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The Netherlands loves English-language titles-but its publishers would just as soon have a chance to translate them
Perhaps it's because the Dutch book world is so small, relatively speaking, but even a shortterm visitor can feel he has a handle on it. In many ways this nation of 15.5 million souls, sharing a market with 5.5 million Dutch-reading Belgians across the border, enjoys some of the advantages, suffers many of the disadvantages, of countries five or 10 times its size. More than any other, the Dutch book world seems dominated by its groups; depending on who is doing the counting, the four biggest trade combines are credited with from 50% to 70% of the total market (which--excluding school and academic publishing--came to an estimated 805 million guilders last year, or some $480 million, earned with some 16,000 titles, 12,000 of them new).
In recent years, as the big got bigger, they rationalized, restructured, down-sized and are now reaping the benefits, explains Laurens van Krevelen, group publisher at Meulenhoff, the country's number one, with at least a third of the total market. Yet booksellers aren't sharing in the euphoria, largely because of high center-city rentals and punishing wage agreements--and despite improved turnover and a good market for fiction.
PW's envoy discovers something else peculiar to the Dutch scene. As the large groups grow, somehow tiny new imprints pop up, often created by defectors from the bigger ones. As in the U.S., they survive, and some thrive.
PW's focus is the market for translation rights--always a good one in the Netherlands, where the number one author of the moment is John Grisham, with Isabel Allende, Stephen King, James Redfield, Umberto Eco, Tom Clancy, and Robert Ludlum among the top 15. Agent Marijke Lijnkamp, whose client list includes HarperCollins, Turner Publishing and Princeton, nevertheless notes increasing focus on building original Dutch fiction lists; still, it's less risky to translate English-language authors--and the more commercial the better.
Risk is there all the same, because of those "early export" editions of U.S. and U.K. blockbuster fiction in paperback-- landed in the Netherlands faster and priced considerably below translations into Dutch, when at last these are ready for release.
There can't be many examples outside the Netherlands of the Meulenhoff phenomenon. The old flagship house on an Amsterdam canal was already a group with lively trade and educational components when it took on the Malherbe congeries of famous imprints in the Netherlands and Belgium; now Meulenhoff in turn has joined a major press combine (it's the M in PCM), giving it even greater reach.
Still, the flagship house is there, now using founder J.M. Meulenhoff's initials to distinguish the prestigious imprint from the corporate umbrella. Under publisher …