BREAKING NEWS

FRANKFURT BOOK FAIR 2006: OF PROVINCIALISM AND ITALIAN PUBLISHERS

We knew in advance that our attempt to stir it up among the Italian publishing confraternity was going to be a hard struggle.
 
On the first day of the Fair, 4 October, our friends Simone and Ettore went to the sector dedicated to Italy.  There they distributed the brochure about the documentary film (a real beauty!), the discussion on Imprimatur and the story of the Italian boycott (See photos of the Discussion). To our friends’ extreme surprise, not one single publisher had so much as heard of Monaldi & Sorti or Imprimatur, their one novel published in Italian.
 We were taken aback to find the people on the publishers’ stands declaring their total ignorance of two writers who are both well-known and well-liked abroad and whose books – of which four have so far been published – are top best-sellers in several countries.
 
What’s more, they are Italian, and their ONLY novel published in Italy was doing rather well, up to the moment when all reprints were blocked…
Not only that: on these days, the Frankfurt Fair website put out information bulletins at regular intervals to newspapers and TV companies from all over the world, including some 14 Italian representatives, and all received the press releases announcing the two events in the Fair centred upon Monaldi & Sorti: the advance première of the documentary Monaldi & Sorti: when a novel rewrites history; and the subsequent discussion, chaired by a journalist from the German weekly Stern, entitled: “Monaldi & Sorti: a case of literary exile in Berlusconi’s Italy” (see photos of the discussion).  Our authors were interviewed by journalists from all the world over – even from faraway Australia.  In Italy, the press published not one single line on this – not even the papers representing what’s supposed to be the Opposition…
 However, let’s get back to our own story.
 
On the next day, 5 October, our group from the Fan Club – there were four of us – all wearing t-shirts bearing the bilingual slogan “Liberate Imprimatur – Free Imprimatur” (see photos) attended the projection of the video and the subsequent discussion.  There, we realised that, despite the polite interest expressed by employees of the Italian publishing houses, NOT ONE Italian had come (or if any had, they’d kept the lowest of profiles…).
 In the afternoon, we returned to the Italian stands, more determined than ever to get answers to our questions.  As on the day before, most of the people we spoke to seemed quite taken aback by what we had to tell, said they knew nothing and, while expressing interest, were quite unable to help us…
 
But what we really wanted was to talk to someone from Mondadori.  We wanted to know what had made them decide not to reprint Imprimatur, despite having acquired the rights to the novel for the coming twenty years.  (Although we’re no specialists, we imagined that the initial reaction to the book was bound be one of real interest as well as a certain commercial success).
 We did manage to meet a lady from their press office. 
 
Diplomacy was not this person’s strong point…  After a show of surprise, when she told us she’d never heard of all this, she began to criticise Monaldi & Sorti “who go around talking of this so-called boycott, which simply does not exist”.  We in turn were surprised that, after stating she knew nothing about the facts, she did turn out to know of both the documentary and the discussion. She only quoted the wrong date and time.
 We tried not to get bogged down in sterile arguments about what might have happened.  What we wanted was to get as close as we could to the real reasons for what had taken place and above all to hear Mondadori’s official version.
 

In fact, this lady explained absolutely nothing to us.  Her only response to our desire, as private citizens and readers, to be able to read the novels of Monaldi & Sorti, was that several publishers existed, not just Mondadori.  “And if you really do want to read these writers’ novels, you can always buy them in foreign languages. It’ll be a good learning exercise for you”…
 Without wishing to dwell on this last comment, we could only conclude that this person had contradicted herself all along the line.
 

After a while, another person from Mondadori entered the conversation, surely someone in a position of responsibility and better placed than the press officer to answer our questions.  So we put them to him, giving the same reasons for our need to know.
 This time, at least, we found ourselves facing someone who was not just looking for trouble, and who was well informed.  Initially, he too claimed to know nothing about this story, but as our conversation progressed, he mentioned a whole series of precise facts, none of which could be known to someone who “knew nothing”…
 

The official reason which he gave turned out to be Imprimatur’s poor sales figures.  Mondadori had, he said, behaved as any other publisher would have done under the circumstances.  According to him, Imprimatur had sold only 3,400 copies in Oscar paperbacks, which was too low a figure for the firm to reprint the novel. 
 In other words, despite our legitimate interest, there are too few of us in Italy who want to read this novel.  There was not sufficient demand for Mondadori to justify a reprint. 
 

How come, we asked, that novels are still listed in the catalogues and reprinted year after year, despite modest sales, while Imprimatur was removed from the catalogue at precisely the time of its publication in “Oscar Bestseller” (!) paperback? (As though the intention was to hide it).  No official reply was forthcoming.
 
Having obtained direct personal confirmation that a total of 25,500 copies had been published before the Oscar edition, including two luxury hardback editions, we wondered what ever could have become of the remaining copies, given that only one year after publication, telephoning the storage depots, the most one could obtain was a photocopy of the novel, for the exorbitant price of 35 euros…
 
Whatever the real reasons may have been, out of 22 editions printed in 53 countries (and the same goes for the later novels), only in Italy was the book withdrawn on the grounds of poor sales. 
 How very strange…