Exclusive interview with Bernhard Fetsch, the German marketing manager of books
By Ali Ameri
IBNA- Bernhard F. Fetsch is a successful German book marketing manager. Having studied German and French literature as well as Business Administration (executive MBA), Mr. Fetsch has been the Chief Marketing Manager at Verlagsgruppe Droemer Knaur, Munich (responsible for the publishing companies Droemer, Knaur, O.W.Barth), and Company Management. Sales & Marketing Verlagsgruppe KV&H, Unterhaching (responsible for the publishing companies Harenberg, Heye und Weingarten), etc. He also gives lectures on marketing for books in cultural events.
In his first visit to Iran and Tehran International Book Fair (TIBF), Mr. Fetsch described the modern and practical methods of book marketing at a meeting for Iranian audience and gave more details about them in the following interview.
We have witnessed that Frankfort Book Fair (FBF) and the German publishers have always actively participated at Tehran International Book Fair, even at the time of the previous government which Iran was severely hit by international sanctions and some activities including bank transaction had become so difficult. It seems that they have a special interest in Iranian books and print industry.
Yes, this is true, because Frankfort Book Fair is specialized for cooperating worldwide with the other international book fairs and in the Middle East, Tehran International Book Fair is the most important for us.
I suppose you recently participated in Abu Dhabi International Book Fair (ADIBF) as well.
That’s right; it was about two weeks ago. It’s a little bit smaller than TIBF; although the number of visitors here are much more than ADIBF. As well as people of Tehran, Iranians come by busses from Isfahan and other cities of Iran. I’ve met quite a lot of people who make real efforts to come here.
Would you please describe your method of marketing for books and the German experience?
Well, the experience we have in Germany departs from having look at your audience, to know about your customers’ needs, what people are going to read your books and what they are looking for. Are they trying to escape reality? Are they trying to get information? slight information or they really want to dive deeply into the topic. These are different needs our customers have. So, we have to answer to the needs.
We don’t produce books because we simply like them. Of course, we are not working on the books we don’t like, however, its customers’ view we have to take over. Therefore, you should have a clear idea of who your audiences are. Obviously, target groups in Germany are different from those in Iran. So, marketing in Germany is going to be different from what is like in Iran.
The other important issue is the ground you move on. The ground in Germany is defined by the number of publishing companies, which are over 20,000 and bookstores or other places where the books are displayed and sold which are over 6000 places, plus online shops.
This is the market we are adopting to and are working on it. For bringing out a book into the top rank of best selling list, you have to take great efforts. You have to make the same efforts in Iran, but is different from the situation in Germany or any other country.
How do you research on the features which make a book a bestseller?
We focus on four aspects which form the marketing. It was first described by Jerome McCarthy who introduced his concept of the 4 Ps marketing mix in the 1960s which includes product, price, place (distribution) and promotion. You can’t change any of them without influencing the other three. It’s a complex thing and constitutes the whole method. People are only willing to pay a special price for a special content and if you change your content in publishing, people like to pay different prices for your new products.
It is also depends on what your book looks like and which bookseller wants to sell it. You can do special promotion only for academic books or poetry.
As I know, in some cases you in Germany also subsidize some special books.
Yes, this is correct. You can define and describe your audiences. You must not think of a small audience, because as a publishing company you want to sell many books and bring your author into the spotlight. Actually, making business is very important. Running a publishing company, you should take consideration of art, culture but also business. You always search for a special books; something good for your publishing company, but also something which sells good.
While you were describing the process of your work, a question came to my mind: regarding the quality of books, to what extent do you accede to the demands of the audience? Are you working on superficial or trivial books as well?
It depends on what you see as superficial. We don’t have problem with popular books or entertainment. Even if some books do not leave up to a certain literary level, you can do a good job in marketing for those books.
A good question at least to me is whether you want to work on important books, important for yourself, your family or your society. Whether you want to change something by publishing a certain book or make people interested in a special topic. This can be more academic or less academic.
I’m not talking simply about academic books, which have a defined and certain category or what is called highbrow works. I refer to books in general.
All right, the issue at stake here is expertise. To sell books to different people with different tastes and values. Even if the book is different, you can still do a good marketing job for that. You should make a balance between art and business.
So, based on your remarks, I conclude that one of your other targets is the promotion of book reading among people.
Yes, indeed we are all trying to get our customers' spare time. We are part of a whole new world of media which includes TV, radio, internet, gaming, music and books. Medias such as digital media are also good and have their own functions. The only issue is that I am selling books, I would like other people to buy books and start reading and finding it more attractive. This is what currently happening in Germany. People have begun to read more and more books, not necessarily books in print but also on mobile phones, e-reader devices, computers and so on. In this process, when people are attracted to reading, they will gradually begin to search for more valuable books.
Do German people prefer to read printed versions of the books or like to read them as e-books on digital devices?
In general, they are more interested in printed books; at least more money is spent on them and the growth of e-books are slowing down. Even in the last few years, the market share of e-books in the U.S. has also gone down.
And the last question, what’s your general view of Tehran International Book Fair in your first visit of this event?
I am highly impressed by the number of people who came to the book fair searching for right books. I think it’s really a very large book event. For me it was a really wonderful experience and I would love to come back next year and see more of Iran’s ancient and impressive culture.