Domestic authors claim half of the bestseller listings

av Bo Westlund
A review of European bestselling fiction over a one-year period shows that most Europeans make books written by their own countrymen their first choice. On an average, 60 percent of the sales are domestic titles

Anglo-Saxon countries do not follow this pattern. The US and Great Britain rarely acknowledge works from writers outside their linguistic base. Germans and Austrians have the most international preferences, while Swedes choose books by domestic authors to a greater extent than readers of other nationalities. SvB surveyed the top ten bestselling fiction lists of eleven different countries during the period May 2004 through April 2005: Austria, Germany, Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Spain, and the US. The number of authors listed is remarkably limited, ranging from 37 and 38 in countries such as Austria and Germany, to 52 in France, 54 in Great Britain, and 55 in the US. Higher figures denote tougher competition and a higher degree of mobility. One author in particular overshadows all others: Dan Brown - who else? The Da Vinci Code has steamrolled the competition in every single country studied. At the most, Brown has had four titles on the lists at the same time, such as in Great Britain in November and the Netherlands in December. During a major portion of the year, he has monopolized 30 percent of all bestseller listings in Great Britain - a fact that brings the Swinging ‘60s and heyday of The Beatles to mind. In Sweden, 41 authors circulated on the lists during this period. 61 percent were Swedish, 15 percent came from the US, five percent were from Great Britain, and one author a piece came from Austria, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Switzerland. During the period May 2002 through April 2003, 35 authors were represented on the bestseller lists in Sweden. 19 of these were Swedish, 54 percent. The following year, 41 different authors were represented, and 49 percent were Swedish. “This confirms a trend that has been present for the last few years, that Swedish literature has consolidated its position," says Jonas Modig, the chairman of the Swedish Publishers’ Association, who believes that the reason for this is that Swedish literature has improved in quality and scope, and has become more entertaining, while the enthusiasm for foreign bestsellers has tapered off. Jonas Modig says that he is proud of the position Swedish literature has, a position it has gained on its own merits, and not with the assistance of any artificial means of support: “Ten to fifteen years ago, it was the other way around. Non-Swedish authors were steadily taking bigger and bigger shares of the Swedish book market." Austrian lists featured the fewest domestic authors. In all, 41 different authors were featured. Seven were from Austria, ten were from Germany, and eight came from the US. Henning Mankell and Håkan Nesser were the only Scandinavians featured. A noteworthy fact is that Austria’s Nobel Prize winner, Elfriede Jelinek, was only featured on the top ten list of sales for paperbacks, which she topped in December. If the minor presence of domestic writers on Austrian lists can be explained by its proximity to Germany - the countries share a common language - the situation in Germany can only be explained by other circumstances. The country’s enormous market resembles a literary melting pot, where domestic bestsellers make up 24 percent. The Scandinavian presence is stronger here than anywhere else: “Scandinavian authors have become fashionable in Germany. Anything labeled “Scandinavian crime fiction" gets a lot of attention," says Mareike Röper of the Goethe Institute in Stockholm. 38 different authors were featured on the bestseller lists. 29 percent came from the US, and 13 from France. Sweden and Britain had eight percent each. The rest were a sprinkling of authors from Colombia, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland and North Africa (there was no information concerning the specific country). Mareike Röper believes that the minor presence of German authors could be a result of the country’s lively cultural climate. During the past few decades, she has seen an increase in the number of publishing houses that produce translated material. “In Germany, the literary tide has turnedthere’s more coming in than going out," Röper claims while comparing the current climate to that of two decades ago, when German authors were more widely read, a situation mirrored in Sweden as well. The generation growing up today reads much less German literature than preceding generations, a fact that could also be due to a shift in reading preferences towards more lightweight crime fiction, a genre seldom associated with German authors. According to Röper, Germany produces a great deal of fine literature, but very few blockbusters. Internationally speaking, Germany is far more prominently represented in pictorial arts and the theater. “It is much more common in Germany to promote books by way of television shows, the Internet and advertising campaigns than it is in, say, Sweden. This kind of media exposure will help certain books reach the top ten lists and it also fuels the bestseller system," Mareike Röper explains. In Norway, 41 authors were featured. Less than half were Norwegian. One third came from the US and the UK, a 15 percent share each. Three Swedes made the list, seven percent. The remaining authors came from Denmark, Finland and Spain. “That looks correct to me," was the response from Siren Maröy, chief buyer at Norli Gruppen, Norway’s largest bookstore. Siren Marøy feels that from a Norwegian perspective the figures are good. Norwegian is a small language, and it is important to place a high priority on promoting Norwegian authors. The strong presence of Norwegian authors is due to, in Siren Marøy’s opinion, the impressive promotional efforts conducted by bookstores and publishing houses. Book clubs have played an important role as well, even if their sales are not included in the bestseller lists. Book club magazines have a significant impact on the entire country’s reading choices. According to Marøy, there has been a concentrated focus on Norwegian authors. The US was the only non-Western European country in the survey. Its market features almost exclusively American authors. Even though their bestseller lists had the greatest variety of authors, 55 in all, 91 percent of these came from the US. The rest came from the UK. Another remarkable feature is that in spite of its ethnic diversity - and the emergence of a growing Latino presence - all but three authors had names that sound Anglo-Saxon

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