In this series of articles, we profile our corresponding agents and their local markets in order to better understand the changes and challenges in foreign rights sales and the publishing industry in general.
This month Linda Kohn of the Internationaal Literatuur Bureau takes the time to give us an insight into the current publishing market in The Netherlands. ILB has been in business for 65 years and is the oldest agency in the Netherlands. It is a family owned company and Linda is the third generation – it all started with her grandfather. Linda, like her father and grandfather, values and invests in partner-relation management. That means providing individualized services to fit the different needs of the agency’s small and big foreign and Dutch partners.
Q Can you give a brief summary of the publishing industry in your territory presently (most popular genre, trends in publishing, digital vs. print, self-publishing etc.)?
LK : European countries are suffering from economically difficult times. This has also effected the Dutch publishing industry. Dutch publishers used to belong to ‘avant-garde’. They made quick decisions and were internationally known for the nice amounts of money they paid to get rights for the Dutch market.
In my opinion, the Dutch still have good taste, but are more careful in making decisions. Most of the Dutch publishing houses shrank their lists and this is effecting the international rights market financially. The e-book market is developing quickly.
Nevertheless, it still has a low market share. The good news is that e-books are gaining popularity rapidly now. However, the price of the e-books, according to the Dutch reader, remain quite expensive. Publishers are still earning more money on printed books than on e-books.
The big houses are running the race for the bestseller – more than ever, in a shrinking market. Where a publisher used to bid against two other houses, that number might be seven now. The difference between literary and commercial houses is vanishing. Everyone is hunting to get that bestseller that can make the difference.
Q What changes in the publishing industry can you predict for the next 5 years?
LK : The Dutch publishing industry needs to innovate. I believe that there will be a lot of changes in the years to come concerning publishing houses. Those that belong to the same group as magazines will work closely together. I believe lists will shrink and some imprints might not exist any longer.
New, young, fast-moving publishing houses will appear. Social media like Facebook etc. will be even more important to reach the audience. Publishers will need to organize more events to get the attention of their reading audience.
Q Can you describe what kind of demand or interest there is for foreign titles in your territory?
LK : I have noticed that the amounts for advance payments have decreased, and also less rights are being sold. Literary titles are being ignored more often than not, which is a pity. Everyone is focused on more commercial projects.
I feel that international publishers are concerned about the situation in the Dutch book market. The Dutch always used to buy a lot, but now in time of economic crisis, the publishers are more careful. Most of the houses have also decided to publish less books.
There have been a lot of changes within publishing companies here recently. Wereldbibliotheek announced this week that they will be taken over by publishing house Nieuw Amsterdam. Last year, Wereldbiliotheek shrunk their list and let go of three employees. Also, The House of Books has been taken over. They are now part of the Dutch Media Group.
In December 2013, WPG publishers announced that they have to let go of 20% of their employees. There will be a huge change in structure in the years to come. The Dutch book club, ECI, announced on the 9th of January that they are bankrupt.
Q What, in your experience, is the biggest challenge faced by a foreign rights agent in your territory?
I believe that small companies are the future of the publishing industry. They can move fast, make quick decisions and lower their costs. Achieving this and conducting business in a personal way, is the biggest challenge I see for foreign rights agents in the Netherlands.