De uitgeverij als content company

In tijden van teruglopende verkoopcijfers en boekwinkels die omvallen, is de druk om als uitgever de juiste keuzes te maken extra groot. Wij vroegen Sven Ehmann naar zijn visie op de veranderingen in de industrie, hoe daarmee om te gaan en wat hij denkt over de toekomst van het uitgeven.

Chris van Veghel

How has the publishing business shifted in the last decade and how has Gestalten acted upon it?

The world of publishing over the last two decades have certainly undergone some drastic changes. I’m not sure if it really started with David Carson’s End of Print in 1995, or maybe even the year before with the advent of Amazon, but the impact of anything digital clearly left its marks and created some drama—some challenges and a lot of opportunities.

After the almost crazy optimism of the late 90s, we saw a lot of pessimism after 9/11 and some dramatic seasons with low sales in usually strong markets, with book retailers both small and independent and the larger chains struggling, and many of them going out of business. At the same time, some unexpected markets such as Korea or Latin America became stronger. Then we saw the arrival of Kindles, smart phones and tablets, blogs, social media and a number of image-related online ventures. It clearly wasn’t boring. But after all and for the time being, we feel the international book market is still surprisingly stable and a very interesting and promising market to be in.

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Having said that, I feel that the key challenge for publishers—as for any other industry—is really to be very open minded, flexible and creative when it comes to making use of the digital possibilities and making business out of it. This is simply as important as saying no to anything distracting.

We have always tried to be in touch with what is happening, without getting washed away by each and every trend and not get too distracted from our core business. I have worked in the digital world or the “new economy” as it was called in the 90s before I got into publishing, so I am not afraid of the change at all. But I also know that there is a lot of talk, and as a company that produces products, you need to make sure you do, and do it right.

Our reaction to that development was that we moved away from being a classical book publisher to being more of a media or content company. Over the years, we always tried to explore new and expanded products as well as formats and business model around our core and company ethos of ‘exploring contemporary visual culture’. Today, our books are still at the heart of what we do, but all of our digital activities are adding as much to the full and bigger picture as our events and retail activities. After all, we are working for a particular audience and anything that can inspire, educate and entertain that audience can be a Gestalten offer.

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Have the changes in the business changed your curation as a publisher?

There are three aspects that clearly changed. One of them being the classical monograph book about a designer or studio is having a hard time when anything that the designer or studio has done can already be found online. So, for a monograph book to be successful in the market, you really need a proper story and it’s crucial to have some unseen and exclusive content. The second aspect is that certain topics don’t seem to work anymore as books or need to be explored in a new and different way. Thirdly, on the other end of the spectrum, the well made, well researched, edited, designer-produced books have an even higher potential and are even more appreciated, which altogether is a positive development from my point of few.

In terms of the curation of our program, the range of topics have grown with the interests of our audience—from design, illustration, typography, architecture, interior design, product design, urban and fine art, all the way through to travel, food, cycling, 3D printing, and beyond…

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Where do you see the publishing business go in the future and where do you see yourself go with Gestalten?

It seems almost impossible these days to make any prediction over what will happen in the next 5 minutes. But I am very confident that our commitment to produce strong content and creative stories around the products and personalities behind them will maintain and even increase its potential. Personally, I will try to remain very curious, very open and play around with all possible ideas to use our research and network to create new formats, products and business models. That is the benefit of working for a creative and sophisticated audience. They have high demands and it keep us going.

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Sven Ehmann is een van de sprekers tijdens het Retweet programma van het Graphic Design Festival Breda op 23 April. Voor meer informatie en tickets zie hier.

Om op de hoogte te blijven van Gestalten zie hier.