Publishers ignore slump and revamp their profile

Is crisis or modernization a better word to describe the Greek publishing scene at the moment? One does not exclude the other; in fact both are probably accurate. Speaking from his office on the fifth floor of Metaichmio’s new building at 118 Ippocratous in central Athens, Director Nondas Papageorgiou reacts to talk of a »crisis,» insisting that the phenomenon is more complex. It is true that the publishing boom of the 1990s has abated and publishers have retrenched to some extent. Metaichmio moved into its own building in April. Patakis is planning to do the same in late 2007, moving from two separate buildings on Valtetsiou to a large building of its own on Pireos Street. Likewise, the Karakotsoglou press, which specializes in large-format illustrated volumes, is relocating to an old building that is being restored on Harilaou Trikoupi which will be ready by the end of this year. Though the Greek book market is small and, some say, saturated, it is lively and demanding. Since the recent arrival of large multi-story bookstores, size counts and making a show of strength has become an intrinsic part of the game. In 1998, when the Greek book industry was in its heyday, Hestia Publishers reorganized its offices on Evripidou Street. And two years ago Oceanida moved into in a restored neoclassical building on Dervenion. Livanis had already set up its building on the corner of Solonos and Ippocratous, in the heart of the Athenian book world, half way through the previous decade. Metaichmio urgently needed new, modern offices. As Papageorgiou explained: «We were scattered around various buildings. That couldn’t go on. A company of some 60 people had to work as a compact organization.» Apart from offices, the new building has a bookshop with a cafe and a small venue on the mezzanine floor where seminars for proofreaders and editors will start in October. So where is the crisis? «There should be some systematic research into bookstores so we can see exactly what is happening,» said Papagergiou. «If you have a look at Metaichmio’s balance sheet you’ll see that turnover has risen. But that doesn’t mean that we have sold more books. Thanks to desktop publishing, for example, we make a profit by printing books for third parties. It also shows that we have sold books to large bookstores, but many of those will be returned at the end of the year. I maintain that we can only draw conclusions from proper research.» The image of large, imposing buildings has its own symbolism: publishers are acquiring a new profile and dynamism. Ioannis Karakotsoglou spoke of a 30 percent increase in turnover at his company: «A good product is the basis, but you also have to be on the ball when it comes to marketing and management. It takes a combination of things to be competitive these days.» The days of the small high-quality publishers (such as Polis, Melani, Narkissos and Scripta) are not over, but the rules of the game are being set by the big companies.