You become, in these times in particular, accustomed to tale after tale of collapse in literary publishing (or even journalism — here’s another piece about US newspapers crossing a final threshold). But the NYT has a story about a company called Europa Editions which, as it says, has succeeded by publishing ‘roster of translated literary novels written mainly by Europeans, relying heavily on independent-bookstore sales, without an e-book or vampire in sight’. (Not that there’s anything wrong with vampires — or e-books, for that matter.)
If the story’s accurate (and there is a whiff of an editor desperately seeking a positive angle), it’s worth thinking about how and why Europa Editions has done so well.
Europa Editions was the brainchild of Sandro Ferri and Sandra Ozzola Ferri, the founders of Edizioni E/O, a Rome-based publisher that releases many works in translation in Italy. “I have a universal, global feeling that everywhere people should read and could read books from different countries,” Mr. Ferri said in a telephone interview. “Even if up to now, only 3 percent of the American books are books in translation, I think that this is not a reason that it should always be like that.”
Emulating many European publishers, the company releases books only in the trade paperback format. It developed a distinctive look for all its titles, with French flaps, a consistent font on the book spines and a logo of a stork that appears with the publisher’s name on the front of each volume.
Europa’s first title, “The Days of Abandonment,” an Italian novel by Elena Ferrante, was published in 2005. The book garnered positive reviews and immediately took off at independent booksellers. Other titles — including “Old Filth” by Jane Gardam, an English writer; “Dog Day,” a mystery by the Spanish writer Alicia Giménez-Bartlett; and “Cooking With Fernet Branca” by James Hamilton-Paterson, an English writer living in Austria — helped earn Europa a loyal following among booksellers and readers. Some books sell only a few thousand copies, but book buyers like the brand identity.
“We have a lot of faith in their editorial sensibility,” said Sarah McNally, owner of the McNally Jackson bookstore in Manhattan.
Mr. Carroll said the company rarely spent more than $10,000 on advances. He is the only full-time staff member in New York, with a part-time freelance assistant and two interns. 
Some larger publishers are starting to envy Europa’s selection and its frankly retro publishing model. Mr. Carroll “finds things, picks things up for a little bit of money and makes a lot out of them,” said Jonathan Galassi, publisher of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. “Most of publishing was once that way. It wasn’t about big money so much. He’s sort of preserving the old values of it’s-all-about-the-book and connecting the book with readers.”
In other words, recognising that literary fiction is going to be a niche and then exploiting the possibilities of that niche. There’s an obvious analogy with art house film. Once you accept that certain movies aren’t going to compete with Batman, you can target the audience that does exist — and that audience can be quite large. Not coindicentally, the alternative film circuit also depends on foreign movies that can be presented to an English-speaking market.
Clearly, there’s limits to this. As the comments about buying low and selling high suggest, Europa’s success seems to rest, to a certain extent, on being first. Still, the article does suggest that there’s more of a future for literary fiction than is sometimes thought.
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