How much do self-published books earn
Is starting a publishing company a literary kamikaze?
In the past, said Daniel Kampa in a recent interview, it was difficult to make money with good books. Today, according to the 47-year-old, it is not easy even with bad ones. Kampa, who grew up in Germany, Luxembourg and France, should know. At the age of 16 he wrote an indignant letter to Diogenes Verlag, in which he criticized the cover design of the books. Instead of the Tomi Ungerer drawings that Kampa loved, Diogenes suddenly relied on the four-color images of paintings that still adorn the covers of the Zurich publishing house to this day.
Diogenes sent the indignant young reader a package of books and an invitation to Switzerland, where Kampa then worked for Diogenes for 20 years - most recently as a member of the management team. In 2013, the man with a Luxembourgish passport and a Polish mother tongue switched to the Hamburg publishing house Hoffmann und Campe as a publisher, which under his management posted record sales in 2014 and celebrated one of the most successful years in its history in 2016 with eight top ten bestsellers.
When it became known in 2017 that Kampa was founding its own publishing house, the next bang followed. This is also because the current owner of the publisher announced the edition of the complete works of the former Diogenes author Georges Simenon. The fact that Kampa-Verlag wants to be more than just a Simenon platform is shown by the first publishing program with three literary titles as well as the series "Kampa Salon" (discussions with Susan Sontag, Jorge Luis Borges, among others) and "Der kleine Gatsby" (with narrower books, such as Simenons Letter to my mother or Ferdinand von Saar's novella Lieutenant Burda).
DEFAULT: First the e-book, then Amazon, now the dwindling readership, the book market seems to be in a permanent crisis?
Kampa: The patient book has always felt bad, with changing ailments. Today everyone is staring into their smartphones or is addicted to Netflix instead of reading. A hundred years ago, when Léon Bloy complained to his publisher about the low sales of his books, he replied: "What do you want, since people have become enthusiastic about bicycles, they have run out of time to read" In 1926, Samuel Fischer formulated that the book was one of the most expendable items in everyday life, because people now do sports, dance, go to the cinema - but no longer read. In 1949 the time a series "Why book crisis?", as if Germany had no other problems after the war. It is true that the sales figures are not good today and the decline in readership is worrying. But the book, which has been declared dead, will - as always - survive.
DEFAULT: Will it survive as a commodity or as a cultural asset?
Kampa: In the fall, I'm bringing out a volume of conversations with Peter Bichsel in which he thinks a lot about writing and reading. When asked whether there is less reading today, Bichsel replies: "It is not the readers who have left the book market, but the non-readers. The books that are no longer bought today are the books that used to stand around unread on the shelves." The fact is that the book is no longer a status symbol, but now there is the opera or the game of golf. For Bichsel, readers were a minority. The biggest competition of the book is not other media, but the lack of time. And the lack of silence you need to read.
DEFAULT: And the book trade? He's under pressure too.
Kampa: A bookstore is and will always be the best advertising space for a book. Even the most commercial bookstore is still a cultural institution. The death of the book trade in recent years is alarming. Every surface that disappears is a huge loss. When a bookstore closes, it's not that the remaining bookstores in town sell more books. No, the turnover is lost. That is why every initiative that promotes and supports the book trade is important. Reading promotion necessarily means promotion of the book trade.
DEFAULT: In the middle of the crisis you found a new publishing house. That's a strong statement.
Kampa: Nor should this be understood as a literary kamikaze. I do the publishing for myself - and because all I can do is make books. Of course, such a start-up entails risks, we have to sell books and live off of them. I am optimistic. I want to have small structures so that we can also afford books that may only sell 1,000 or 2,000 copies at the beginning, but for a long time. Long sellers are better than best sellers. We also need bestsellers to cross-finance less successful books. Today nobody talks about 50,000 or 100,000 copies anymore, over 10,000 copies sold are a success. The number of copies is falling, sales can only be maintained by increasing prices. The structures of many publishers will change over the next few years.
DEFAULT: So does the future of literature lie with small publishers?
Kampa: Large publishing houses that have to maintain certain machines, have return targets and - to put it bluntly - also have to finance management and company cars, such publishers dare less and less. Less and less, you risk publishing an unknown author - or something special that is not mainstream. Many publishers play it safe and also treat their resources poorly by quickly dropping authors if they are not profitable. You can tell that more and more small publishers are taking care of large, forgotten authors.
Default: Your publishing house has a strong Simenon focus. Can publishers survive without the crime thriller rating?
Kampa: I think so. There are publishers who are successful even though they don't do crime novels. Check out Mare Publishing, which makes beautiful books. Or no and buts - they are also successful without crime novels. But you are right insofar as if you intend to build a publishing house according to certain economic goals, you cannot avoid crime novels. But it is important that you cannot work against yourself. For example, I like to read crime novels. I don't think a publisher who doesn't appreciate crime fiction can do it well. You have to have a knack for it - and a passion.
DEFAULT: Do you see self-publishing as a danger for publishers?
Kampa: Not at all. It is a good solution for those who are dying to get a book published and cannot get it published by a publisher. There are also authors whose self-published books were later published by a "real" publisher. Many self-publishing authors dream of it. And most of the time, it's not just about holding a printed book in their hands. "To the happy few" was the motto of some of Stendhal's novels. On the other hand, Goethe said that if you don't want to reach a million readers, you don't even need to start writing. I think even the most literary writer wants his books to be read. He not only wants to write, he also wants readers, only they bring the book to life. Without a reader, a book is just printed paper. (Stefan Gmünder, July 29, 2018)
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