By Roger Tagholm
David Cornwell, better known by his pen name John le Carré, laments the removal of retail price maintenance on books and regrets lending his support to the campaign for its abolition. He made the admission in his keynote address at German publisher Ullstein’s grand 50th birthday party in Berlin last Sunday, where he was guest of honor at the invitation of Siv Bublitz, Ullstein Publisher & CEO. The speech, delivered in impeccable German, concluded with a paean of praise for German publishing and for the respect it is accorded in Germany.
“Some years back I unthinkingly gave my support to the removal of all restrictions on the retail pricing of books. It was in retrospect a dreadful mistake. At one stroke the British publishing industry delivered itself into the hands of the mass-marketeers—and a death blow to the beleaguered independent bookseller.”
He believes differing attitudes to publishing in the UK and Germany are partly explained by “our separate attitudes to vocational training. In Britain, I never heard of anyone taking a degree in publishing, or even a course in it, although I hear these things are not possible . . . Too often, despite revolutionary advances in technology, British publishing remains the last outpost of the enlightened amateur—but without the protection from predatory market forces that such amateurism is supposed to provide.
“But German publishing, as I have come to know it, is made of stronger stuff. It knows its worth and the worth of its readership. And best of all, it is an industry tempered by its own dark history…Nobody knows better the value of free speech than those who’ve been deprived of it . . . Siv, we are the grateful beneficiaries of your resurrected House of Ullstein. We drink to you.”