Nicolas Sarkozy—who has been called “Sarko l’Américain” for his pro-American sentiments—is concerned. He recently said of Google, “We won’t let ourselves be stripped of our heritage to the benefit of a big company, no matter how friendly, big or American it is.” He said France would finance its own book digitization program.

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Where We Live Online

posted October 26, 2009

Posted by Erin Brown in social media trends

In the last couple of years, Facebook has eclipsed MySpace as the world’s most popular social networking site. Facebook now has 95 million active users, compared with only about 65 million on MySpace.

What’s more interesting than these numbers is the way that users of the sites appear to break down along demographic lines. In an NPR story that aired on 10/21, students at an elite private high school in San Francisco explained that Facebook is “safer and more high class” than MySpace, which is “trashy.”

Another group of San Francisco teenagers—the mostly Latino, mostly lower-income students in an art class at a community gallery called Southern Exposure—had a different take on the difference between the two sites. As 19-year-old Diego Luna put it,

“I have friends who are white . . . They are my white people friends and they are mostly on Facebook. That’s why I use Facebook. My brown people are on MySpace.”


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From France, Love Letters to Booksellers

posted October 23, 2009

Posted by Thomas Riggs in Bookselling E-books books publishing technology trends

Lettres à mon libraire

What is the biggest challenge for publishers and bookstores today? The simple answer, of course, is that people are buying fewer books, and when they do buy books, it’s increasingly online. But it’s not as if people are reading less. They might, in fact, be reading more, except now they have a new option: free content in the ever expanding virtual world of the Internet.

I sometimes think of this as an American phenomenon. In the United States attention spans are getting shorter and shorter, and people seem more interested in reading blogs or watching strangers lip sync on YouTube than doing something as sedate and tedious as reading a novel. But I was discouraged to learn recently that in France, too, book buying is on the decline.

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Europa Knows: It’s a Branding Thing

posted April 29, 2009

Posted by Erin Brown in book design books publishing world literature

One last thing about Europa Editionsand I won’t be the first to mention itis that they’ve done a terrific job of creating brand identity. First off, the name Europa is well-chosen, I think. It carries a certain sophistication and seems to lend the allure of travel to their books. Somehow, it makes literature in translation seem a bit sexy.

But the most distinguishing thing about Europa is the books themselveswhich is to say that you can spot one from a mile away. All of their titles are released in trade paperback (common among many European publishers) with handsome French flaps, which give the books a sleek and elegant feel. And every cover bears Europa’s signature stork logo. Many of their covers feature bold images that are cut out against brightly colored backgrounds.

dettaglio_50-timeskipper2 dettaglio_28-wolf dettaglio_60-hedgehog

A recent discussion on The Book Design Review suggests that there is little consensus about the cover designs themselves. While some who commented appreciated the spareness and eyecatching images on many of the covers, others found them boring and somehow dated looking. In spite of people’s aesthetic differences on this point, however, there seems to be no dispute about the fact that Europa’s books are immediately recognizable.

“They attract me because I know they’re Europa titles,” one commenter confessed. That pretty much says it all.

Europa’s “Retro” Model

posted April 24, 2009

Posted by Erin Brown in books publishing world literature

In light of all that has happened in publishing in recent decades, it seems that the essence of the “retro” publishing model at Europa Editions is its focus on the quality of the text itself—language, characters, and story—and a staunch belief in the inherent salability of good literature.


Some hallmarks of Europa’s retro style:

  • A decorated industry veteran at the helm. Europa is headed by Kent Carroll, who served for 12 years as editor-in-chief at the legendary Grove Press (which had transformed the American literary consciousness during the 1950s and 1960s with authors like Samuel Beckett, Henry Miller, and William Burroughs) before establishing his own highly esteemed company, Carroll & Graf.
  • A commitment to building their readership from the ground up. Whereas the “new” (post-conglomerate takeover) publishing model is predicated on the expectation that a book should have a built-in market of thousands before it’s even released, Europa is committed to capturing the attention of reviewers and winning the respect and loyalty of independent booksellers.
  • Low overhead. In the wake of the conglomerate takeovers, many publishers—who used to behave like college professors—came down with a kind of corporate fever. Midtown offices got big and glitzy, salaries and expense accounts followed suit. At Europa Mr. Carroll is the only full-time employee. He operates out of a modest office in Union Square, New York, with one freelance assistant and a couple of unpaid interns.
  • Maximizing value. Another feature of the “new” publishing era is the practice of paying exorbitant advances to authors whose books are expected to sell big. A great many of these books do not reap the returns, and publishers lose out in the deal. By all comparisons, translation rights are cheap, even for some of the most acclaimed international authors. The less Europa has to spend on acquiring rights to foreign works that have already proven successful in their original languages, the more they can invest in publicity and marketing in the United States.

Next time I’ll look at another thing Europa’s doing right—not necessarily retro, just good business sense.