Germany and Self-Publishing Today: Holtzbrinck’s Florian Geuppert

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

One of Germany’s major publishers offers two platforms to self-published authors—and one of them leads toward the traditional industry, not away from it.

Florian Geuppert

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘The Author Makes a Choice’
In Germany’s self-publishing sector of the industry, says Florian Geuppert, “there is still growth happening, in terms of titles, in terms of revenues.”

Having formerly managed BoD, Books on Demand, the oldest self-publishing platform in the country, Geuppert took on the role in 2015 of CEO for Holtzbrinck’s Digital Content Group. That places him in charge of, among other things, two of Germany’s major self-publishing platforms: epubli and neobooks.

Geuppert gives a keynote address on April 24 at Berlin’s Publishers’ Forum conference, focusing in his comments on business models and on centralized and decentralized content.

“In Germany,” Geuppert tells Publishing Perspectives, “we see the US market”—and to a somewhat lesser degree the UK market—”as more mature” in its self-publishing sector. Major indie sellers are not as prevalent in the German indie market yet, he says, as in the US. “The number of people who are really, really successful” with self-publishing, he says, “could be overlooked quite easily” in Germany at this point.

“The market is big enough for all of us right now. We try to keep focused on what we do best, as in neobooks, with our unique relationship to the publishing world.”Florian Geuppert

A key distinction between the German and US self-publishing markets, Geuppert agrees, is that the German market has developed with more platforms in the mix. Amazon and its Kindle Direct Publishing program is in place, of course. “But there also are more platforms that belong to some of the larger publishing companies,” he says, “like Holtzbrinck’s epubli and neobooks.

“And then Bastei Lübbe’s BookRix,” which offers self-publishing “for fantasy and fan-fiction and self-publishing. Then we have Amazon, of course, but also the Tolino system,” which has a self-publishing platform offer, using Holtzbrinck’s neobooks as its tech partner.

While in the States, of course, Amazon’s KPD is hardly alone—there also are IngramSpark, Kobo Writing Life, BookBaby, Smashwords, Macmillan’s Pronoun, Draft2Digital and many more platforms—the dominance of Amazon seen in the States’ indie picture is less a factor in the German market.

The Tolino Factor

Tolino, Geuppert says, has an important role to play in this. “Tolino said, ‘We want to offer the possibility to self-publish, just as at [Amazon’s] KDP, so the authors get a better share. And that worked out pretty well. Compared to other countries, I’d say the number of authors who sign up for KDP here in Germany is smaller, and that’s because of Tolino.”

Tolino was created in partnership with German booksellers. So where Amazon-produced content can run into resistance among some retailers, Tolino-produced content will not.

“The book trade and the retailers,” Geuppert says, “need the content that the people want to buy. So they offer their own platform, working together with partners like us” at Holtzbrinck. Getting self-publishers into print and into bookstores, Geuppert says, remains a hurdle for German indies as it does for their American and British counterparts. IngramSpark at this point appears to be the leader in that area in English-language settings, using its familiarity with booksellers to distribute indie-produced print work. Geuppert says that in Germany—in offering print and POD (print on demand) as well as ebook production—epubli, neobooks, and other platforms offer physical retail presence for self-published books, as IngramSpark does.

“I’m still looking forward to the day,” Geuppert says, “when we see the first big sales” for a self-published author in print. “It could be in nonfiction, you know. I think there’s so much potential, there’s still room for someone to sell a lot of books, maybe on special nutrition” or other areas of nonfiction.

“For the author right now,” Geuppert says, “I think it’s the perfect moment because we have these options.” He thinks, however, that there’s room for some consolidation ahead. “I’d think we’re going to see that, maybe in the next years.”

Florian Geuppert onstage at Publishers’ Forum 2016 in Berlin. Image: Publishers’ Forum, Sven Serkis

Self-Publishing ‘To Find a Publisher’

What may be something that other trade publishers and indies want to look at is Holtzbrinck’s double play in the indie market. Its epubli and neobooks platforms are purposefully distinct.

“With epubli,” Geuppert says, “we want to make it as easy as possible to self-publish. That’s the promise we give to the author. We have a very good contract for the author, he has all the rights, he gets an ISBN free.

“With neobooks,” by contrast, “we’ve tried to make use of our strengths as a publishing house. So at neobooks, we offer a self-published author who’s ambitious and really wants to be published by a traditional publisher, a chance to find a publisher within the Holtzbrinck world. We do the match-making.

“The author, by uploading the file, can sell the book as a self-publisher. But then we also look into the database and we make proposals to our publishers. We say, ‘Look at this discovery from neobooks.’ We provide the connection. And this makes neobooks ‘the easiest way to find a publishing house,’ as we like to say.”

And before you assume that this is yet another case of a publisher saying that it will monitor a self-publishing division’s output but without much result, Geuppert tells Publishing Perspectives that Holtzbrinck imprints now have published more than 200 titles that came through the neobooks process.

In Germany, Geuppert says, most self-publishing platforms offer a 70-30 percent royalty split, similar to the situation in English-language markets. Particularly in print, the margin, Geuppert says, might be lower than on Amazon because net is being affected by Holtzbrinck’s use of its distribution channels into physical retailers (as opposed to Amazon’s online presence).

“But we make sure your book is sold on Tolino, on Apple, on Amazon, everywhere,” he says. “We do the distribution for wholesale, a full service. That puts one more [entity] in the chain. So if there might be more margin on Amazon, there are more [distribution] channels with us. The author makes a choice.”

The company can’t guarantee a contract, of course, Geuppert cautions, “and there are only so many slots” at each publishing wing within the Holtzbrinck universe. But the “really good track record” at neobooks—and the very centricity of this idea of this particular platform being a gateway to potential publishing contracts—would surely find a lot of interest among indies in many markets of the world, not just in Germany.

“What we say to the author,” Geuppert says, “is that you can either send  your manuscript to four or five publishers and wait for a response, or you can upload your file to us” at neobooks “and sell the first books, get feedback from the readers. And within this process, you can show yourself directly to the editors of well-known publishing houses. It’s a good way for the publishers to get talent within the Holtzbrinck group. And it’s a good way for authors to make the first step toward becoming a part of the publishing world.

“For us, this is a strategic thing,” Geuppert says, “but also a very different proposition than we offer at epubli” from the stance of authors, as well.

‘Room for All of Us’
“[Neobooks is] a good way for publishers to get talent within the Holtzbrinck group. And for authors to make the first step toward becoming a part of the publishing world.”Florian Geuppert

Despite the presumed dominance of a major player like Amazon, Germany is a growing self-publishing market, mostly in ebooks, that isn’t overcrowded with platform offerings.

“If neobooks and epubli weren’t there,” Geuppert says, “then BoD would probably make more indie books. Or Amazon would.

“But the market is big enough for all of us right now.

“We try to keep focused on what we do best, as in neobooks, with our unique relationship to the publishing world.”

Florian Geuppert’s comments at Publishers’ Forum, April 24 and 25 in Berlin, will be part of a thematic section of the conference about new business models that result from digital developments. More information is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident fellow of Trends Research & Advisory, and he has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.