By Edward Nawotka
Grupo Planeta CEO Jesús Badenes is not afraid of the internet: “It would be easy to reduce the internet to mere diffusion, but that is too easy. The e-book phenomenon is not a Trojan horse, but it must be approached with the highest degree of common sense.”
Addressing the opening press conference at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and later in an exclusive interview with Publishing Perspectives, Badenes spoke on a wide range of topics—quoting writers ranging from Lao Tzu to Leo Tolstoy to Paolo Coelho—all before landing firmly on the emerging rivalry between American and European publishers with regard to digitization.
He remarked that the Spanish book market was growing 4-5% per year due to the sale of “super bestsellers, such as Stieg Larsson and Stephenie Meyer,” while the American market appeared stagnant [which is false—sales have grown more than 2% this year thus far in the United States].
Badenes drew a line between European and American publishers, paraphrasing George Steiner, saying “History is dominated by fatalism, which leads to literature. It is something that is different than the American dream.” The result, he said, was “Generally speaking, European houses are more art and content focused, while US companies are more scientific and distribution focused.”
In addressing the controversial Google Book Settlement and Google Book Search, he pointed out that, “In Spain, no publishing house has more than 20% market share; while Google has 97% market share. Google or Amazon are much stronger than most publishing companies, it puts negotiations on difficult terms, but negotiate is what we must do. We must prepare ourselves for the circumstances and negotiate.” He, like many Europeans, is especially opposed to Google’s opt-out strategy, which he called a “napalm approach” and stated that participating in Google Book Search should be “a free and not compulsory choice.”
Badenes continued, adding that “Google must develop its local sensitivity and respect local property laws.”
He went on to praise his company’s decision to partner with Santillana and Random House Mondadori in the creation of a single e-book distribution platform for Spanish language publishers, later pointing out to Publishing Perspectives, that the platform will be “inclusive of all publishers, large and small,” but that there would be a distinction between “those who were shareholders and those who were clients.”
Asked what most excited him about the future, he remarked: “Convergence is the word on everybody’s lips. It remains to be seen how this will play out in the book world, but it is worth watching and, in some ways, is a very exciting opportunity for the publishers.”
Ultimately, he asserted, publishers still have an important role to play in our newly digitized world: “We advance payments in order to give writers time to write. We finance the professional book experience; we fight for space in the bookstores. We make the market for books and have interdependence with the content creators. It would be a grave mistake to undervalue the publishers.”