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‘Fifty Shades’ whips Bertelsmann into frenzy

German media giant Bertelsmann said Tuesday the best-selling "Fifty Shades" trilogy of S&M books helped whipped overall group sales and profits into shape last year.

'Fifty Shades' whips Bertelsmann into frenzy
Photo: DPA

Bertelsmann said in a statement that its books arm Random House achieved record results in 2012 thanks to the “Fifty Shades” series, which sold 70 million print, audio, and e-book editions between March and December in English, German and Spanish, making it the publisher’s biggest-ever bestseller.

“Fifty Shades” is a trilogy of sado-masochistic romance novels by British author E.L. James that has turned into a world-wide hit.

Random House’s revenues jumped by 22.5 percent to €2.1 billion ($2.7 billion) and profits, as measured by earnings before interest and tax (EBIT), soared by 75.7 percent to €325 million.

At a group level, Bertelsmann’s total sales last year grew by 4.5 percent to €16.065 billion, EBIT was stable at €1.821 billion and net profit rose by 4.1 percent to €484 million.

“Bertelsmann had a solid start to the new year,” chief executive Thomas Rabe told the group’s annual earnings news conference. But a massive reorganisation meant that business would not grow much this year, he cautioned.

“Given the low overall economic growth in the euro region … and increased investment in reshaping the group, Bertelsmann expects a stable or slightly declining business performance in 2013,” Rabe said.

Nevertheless, “after years where sales declined as a result of portfolio adjustments, the top-line is now expected to rise sharply,” the chief executive continued.

“Assuming a slow recovery in the European markets from 2014 and including the planned acquisitions, we’re targeting sales of around €18 billion ($23 billion),” Rabe said.

Rabe said two pending transactions — the combination of Random House with Pearson’s Penguin, plus the decision to buy out the US investment fund KKR in their jointly-owned music rights management company BMG — would “have a positive impact already in this current year.”

Once the regulatory approvals had been received, the transactions “will result in significant additions to our revenues,” Rabe said, saying sales would then amount to around €17 billion.

AFP/mry

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FRANKFURT

How Frankfurt is holding the world’s largest book fair in a pandemic

The Frankfurt book fair, the world's largest, is going ahead this week even after a spike in coronavirus infections turned the German city into a high-risk area.

How Frankfurt is holding the world's largest book fair in a pandemic
An interview being conducted remotely at the opening of this year's Frankfurt book fair on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

With authors signing books behind plexiglass, audiences wearing masks and industry events moved online, this year's edition is unlike any other.

The rapidly worsening outbreak, in a country that has so far coped relatively well with the pandemic, forced organisers to rewrite their plans several times.

Just 48 hours before Wednesday's kickoff, fair director Jürgen Boos and his team decided to ban audiences from attending readings and interviews in a concert hall that had been due to host 450 people at a time.

READ ALSO: 10 German books you have to read before you die

“We had to react right away,” Boos told AFP, after Frankfurt was coloured red on the coronavirus map.

It was a huge blow to a fair that last year drew 300,000 visitors and has already been drastically scaled back.

The on-stage author talks at the now eerily empty Festhalle arena are still taking place however and are being live-streamed.

Also empty is the adjacent conference centre, normally a hive of activity where booklovers could rub shoulders with top publishing executives and writers like Dan Brown and Cecelia Ahern.

'Safe'

With many international visitors unable or unwilling to fly in because of the virus this year, organisers have built digital platforms for publishers and agents to discuss trends, sniff out the next bestsellers and haggle over translation rights.

Literary happenings and political talks have also shifted online and can be followed by anyone with an internet connection.

But there are still ways to experience the “Buchmesse” in person.

Hotels, museums, bars and bookshops across Frankfurt are hosting dozens of readings and discussions until Sunday to bring the fair to life, welcoming audiences of up to 50 people.

Guests have to mask up, follow social distancing guidelines and share their contact details so they can be notified if someone at the event later tests positive.

“Everything has to be completely safe in terms of health precautions,” said Boos. “But we must be able to have these personal encounters.”

At Walden cafe on Wednesday evening, retired teacher Christiane Decker-Eisel, 67, queued patiently for German novelist Bov Bjerg, seated behind a large plexiglass screen, to sign her book.

“I'm interested in his work and really wanted to be here,” she told AFP. “I feel protected with my FFP2 mask on.”


Social distancing at the opening of this year's book fair. Photo: DPA

'Chaos'

Being forced to switch to a mainly digital fair has its upsides, Boos said, allowing for larger audiences and attracting speakers who might never have come to Frankfurt.

More than 4,400 exhibitors from over 100 countries have registered to take part virtually.

For members of the public, this week's live-stream highlights include interviews with Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong, US whistleblower Edward Snowden and legendary author Margaret Atwood of “The Handmaid's Tale” fame, whose native Canada postponed its role as guest of honour at this year's fair to 2021.

But Boos said nothing could replace the physical fair with its “creativity, chance encounters and a little bit of chaos”.

Volker Bouffier, the premier of Frankfurt's Hesse state, said at the opening press conference that it was “brave” of organisers not to cancel the 2020 edition, “which would have been easier”.

But cancelling the high-profile fair, which dates back to the Middle Ages, was never really an option.

READ ALSO: 'We must prevent uncontrolled Covid-19 increase,' says Merkel as rules tightened

Boos said there was a need for the industry to get together after other book fairs, including in London and Bologna, were scrapped because of the virus.

Surveys in Europe suggest reading has increased during the Covid-19 lockdowns, particularly among children and young people, and book sales are up in several countries.

“When the bookshops closed, we realised how important books are,” Boos said.

By Michelle Fitzpatrick

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