As globalization and its discontents continue to rumble across European book markets, among those nations bidding earnestly for a share of multinational manna is that one-time world titan, Greece. Casting its former Hellenocentric viewpoint to the Aegean winds, this nation has set a steady course for cosmopolitan literary exchange — or at least that’s the official word on the matter. “In the last three years, interest in Greek literature on the part of foreign publishers has increased significantly,” Christos Lazos, Director of the National Book Centre of Greece, recently declared, talking up a whole host of efforts to boost foreign exports of its literary goods — including government funding of translations, collaborations with foreign publishers, and a broad burst of literary initiatives flowing from Greece’s 1980 entry into the European Union. As one publication recently announced, the entire tide of Greek fiction has turned “from local history to the global individual.”
And that individual, some contend, is a ferocious reader. “The Greek reading public is seriously underestimated,” says former Oceanida Publisher Nikos Megapanos, “both in its size and its quality.” He estimates that at least 300,000 Greeks are out there reading an average of eight books each year. Though initial print runs tend to be around 3,000 copies, bestsellers will top the 8,000-copy mark, with some titles selling over 150,000. “If a publisher reprints within the year, he is more than happy,” Megapanos adds.
Over the last decade, however, Greek publishing has been reaching maturity, and hitting some roadbumps along the way. Small publishers have been falling off the shelf, while large media groups such as Lambrakis are jumping into book publishing and “bringing a lot of confusion to the market with their aggressive marketing,” according to Megapanos, who’s launching a new magazine for books this fall. “But my judgment is that they are in for a few surprises. Small publishers with clearly defined markets have nothing to fear so far.”
Regarding the ever-sensitive issue of pricing, Tassos Papanastassiou at publisher Ellinika Grammata tells us that, in line with EU recommendations, retail discounting in the nation is held to a maximum of 10% for the first two years after a book’s publication, but following that period (and assuming there is no reprint), prices may be freely slashed. The tax-man looms, however, as the government is currently working on a law that would tax booksellers according to their inventory, and not according to sales. Publishers fear such a law would force retailers to return truckloads of stock to publishers during the Christmas holidays, when the fiscal period essentially ends, causing pandemonium for the whole business.
Where sales are concerned, it seems foreign publishers are well positioned: children’s books and translated foreign fiction are among the bestselling categories in Greece (and the majority of children’s books are imported, prized for their high-quality illustrations). Interestingly, study guides have also been top-sellers, vacuumed up by frantic students as new requirements for university entrance exams have sent them scurrying for the Greek version of Cliffs Notes. All in all, says Costas Voukelatos, publisher of the statistical magazine Ichneftis, 35% of the 6,500 titles published in Greece are translated from other EU countries or the US. And English is by far the most-translated language, accounting for 60% of translated titles.
But Oceanida’s scout, Mary Anne Thompson, observes that the Greeks are not as aggressive as Holland, Germany, or the UK in snapping up American titles. And according to Cullen Stanley at Janklow & Nesbit, “Greek publishers are more concerned about buying big hits rather than creating a solid backlist, which would help them build a stronger market.” That may be changing, however. Marcella Berger, VP Sub. Rights at Simon & Schuster, notes that apart from the obvious bestsellers, Greeks seem to be buying more backlist classics à la Norman Vincent Peale and Dale Carnegie, indicating a more cautious approach. Whatever their rationale, it seems to be paying off: Berger’s sales to Greece have increased in the last three to five years.