By Dennis Abrams
It’s not often that a publisher makes the pages of The New York Times Style Magazine, but Europa Editions has done it.
As Liesl Schillinger wrote, “…something improbable happened in the literary world: Europa Editions – a small, Italian-born publisher – became, of all things, a coveted intellectual brand. We don’t like to think a book’s cover matters too much, yet the decade-old press has somehow become as much a name as its authors.”
Readers post pictures on instagram flaunting their cultural sensibilities with pictures of Europa titles. And that kind of appeal has translated into sales: Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog has sold more than one million copies; Jane Gardam’s Old Filth is now in its 20th printing. And of course, there’s Elena Ferrante.
Schillinger writes that one of the elements that goes into making Europa a “brand” is that the books are immediately recognizable, “stiff paper covers edged with white borders that frame color-drenched matte backgrounds.”
Europa’s Australian-born editor in chief, Michael Reynolds, told the magazine that “When you see them all together, they draw you in like a bowl of candy.”
And that was intentional. Created by the Italian husband and wife publishing team Sandro Ferri and Sandra Ozzola Ferri (founders of the Roman independent publishing house Edizioni E/O); the two felt that since “their countrymen are notoriously unenthusiastic book readers,” what better way to encourage readers then to design “alluring covers to tempt reluctant Italian eyes.”
But again, you can’t judge a book solely by its covers. As Schillinger wrote:
“…what really distinguishes Europa from other publishers of successful titles is that readers — and book buyers — see the house and its authors as equally relevant. Early in 2006, when Europa Editions had been in existence for less than a year, Toby Cox, the owner of Three Lives & Company bookstore in Manhattan’s West Village, noticed that customers were already coming in and asking ‘What’s new from Europa?’ The press had succeeded in transforming spinach into chocolate — that is, in changing the idea of foreign fiction from ‘This is a translation’ to ‘This is a good story, well told,’ Cox says.”