Past and present: The history of the German Publishers & Booksellers Association
Accounts clearing, business and cultural activities, driving force for innovation
The success of the book is the success of an entire industry. As the leading organisation for publishing companies, booksellers and the intermediate book trade, the German Publishers & Booksellers Association – Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels – has been shaping developments on the book market and the book sector since 1825. It encourages companies to cooperate fairly, is committed to achieving adequate general political and economic conditions and draws attention to books, contents and reading. Today, digitisation creates new opportunities for the book as a principle. That is why seeking to drive forward innovations in technology and communication as a seismograph for the book industry, and supporting market players in the process, are key tasks for the Association.
At the heart of book policy: fixed prices and copyright
When the 108 founding members of the Börsenverein voted for the first board members of the Deutsche Buchhändler-Börse in Leipzig on 30 April 1825, they had one thing in mind above all else: to simplify accounting procedures between publishers and booksellers. With the many different currencies in the German Confederation and separate account-keeping by orderers and suppliers, a central point for cashing-up was indispensable. So in its early years, the Börsenverein was designed to serve pure economic interests. To this it owes its name to this day: Börsenverein – Börse = bourse or exchange.
For its swiftly expanding membership, however, the rationalisation of everyday working activities was soon no longer enough as the main task for the Association – the Börsenverein became political, began to intervene on behalf of the future of books. As early as 1851, it had already drawn up a first memorandum on international copyright. Since then, the protection of intellectual property has been an important cornerstone of the Association's lobbying activities. If in the 19th century this involved above all the fight against pirate printing, the Börsenverein is dealing today with illegal downloads on the internet and the unlawful digitisation of millions of books by private companies such as Google. But its basic position is unchanged: the production and publication of literature and in turn, a diverse book market, depend on the prerequisite of strong copyright protection.
A key issue for the Börsenverein is that of fixed prices for the book as a cultural asset. This safeguards literary diversity and spurs on research and science. Regulations on fixed shop prices for books came into force in 1888, the year in which the offices of the Börsenverein moved into the Büchhändlerhaus in Leipzig. They ensure that publishing houses can balance out opportunities and risks and in that way, use the proceeds from a bestseller to promote new authors, to publish titles on unusual topics and to carry out literary experiments. And they contribute to ensuring that this diversity is also reflected in the book trade. But the Börsenverein has had to fight for more than 200 years for a law on fixed prices. It was not until 2002 that fixed prices for all books were finally laid down by law.
Shaped by history – the structure of the Börsenverein
The Third Reich, the Second World War, the division of Germany, reunification – political and social upheavals have been decisive in influencing the Börsenverein. Having been set up in 1825 as the first German business association with authority across confederate borders, from 1933 on, it aligned its structure to political programmes and boundaries.
Forcing itself voluntarily into line, as it were, in 1933 the Börsenverein became an accomplice of the Nazi rulers. To a large degree, the book trade in the German Reich conformed to the system during the subsequent twelve years of the Nazi regime. In 1945, at the end of the Second World War, Germany began to be divided into the two camps of East and West. In addition, the occupying powers were against any kind of centralism and blocked an organisational structure going beyond the regional level. So after 1945, the Börsenverein members in areas controlled by the Western Allies initially affiliated in local and district groups. These gradually organised themselves into regional associations, until in 1950, all West German publishers and booksellers combined in the Börsenverein Deutscher Buchhändler- und Verleger-Verbände in Frankfurt am Main. In the Soviet-run part of Germany, the Leipzig Börsenverein resumed its activities in 1946.
Both associations existed side by side. Initial talks on representing one another's interests in Frankfurt am Main and Leipzig were begun in 1982, aiming to boost the exchange of books between East and West. Five years later, books titles from the GDR were included for the first time in the West German Books-in-Print Catalogue. In 1991, a year after German reunification, the East German and the West German Börsenverein merged to form the all-German overall association with its headquarters in Frankfurt am Main.
Today, the Börsenverein is an umbrella association bringing together roughly 5,000 businesses, among them 1,700 publishing companies, 3,000 bookshops and antiquarian booksellers and 70 intermediate book trade businesses. In the course of internal reform, business and politics were separated – with the Association itself remaining responsible for political work, and commercial activities being taken over by the business subsidiaries: Frankfurter Buchmesse GmbH (Frankfurt Book Fair) and MVB Marketing- und Verlagsservice des Buchhandels GmbH.
Every year, around 7,300 exhibitors from 100 countries come to the Frankfurt Book Fair to conduct negotiations, sign contracts and set up contacts. For the roughly 280,000 visitors, the Frankfurt Book Fair is a colourful cultural event, during which they can find out about new literary publications and trends in literature.
With the VLB Verzeichnis Lieferbarer Bücher – Books-in-Print Catalogue –, the MVB provides the industry with its most comprehensive directory listing 1.2 million titles. The Börsenblatt is also an MVB product as the book industry's leading trade magazine with weekly coverage of current topics.
Between commerce and culture: the book as pre-eminent medium in society
Since 1972, the Börsenverein has had company membership, whilst previously, membership had been personal. Roughly 5,000 publishing companies, bookshops and intermediate book trade businesses are now affiliated in the association. Internationally, this makes the Börsenverein the only organisation which represents the interests of books and brings together all three branches of the book trade under one roof. As the mouthpiece of the entire German book industry, this structure gives it a powerful voice in the political arena.
But its commitment to the book goes far beyond commercial and political interests. Efforts made to achieve reconciliation and agreement, the promotion of reading at an early age and awards made to outstanding German-language literature: with its activities in the fields of culture, education and science, the Börsenverein acts in support of the book as the pre-eminent medium in society.
Its most important award is the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. Since 1950, the Börsenverein has presented the Peace Prize to individuals whose literary, artistic or academic work has served to advance the cause of peace. As a new beginning after the Second World War, the Börsenverein wanted this award to serve as evidence of a political attitude. So from the outset, the Prize attracted considerable attention in other countries too. To this day, the Peace Prize reflects reference to values and change in values in society. It is presented annually during the Book Fair at a ceremony held in Frankfurt's Paulskirche
Since 2005, the German Book Prize has been awarded just before the start of the Frankfurt Book Fair. Partners of the foundation Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels Stiftung are Deutsche Bank Stiftung, the Frankfurt Book Fair and the City of Frankfurt am Main. The prize is designed as an award for the best German-language novel of the year and has been modelled on awards such as the UK's Man Booker Prize and France's Prix Goncourt.
With the launch in 1959 of the Vorlesewettbewerb des Deutschen Buchhandels – the Reading Aloud Competition of the German Book Trade, the Börsenverein brought about the most important German initiative for the promotion of reading. As an education project involving the entire book industry, the competition promotes enjoyment of both the written and the spoken word. 15 million entrants, almost 140,000 events in bookshops, schools, libraries and other cultural institutions and many eminent sponsors demonstrate that the Börsenverein's competition, with the German federal president as its patron, is an important feature on the German educational landscape.
Media change in its sights: Börsenverein pursues new paths
For the Börsenverein, mastering the future means pursuing new paths. In the shape of e-readers, the iPad, digital products – media change has long since caught on in the book industry as part of “book law”. Formats and contents are expanding, additional providers are helping to shape the market, with exciting variants of books coming into being and appealing to new reader groups. The Börsenverein is advancing this development with new formats. So the Forum Zukunft offers the opportunity to discuss innovations and to decide actively on the future of the book.
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Volontariat in der Mediengestaltung/Herstellungsabteilung (Digital und Print), Berliner Wissenschafts-Verlag, Berlin