Playing the paper game

<p>Today Frankfurt sees the launch of the Bild Bestseller Bibliothek, the latest in a series of newspaper book campaigns that have generated millions of sales in the German market. Anja Sieg reports.
Books have not featured highly on the agenda of German consumers recently, with sales for the first six months of 2004 up by less than 0.5%. But books are still selling--as long as they are cheap and heavily promoted.
Because Germany's strict retail price maintenance does not allow discounts on new books, campaigns are heavily geared toward backlist. These promotions are often initiated by national newspapers.
Six months ago the upmarket newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung published a library of 50 well-known novels of the 20th century. Its SZ/Bibliothek presold three million copies, and more newspaper-driven campaigns are now being launched. Leading weekly Die Zeit has announced a series of 20 non-fiction titles in co-operation with reference publishers BI/Brockhaus. The daily Die Welt has just launched Discover the World, a series of 12 DVDs available each Saturday for &#8364;4.99.
But the biggest and most controversial venture is Bild Bestseller Bibliothek (BBB), which launches today at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
It has been jointly planned by Germany's largest tabloid Bild--which reaches up to 12 million readers daily--and Weltbild, the direct mail and bookselling organisation that is owned by the Catholic church. The library also marks the return of Lothar Menne, former editorial director of trade publisher Ullstein, who negotiated rights.
BBB features 25 bestselling novels, all published in the second half of the 20th century. Starting with Mario Puzo's The Godfather, a hardback will be published each week until March 2005. Priced at &#8364;4.90, they willl be much cheaper than normal paperback editions, which sell at between &#8364;7.95 and &#8364;10.
The 25 titles were chosen by a celebrity jury. They include six novels from domestic favourites such as Siegfried Lenz and Walter Kempowski, and 19 international authors that have a huge readership in Germany--among them Robert Harris (Enigma), Stephen King (Shining), Ken Follett (The Needle) and Doris Lessing (The Fifth Child).
The books can be bought individually from newsagents and bookshops. Weltbild also offers its own customers an exclusive subscription price, with
a discount of 18.5% for the whole library. Because Weltbild will only deliver to a handful of the largest book chains directly, participating bookstores will be supplied by wholesalers. The basic discount is 35%, rising to 42% and above when ordering 10 or more copies.
The campaign will be heavily promoted by Bild, with light displays in major cities, print and TV advertising. Weltbild will also massively promote BBB in its 300 Weltbild Plus branches, on its online shop and on the front page of its monthly direct mail catalogue that has a print run of four million copies.
Like the SZ/Bibliothek earlier this year, the new venture has provoked mixed reactions from the trade. Many booksellers fear that the campaign will further undermine the credibility of book prices in the eyes of an already price-sensitive public, and may critically damage Christmas sales.</p>