Friday, 31 January 2014

What’s Happening In Germany?

Three movers and shakers from the German market talk about the explosion in self-published books and general trends in the German book market.

Birgit Kluger is the bestselling author of mystery/ChickLit novel Trau niemals einem Callboy! With her fantasy novel Creatures of Fire: Demons die harder, Birgit Kluger launched her first English ebook under her pen name J.B. Brooklin. She soon realised that marketing in the English book market is very different from marketing in Germany, which is why she wrote Going Global.

Matthias Matting is a journalist and author of more than 30 books in six languages. He runs, the top site for self-publishing in Germany. An English-language edition of his ebook How to Publish in Germany is available now.

Susanne Weigand is the English editor of reader website xtme. “English xtme is about good free English ebooks on
We daily select fine free books for our German users. We really look at books, read samples and reviews and have a look at author’s websites and blogs. Every book gets a presentation with a short introduction and links to download them. We only select the best, intent on keeping our readers happy.”

The German book market is changing fast. What do you see as the key shifts happening now?

Susanne: Germany has always been very proud of having a lot of independent bookshops with very well read and supportive booksellers. Those have come for years under a lot of pressure by big book chains and Amazon. Ironically the big book chains are now getting rid of lot of their megastores; there might be a small chance for the independents there.

In 2013 three of the big players in the book market, Thalia, Weltbild (with Hugendubel) and Bertelsmann Buchclub and Deutsche Telekom launched the Tolino, an e-Reader to help them snatch some market share from Amazon in the eBook market. They did quite well but on 3 Jan 2014, Weltbild filed for bankruptcy (for various reasons, the too big stores mentioned above are part of the story). Exactly one week later Deutsche Telekom announced they would give up their ebook-store, and wouldn’t sell the Tolino anymore, neither online nor in their stores. They will go on working on the technical side of the Tolino eReaders and tablets. While PagePlace was never a big player on the German eBook market, this announcement only one week after Weltbild was thrown into a very uncertain future one big question remains: Will Amazon ultimately be the big winner or will the Tolino-Alliance and other booksellers be able to hold their market-share or even get a bigger part of the market?

Birgit: For authors promoting their books, key shifts are that free promotions on Amazon don’t have the impact they used to have. Due to this many authors now switch to promoting their books with a reduced price, such as 99 Cents.

Also – against all predictions – Indie authors have succeeded in gaining a foothold in the top 100 Amazon ebook charts. What many viewed as a short term trend has in fact established itself as normal. I just had a look at the top 10 and 7 out of these 10 books are published by Indie authors. This is a huge success!

Other ebook stores apart from Amazon are gaining market share. With the launch of the Tolino, other ebook stores such as, bü, etc. are selling more ebooks than before. I believe that Indie authors are well advised to get their books into these shops.

Let’s talk a little about the Tolino ereader and how you see it developing?

Matthias: This is actually quite an interesting phenomenon when seen from the business side – I don't know of any other country where all the important local bookstore chains have formed an alliance against the big Amazon. These companies are still competing for market share, but at the same time they all support their own ecosystem and are successfully selling it as more "open" than Amazon's Kindle world. This is actually a problem for Kobo - everywhere else they were able to form a local alliance, but not in Germany so they have a very low market share here despite selling great devices.

Why is it that so many Germans like to read in English?

: First of all English is in most schools the first foreign language and most Germans know at least some English. Who grows to loving the language will start to read and today it has become so easy! Every bookstore has a selection and then I am not even talking about the availability of e-books. But I think what it really got started was the huge success of the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling. When they started to become a hype you had to wait ages for the German translation. So people started to remember that they once had learned English and got the English copy… Another factor is pricing: the English (or American) version of a book is often so much cheaper that the difference can’t be explained by the costs of translation. And especially with the often long fantasy series we are talking real money here!

I have the impression the German-speaking publishing world is less focused on one city, unlike London, Paris and New York. There seem to be various hubs of activity, such as Frankfurt, Munich, Berlin and Zürich. Is that how you see it?

Matthias: I can actually see that from the visitor's data of my blog. Maybe it's simply because the distances are much shorter? I have already attended Self Publisher meetings in Berlin while I'm living in Munich. All in all, I see most activity in Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt and Munich which happen to be important for the "old" publishing world too. Also, the two book fairs in Leipzig and Frankfurt have recognized the potential of Self Publishing and are successfully inviting independent authors with their own discussion threads and events.

Germany’s “Preisbindung” (fixed prices) makes the bookselling field rather more equal than in the UK and US. Do you think it’s a good thing?

: Well, it makes the daily life of a publisher (and a self publisher too) more difficult because you have to synchronize all your price reductions for all stores – it wouldn't be legal to sell a book cheaper at one store than at the other. But all these stores are working with different speed and efficiency so you always have to fight with different prices. That’s the reason some authors prefer to stay with Amazon only – with the additional bonus of being able to use KDP Select. On the other hand, I think it's not a good idea to ignore 40 percent of the market forever. And even small bookstores are able to survive here because the large companies cannot outsell them with cheap prices. This keeps the market more diverse.

I read that 70,000 people have published their own books in Germany. Is there a supportive community of indie authors?

: Yes, there is. I can happily say that it centres a bit around the which I started just in early 2013 and which grew to 2000 daily visitors at the end of the year. But there are also indie author groups on Facebook (one I frequently use has 2000 members), there are author groups like qindie or ewriters on the web and there are events like the "Pub'n Pub" events taking place in a few cities or the "ebookcamps" in Hamburg and Munich.

Birgit: Yes, Facebook tends to be the place where one finds a lot of support. There are also some internet forums but Facebook is more popular since many authors check in every day to communicate with their readers and other authors.

I am a member of several groups and I really enjoy the supportive attitude most Indie authors show toward their peers.

How do German readers react to self-published books? What kind of genres are most popular?

: Oh, mixed messages! Some people are really angry at authors who have lured them into buying bad edited with bad grammar and virtually no spelling. Those have sworn never to touch a book again that doesn’t come from a publishing house. But there are a lot of self publishing authors who act very professionally and they rank very well on Amazon and other sites. So yes, people are willing to buy self-published books if and when they meet certain standards.

Birgit: Many readers are not even aware that there is a difference, that there are Indie authors out there who self publish their books.

And from what I hear they don’t make much of a difference if they are aware as long as the quality is right. Books with lots of spelling and grammar mistakes are bad for Indies, because some readers tend to assume that we all work like this. But, since self published books are usually priced lower, many readers take a chance. Popular genres are Crime, ChickLit and Fantasy.

  • You can read more from Matthia Matting and Susanne Weigand in the March edition of The Woolf, Zürich's literary magazine.
  • Birgit Kluger's interview on creating a platform in Germany will appear on the Triskele Books blog at the end of February.
  • You can read more about the Weltbild bankruptcy and its potential implications in this article from Publishers Weekly 

By JJ Marshauthor, reader, Triskelite, journalist, Nuancer, reviewer and blogger. Likes: pugs, Werner Herzog and anchovies. Dislikes: meat, chocolate and institutionalised sexism.

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