Last spring, at the beginning of the corona pandemic, Julia Bielenberg quickly had a clear stance on how things should continue at her publishing house Oetinger.
Do not do less and be careful, was the announcement.
“We'll continue at full speed,” wrote the heiress of the publishing house for her 120 employees in the daily schedule.
That paid off, because the Hamburg publishing house grew faster that year than the market for children's and young people's books in general.
Now the company, which stands for reading material about Pippi Longstocking, Sams, the Olchies or Pettersson and Findus, is starting with paperbacks for Generation Z and young adults, who often associate more with the smartphone than with the book.
Bielenberg also needs the online giant Amazon, which she has sharply criticized elsewhere, for distribution.
Ms. Bielenberg, bookshops also had to close in the corona pandemic.
In return, more books were ordered online.
The online book trade, in turn, is dominated by Amazon.
What is the world's largest online department store for your publisher: a blessing or a curse due to market power?
Amazon is one of Oetinger's largest customers and we are grateful that this digital sales channel exists.
Thanks to the large distribution network, people in the most distant corners of the country are also supplied with books.
Nevertheless, I can only ask every book buyer to buy locally in their bookstore.
These dealers know how to serve customer needs par excellence.
Then I ask differently: How important is Amazon for Oetinger's business?
The stationary book trade is our sales guarantee with a share of around two thirds, the other third is accounted for by online trading.
The bookseller stands for the plurality and diversity of the intellectual cultural asset of books.
Amazon doesn't care whether the company sells books or toilet paper.
For me, the subject is also about the concentration of power.
Amazon's growth is exponential.
This has consequences for retail.
Diversity is lost when inner cities become deserted and shopping centers become distribution centers for goods from online shopping.
Source: WORLD infographic
What do you propose to change that?
The state must ensure a level playing field and prevent a monopoly in online trading.
It is a problem for society as a whole to oppose such an increasing concentration of power.
I don't think it's fair that an international giant like Amazon is taxed very differently than other companies and uses loopholes.
In my opinion, lawmakers must use their tools to change that.
But in general the situation is not easy for publishers either.
There have recently been further takeovers among the major booksellers, and the Thalia retail chain controls the stationary business.
As a result, negotiations on terms are becoming more and more difficult for our publishing house.
Is it true that around half of book sales stay with publishers?
There are often misconceptions about what we can earn with a book title.
Profit margins are low in our business.
Around 50 percent of sales with a book remain in stores.
The other 50 percent is accounted for by fees, book printing, marketing, sales and other costs in the publishing houses and a modest profit.
Oetinger is the third largest children's book publisher in Germany after Carlsen and Ravensburger.
During the Corona months, families in particular read more.
Isn't Oetinger one of the winners of the crisis?
I wouldn't say that we are a crisis winner.
We got through the crisis well.
The sale of books for children and young people in the entire book market rose by three percent last year.
In the past year, our turnover was 36 million euros and has grown in the almost double-digit percentage range.
This is mainly due to our classic “Pippi Longstocking”.
We generate around 20 percent of our sales with books by Astrid Lindgren and in the anniversary year we were the most successful publisher with these book titles in an international comparison.
The success of the Hunger Games also helped us a lot.
In general, new releases had a hard time that year.
Customers tended to choose well-known authors and titles.
We are working profitably and with our profit we are well on the way.
That was not always the case in previous years.
Our profit margin is in the lower single-digit percentage range.
So you have not yet used any state aid such as the possibility of short-time work?
We hardly used short-time work.
Six employees were only affected in our theater publishing house, where sales were completely lost.
We are not advocates of state aid and we are not the first to cry out for the state.
Instead, we worked 100 percent, just as if there was no Corona.
We have released the number of new book titles we had planned and, unlike other publishers, only postponed very few new publications until next year.
And we have designed a digital trade fair concept.
Now, in addition to children's books, you also want to sell reading material for young adults and you have chosen Generation Z.
Can't these young women and men born shortly before the turn of the millennium be seen with their smartphones and hardly a book?
We will be launching our new Moon Notes publishing division in autumn and are targeting young adults aged 16 and over with special paperbacks.
Our target group is the generation that moves around the Internet in communities and social media as a matter of course.
This Generation Z, or Generation Greta, has different demands on society, they want exchange and participation, and above all through digital media.
She doesn't care what happens out there in the world.
But I also know that it will not be an easy task to gain visibility here as a publisher.
What reading material do you want to offer book buyers who have grown up in the digital world?
Moon Notes will not become a publisher that is critical of society.
We are a general-interest publisher with reading material by new and young authors who we want to develop in the German-speaking area.
There will hardly be any licensed editions from successful authors, who can often hardly be calculated because of the expensive licenses.
The topics range from romance to romantasy to thriller.
The target group are mainly young women, young men simply read a book far too seldom.
The content will also be distributed via a new e-book label and will be available on mobile devices from the start.
A paperback for young readers, is that really new?
Yes, the way we do it is new.
We will exchange ideas with the target group and address them in their communities, be it on Instagram, TikTok or even on Facebook.
We will create stories with them or let them vote on book covers.
Bloggers and influencers will help.
We'll also be using trailers on YouTube to capture Generation Z.
The books themselves will be of high quality, they will be given special materials and their own design.
In an envelope bag we will create the opportunity for notes and thus for an exchange with others.
Books are losing their fans.
The number of readers has recently fallen sharply year after year.
Is that changing right now?
In fact, this dramatic decline has stopped for now.
In the Corona year 2020, the number of book readers stagnated for the first time in a long time.
I don't know whether this return to reading will last.
As book publishers, we compete with other media for human time.
But reading aloud with its intimacy has become a quality time for many people during these months.
However, I am very concerned that boys are reading a book less and less.
An enthusiasm for reading is instilled in childhood.
Here we are called upon, the state, schools and publishers to do everything possible to make children want to read.