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German Catholic Church to sell Wetbild

Germany’s Catholic Church has announced this week its intention to sell Weltbild, one of the largest publishing groups and booksellers in the country.

The alliance had been an uneasy one for some years but things came to a head last month following a report in the trade paper Buchreport that Weltbild’s book catalogue included a number of erotic titles with potentially pornographic content.

Since the row erupted, the Church has faced a storm of criticism which culminated in the Pope indirectly letting his displeasure known during a reception for the new German ambassador to the Vatican. In his speech, the German-born Benedict XVI said that it was “time to energetically limit the dissemination of pornographic or erotic content, especially via the internet”. The bishops of the twelve dioceses who own Weltbild promptly took their cue and repeatedly voiced their displeasure with the company, so that Tuesday’s announcement by the Episcopal conference did not come as a great surprise.

While the Church plans to get rid of Weltbild “without delay”, c.e.o. Carel Halff cautioned in an interview with a Catholic news agency that the search for a new owner might take up to 18 months. It is the second time since 2008 that Weltbild is on the market and it remains to be seen if the economic climate has improved enough to find a buyer this time round.

Weltbild was founded in 1948 as a publisher of Catholic magazines. Carel Halff joined the company whose annual turnover is now more than €1,6bn (£1,38bn) in 1975 and has been its c.e.o. since 2001. Under his tenure Weltbild has become a major force in the German book industry with interests in publishing, mail order and bookselling. The later activities have been bundled a few years ago under the roof of the holding DBH which Weltbild jointly owns with the Hugendubel family. In 2010 DBH reported sales of €731m (£630m), making it Germany’s second-largest bookselling group behind Thalia. Weltbild also jointly owns trade publisher Droemer Knaur with Verlagsgruppe von Holtzbrinck.