Report compiled by Tom Chalmers, Managing Director at IPR License
This month, in the continuation of our regular series with global rights platform IPR License, we also look at Greece. Just how the country’s economic difficulties have filtered through to book buyers and sellers is a very interesting one. It remains a market which does not necessarily follow many of the more general publishing trends, which makes it a fascinating, unique and obviously very challenging industry for domestic publishing houses and international rights buyers and sellers.
Below, London-based Literary Scout Lucy Abrahams discusses the Greek publishing industry in a new post-crisis era and how it is coping with challenges surrounding book pricing and the lack of clarity surrounding fixed price law.
The Greek publishing industry caters to just a fraction of the eleven-million-strong population, with a hard-core readership of perhaps only 10,000. It is settling into a new post-crisis era, in which one of the greatest challenges is book pricing. Readers’ expectations (and circumstances) have altered; they now think in terms of Amazon prices and wait for book bazaars in which titles that are more than two years old, (and therefore eligible to be discounted), are sold for one or two euros or in deals promoted by the Sunday newspapers. These initiatives, fueled by publishers’ need for quick cash, have resulted in a reluctance on the part of book-buyers to splash out on new titles, in the hope that they’ll pick them up for next to nothing in a few years. Added to this is the lack of clarity around recent changes to the fixed price law in Greece, which is vague enough to cause much confusion over which books are protected (for example, what constitutes a literary book?), and for how long, leaving room for interpretation by publishers and booksellers alike.
Another huge challenge has been the overnight closure of the National Book Centre (EKEVI) following allegations of scandal. It was responsible for organizing the Greek translation subsidies, as well as matters pertaining to book fairs (Greece’s presence at Frankfurt, as well as the Thessaloniki Book Fair), some of which has now been taken over by the Hellenic Foundation for Culture.
There is no unified bestseller list in Greece, with book chains publishing their own lists on their websites, although the absence of sales figures means their credibility is disputed. Although there is currently much attention focused on a new generation of young Greek writers who are mainly penning novellas and short stories, (and who may in fact be of interest to international editors), Greek publishers remain committed to foreign fiction, so most important titles are eventually translated. In Greek, 25% is added to the length of an English text so translation costs are always a factor. Piracy is increasingly a concern, particularly as the ebook market evolves. However, ebooks currently represent only 1% of the market, due in large part to the 23% VAT charged on them (as compared to 6.5% on printed books), making it difficult to price them at the level customers expect. Tablets are only just becoming affordable and kindles are mostly ordered via Amazon US as very few Greek shops stock e-readers.
Greek Reading and Publishing Culture
There isn’t much of a reading group culture in Greece. The audience for literary fiction is generally pretty small, with the average first and only print run at about 2,000 copies (and the average advance around €2,000), with more successful titles reaching bestseller status around the 10,000 copy mark. Many publishers have been reduced to operating almost as vanity publishers, with debut novelists at even respected houses having to pay to have their works published. There has also been a wave of older reissues, often a result of publishing houses being unable to honor contracts during the crisis and now having to make do with Greek literature and cheap foreign titles available in the public domain. Many established international authors have moved house in the past few years, and are much sought after due to the lower perceived risk.
However, the publishers with the greatest market share, such as Patakis, Psichogios (historically the publisher most associated with commercial fiction, now expanding its literary program), Metaichmio (most associated with Scandinavian crime) and Dioptra (who publish quite a lot of foreign crime fiction, self-help and cookbooks), are still doing relatively well, and new publishers are coming through. Publishing is still alive and kicking, but new titles do not stay on the shelves for very long before they are replaced.
Foreign Bestsellers and Local Hits
Currently prevailing in the various bestseller lists are Police by Jo Nesbo, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, The Festival of Insignificance by Milan Kundera, The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli, Adultury by Paolo Coelho, Dear Life by Alice Munro, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang and The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker. Women’s commercial fiction (“pink literature,” as it is called in Greece), is thriving as ever, although there is a general feeling that sales have dropped quite considerably. Arguably the most successful Greek author of all time, Lena Manta, writes romantic women’s fiction and there are more than 1,000,000 copies of her books in print. Crime fiction is also doing well, with the Scandinavian trend still going strong, and French crime also gaining traction. There is a renewed interest in history, memoir and other non-fiction genres. Other than for romance titles, there is no tradition of mass market editions in Greece, (it’s mostly a trade paperback market), but Metaichmio has recently launched a new line which, if successful, could prove to be a game changer.