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Book trade hit by newspaper cheap books

Published on 31/03/2004

31 March 2004

HAMBURG – A promotional scheme by a German daily has angered booksellers and galvanized readers who are not used to special offers as inducements to buy newspapers.

In a reflection of declining newspaper readership in Germany, the Munich-based Suddeutsche Zeitung last week began offering hard-cover classics of 20th century fiction, one per week, at about a third of the bookseller price.

It would have been an unremarkable offer in Spanish-speaking nations, where special offers are a regular part of the promotional arsenal. But in Germany, newspapers are always the pure thing.

Hans Werner Kilz, editor of the Sueddeutsche, which is the second-biggest-selling national daily after Bild, said Friday more than 30,000 readers promptly ordered the entire 50-book collection in advance.

Many others ordered a month’s supply in advance, meaning 2.8 million books firmly ordered.

Many booksellers are furious at what they consider a form of dumping. After all, the same classics, such as Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”, are on sale in most regular shops.

“Some publishing houses refused to sell books to us,” said Thomas Steinfeld, the chief literary editor of the newspaper. “They were worried it would harm the book trade. Now that they have seen what demand is like, I hope they become more supportive.”

At the Leipzig Book Fair, Steinfeld denied the newspaper was cannibalizing regular book sales.

“These are all books that would hardly sell at all otherwise,” he said. “They have all had several cycles of exploitation already. So it is just icing on the cake for the trade.”

Readers around Germany have evidently been impressed at the prospect of gaining a bookshelf of colour-matched hardbacks chosen by the respected literary critics of the Sueddeutsche.

Chosen titles include US author Paul Auster’s “City of Glass”, Italian novelist Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose”, German Nobel laureate Guenter Grass’s “Cat and Mouse”, and 19th-century British writer Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray”.

Since most of the novels will only be on sale at news-stands for a few days, there is also pressure to hurry for the bargain. Readers are not obliged to buy a copy of the Sueddeutsche at the same time.

German newspaper sales have been steadily falling in recent years at the same time as the number of television viewers has grown.

According to Der Spiegel in January, fourth-quarter figures from the IVW circulation reporting agency showed average sales of the Sueddeutsche off 0.3 percent to 437,000. Bild lost 3.5 percent of sales to 3.812 million, the figures showed.



Subject: German News