Once again, time has gotten away from me and it’s been a whole month since my last blog post. For the past four weeks I’ve been busy interviewing various small presses for the Frankfurt Book Fair and polishing my Master’s thesis till it shines.
I’ve also been exploring German publishing at a few events as of late, such as the Pub N’ Pub series, where the longtime publishing figure Elizabeth Ruge spoke on the role of the publisher – and why it’s important to experiment more with the possibilities of digital. For example: to enable text-to-voice functions on ebooks for the blind.
I also went to a “Nachwuchstreffen” for students of book publishing, where I was encouraged by the forward-thinking keynote speeches by Leander Wattig and Volker Oppmann. In particular, Volker Oppmann is someone in German publishing to really keep an eye on, as he has a huge project in the works, Log-os, which intends to position itself as an open-source platform for book buying and social reading which may become the independent alternative to Amazon.
Small presses sprouting up on the German landscape
In the spirit of delving more into German publishing, here are a few of my recent finds in Berlin and slightly further afield – all of these were founded in 2013 – talk about the year of the small press! What most of them have in common is they are focusing on the small form – from Mikrotext’s e-singles to Readux’s “teeny books”. There is also a definite enthusiasm to try out new formats, publish genre-bending short work, and even release titles in English. With no further ado:
Beben: This press is named after the German word for “quake”. With a focus on e-book novellas meant to shake things up, so far Beben has released 6 titles: from skewed creation myths, to unsettling social criticism, to a criminal posing as a mushroom hunter, and a lighter story of the Wnukis, who perhaps have the secret to happiness; these off-the-beaten path shorts could be well on their way to ushering in a renaissance of the novella.
Mikrotext: An e-only press started by Nikola Richter, blogger and author of Superdemocraticos fame, Mikrotext has released a smattering of political, experimental, and above all, highly modern literature. Take Thomas Pelzer’s Spam Poetry (inspired by his spam mailbox), Chloe Zeegan’s Berlin Trilogy or Aboud Saeed’s The Smartest Guy on Facebook (Facebook posts about Syrian revolution), every e-book (and e-single) that Mikrotext has published seems to be both a product of its times and at the same time reflecting about its social-historical context in a nuanced way. And they have two titles in English!
Readux: This new press for literature in English translation is one of the only projects here to put out books in the revolutionary format of paper – and these beautiful books definitely deserve a place on one’s shelf, not just for their aesthetically pleasing cover designs, so that these literary morsels can be devoured, marked up and shared. The first four titles include the likes of Franz Hessel, who documents 1920s Berlin in lively prose, and Gideon Lewis-Kraus, whose essays explore the city’s continued magnetic pull today. Also, the press will release 4 little books three times a year, in a magazine-like cycle. Readux Books is the brainchild of Amanda DeMarco, who writes the books & publishing blog of the same name. I salute her for this high-quality first series, and am happy to note the books can also be bought as a set!
Fiktion: These last two projects are brand new and still surrounded by an aura of mystery. Fiktion ups the ante with a publishing model that seems too good to be true: they want to release books simultaneously in German and English, create an international network of writers, make their ebooks available for free, and experiment with new formats. Their manifesto is available on their site, but the truly curious are well advised to join their newsletter. Although not strictly an “indie” project, since they’re backed by German Federal Cultural Foundation and the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (where Fiktion will host a conference on literature in the digital age), it will still be exciting to see where this thought experiment leads.
Kladde: The last project is likewise enigmatic. Their website is virtually empty, but they’ve already been nominated for the Virenschleuder Preis for creative marketing. This video comes the closest to explaining why. Much like Unbound in England, Kladde aims to fund its carefully selected (and oh so mysterious) book projects via crowdfunding. They seem to hint that the “crowd” might participate in more ways than financially, but again, we’ll have to stay tuned to find out what precisely sets this project apart.