Literary Blogging in Germany: From Fringe to Centre-Stage

If you want to know how important literary blogs have become for the German publishing sector, just look at this year’s German Book Prize: for the first time, there is a blogger among the seven jury members. The presence of Uwe Kalkowski, who made a name for himself with his ‘Kaffeehaussitzer’ site, is just one of many signs that bloggers are now established forces within German publishing.

Involvement in high-profile industry initiatives

In 2013, the Foundation of the German Publishers & Booksellers Association (Börsenverein) launched an initiative called ‘5 lesen 20’ with a group of five literary bloggers reading and discussing the German Book Prize Longlist: ‘We wanted to use new ways of communication that we had not tapped into so far. We are obviously interested to engage with readers where they are and nowadays that also means blogs,’ explains Börsenverein’s Gunvor Schmidt. Renamed ‘Buchpreisblogger’ in 2015, the bloggers broadcast their take on the Longlist to their audience via their own channels and the Börsenverein’s Facebook page. This year’s group reflects the way the community of digital book influencers has evolved to include different social channels alongside websites: in addition to three regular bloggers, there is now a booktuber, ‘Bücherwunder’, and, for the first time, a bookstagrammer, @literarischernerd, on board.

Also in 2013, Frank Krings, PR Manager at Frankfurter Buchmesse who handles social media and blogger relations, recalls how ‘we noticed for the first time a real demand from exhibiting publishers for a presence of book bloggers at the Fair.’ Now, publishers organise a variety of special blogger events at their stands; and the Frankfurter Buchmesse supported a Book Blog Award last year which was won by the aforementioned ‘Kaffeehaussitzer’. This year, in line with the rising prominence of YouTube as a book promotion platform, a dedicated booktuber event is planned on 14 October for the second time.

Professional blogger-publisher relations

Publishers such as Random House are now operating with special blogger relations departments or even dedicated blogger portals. Co-operation is by no means restricted to providing bloggers with review copies, as publishers have become very aware of the potential that bloggers have as multipliers, presenting a direct route to an audience. This is not only about a particularly high reach but about reaching the right kind of people with the right content. This is of particular significance when it comes to specific genres or niche interests. The children’s and young adult fiction publisher Carlsen has integrated bloggers as vital ‘ingredients’ in online marketing campaigns, for example, to seed content and spread the message via social influencers.

According to a current (July 2018) ranking on lesestunden.de, run by a book blogger who also analyses the wider German book blogosphere, there are around 1,000 top bloggers in Germany. Among the top fifty are many of the names that also frequently crop up in conversations with industry professionals.

A new literary award that was launched last year has its roots in this well-respected group of literary bloggers: The ‘Blogbuster’ prize was initiated by ‘Buchrevier’ blogger Tobias Nazemi and is organised in partnership with publisher Kein & Aber, literary agent Elisabeth Ruge and Frankfurter Buchmesse. It aims to show that bloggers are not only good at spreading the word about books but also actively discover new and unconventional literature. Unpublished authors are asked to send in a book abstract and reading sample to one of the fifteen ‘Blogbuster’ bloggers. Each one chooses their favourite from the submissions to pitch to a jury that includes one of Germany’s leading literary critics Denis Scheck and other industry voices, such as blogger Tilman Winterling from 54books. The winner gets a publishing contract with Kein & Aber.

Bloggers branching out

So, what’s next for book blogs in Germany? There is no doubt that they have become professionalised, now an integral part of the publishing industry with their own specific role alongside journalists. This also comes with obligations and certain expectations from publishers – to fulfil their role as multipliers and book ambassadors. Bloggers are very aware of that and reflect critically on their roles, such as Ilja Regiers on his Eastern European literature-focused blog ‘Muromez’, who wrote in a post after an apparently rather stressful Frankfurter Buchmesse 2016 that he first and foremost wants to be a ‘reader that blogs’ instead of a ‘blogger that reads’.

The online book community is also very aware of its own diversity in tone and topic and embraces it. In a podcast with this year’s ‘Buchpreisblogger’ group, the message is clear: we stand for the many diverse ways of introducing literature to people, no matter if on Instagram, a blog or YouTube, and no matter whether it is sophisticated, contemporary, classic literature or romance. Everything has its place and its audience. Ultimately, this is the vital contribution of book bloggers in Germany: to introduce and recommend books beyond any kind of judgment on ‘high’ and ‘low’ art. And in a country where literary critics have traditionally made a rather strict differentiation between what is worthwhile reading and what is not, this is certainly a very valuable one.

 

Barbara Geier is a London-based freelance editor, translator and communication consultant. She studied English Language and Literature, Media and Communication Studies and Public Law and has worked as an editor and in corporate communications both in Germany and the UK.