It has been four months since the Swiss National Bank abandoned the Euro cap on the Swiss franc and the mood in the book industry is grim.
Trade publishers especially have slammed on the brakes and, with economising the order of the day, at least three major Swiss trade houses opted to forgo this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair.
Diogenes was the first to pull the plug on its stand, and Kein & Aber and Dörlemann have since followed.
All three publishers are by no means lightweights and have a reputation for publishing English-language writers successfully. Diogenes is not only a stalwart of German literature—with Bernhard Schlink, Ingrid Noll and Martin Suter among its bestselling authors—but it also publishes Ian McEwan, John Irving and Martin Walker. Kein & Aber is the German-language publisher of David Nicholls and Anne Tyler; and Dörlemann has Alice Munro, Patrick Leigh Fermor and Tim Flannery on its list.
The common denominator between all three publishing houses is that they generate approximately 90% of their annual turnover from European countries, mainly Germany and Austria. In an interview with German trade newspaper Buchreport, Diogenes managing director Stefan Fritsch recently conceded that everything at the company is under scrutiny bar redundancies and a move to Germany, which had been touted by some observers.
The tense economic situation has led to a much-publicised gesture of support from the city and regional administration of Zurich, where the majority of Swiss publishers are based. Local publishers have until 31st May to apply for one-off grants of up to 15,000 Swiss francs—from a total pool of 160,000 francs—to use for public relations at home and abroad in 2015. This is meant to bridge the gap until next year, when the government will step in with funds for promoting literature.
Booksellers and wholesalers are also under increasing pressure. Approximately 80% of all books sold in Switzerland are imported from Germany. Swiss wholesalers are known for efficient service but they now face the problem that larger bookshops in particular will order directly from German publishers.