Last week, our local library visited the German publisher Kiepenheuer & Witsch in Cologne. Their offices look right out on the Cologne Cathedral. Their location next to the main Cologne rail station make it easy for their internationally renowned authors to drop by for coffee.
They have a fascinating history. I never thought about German publishers being shut down after World War II. Kiepenheuer & Witsch was one of the first to receive permission to resume publishing (because the Nazis had shut them down earlier.)
We had a tour “in publishing order” from the front desk:
to the mail room:
This place values books. I enjoyed the author portraits and sideways bookcases in the hallways:
Book covers are designed here. We were allowed to take pictures of these final versions, but the concepts for the next catalog are top secret. They publish 100 new books a year with about a dozen editors. People work hard here!
Finished books in the marketing department are ready to entice bookstore owners:
World Championship-Level Book Formatting
This book, titled simply S, by Doug Dorst and J.J. Adams, is the designer’s ultimate formatting dream. *cough* There are guides about how to read this book with notes and accessories but there was no guide for putting it together.
This book might seem like the ultimate argument for a print book, but there are ebook versions. (My head hurts thinking about it!)
If the German translation is 10 to 35% longer than the English original, that must have made the hand-lettered notes challenging:
The book I want to read next: Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod.
The subtitle sums it up: First Aid for German Problems. This book calls to me. For years, my relatives and friends have been using German in ways I never learned in class. This book promises to make everything clear–in a light-hearted way.
My city library lists an edition with over 700 pages. Yikes! That’s a lotta German grammar. But I’d really love to understand why my German relatives say things the way they do.
The title means: the dative case is the death of the genitive case. A grammar murder mystery? I know–it sounds deadly–oops!
[If you’re wondering: English sort of has these “cases” but we’re not as serious about them. Dativ is somewhat like what we call indirect objects: I gave it to him. Genitiv is somewhat like using apostrophes. The author’s book.]
Kiepenheuer & Witsch’s decisions shaped the kind of publisher they have become. The tour made me think about the role of a publisher in society.
- What books do you publish?
- What is a “book?”
- What will make readers want your books?
- How will you show authors you value them?
- What public conversations will you start or take part in?
- Who’s going to try and shut you down?
Hope you enjoyed the tour as much as I did!
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