Dutch Encouragement: An Interview with Joost Nijsen of Podium

Indie InnovationFor this latest Indie Innovation entry, I spoke to Joost Nijsen, the renowned founder and owner of successful Dutch independent publishing house, Podium.

Having recently moved to the Netherlands myself, I wanted to explore the publishing industry in this small yet influential country. Since 1997, Nijsen has built a strong and enduring reputation in Dutch publishing, and his publishing house continues to make an impact in these challenging times. So who better for insights on indie publishing in Holland?

Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Joost.

Hi, Joost. Thanks for speaking with us. First, could you tell us a little about Podium and its specialties as a publishing house?

Podium is publisher of Dutch and foreign fiction (including poetry) and quality nonfiction; journalism, but also upmarket cookery books, guides with a twist, and more. At home we’re known for our well-known Dutch writers, such as Kluun, Ronald Giphart, Wilfried de Jong, Arjen Lubach and Inge Schilperoord, amongst others.

Podium, publishers, netherlandsPublishing books is rarely plain sailing. What have been the most challenging parts of running an independent publishing house?

Balancing between building an upmarket list with important writers, and commercial results. It’s what I like to do: investing in great books, compensating eventual losses with smart selling titles. In my view, the publisher is not only an entrepreneur, but also someone adding to cultural issues and issues in society. That’s a bit old-fashioned, but it’s our mission.

And what have been the most rewarding elements of your role at Podium?

The real happiness is when a writer of importance also generates money—for him or her and for us. So to make a profit with great books. Moreover, it’s great to make choices that are totally independent—led instead by taste, views and experience.

In a nutshell, how would you describe the current state of publishing in the Netherlands?

The market for quality books went down in the last 10 years by 20 to 40 percent. The golden market (bestsellers of more than 100,000 copies in such a small language area) is over. That was for the ’80s and ’90s.

The market for good books will never disappear, and the impact of digital publishing has proven to be minor, as readers do love the paper objects. But the audience is much smaller, due to other free-time activities, like everything connected to Internet. The level of education for reading has not really added to the connection of younger readers to book reading and book buying.

And what about independent publishing in the Netherlands?

Conglomerates have been—and are still—having problems, for various reasons. That created and creates space for independents and new players. When you look at the weekly Bestseller 60, you’ll always find successes in the indie corner.

How has the industry in the Netherlands been impacted by wider global trends, be it positively or negatively?

Dutch people tend to read and speak English quite well, but for reading novels, most of them prefer reading in original Dutch. Thanks to the active Nederlands Letterenfonds, many foreign publishers started publishing Dutch writers, such as Herman Koch and Tommy Wierenga (neither of whom are on my list, by the way).

How do you approach Podium’s relationship with its authors?

Joost Nijsen, publishers, podium, netherlands

Joost Nijsen

Our strategy is to focus on a relatively small program (35 titles a year), enabling us to be a very pro-active partner of our writers, in editing and marketing at home market, but also in selling movie rights, translation rights, etc. Podium is—as many indies—very much a “family,” where authors believe we are the best partner to create a market for their works.

Many of them love to be involved in the whole process, such as cover design, choice of title, media strategy, and much more.

Do you think Dutch authors have the ideal platform to expand into international markets?

We are very active internationally here in Holland, in selling and buying rights. Some are trying to reach other markets by publishing in English. I don’t think that will work, as local publishers know better how to exploit their translations.

Are you hopeful about the future of physical bookstores in the Netherlands?

Yes, but again, the market went down to a modest level. Many bookshops disappeared but many of those were not good enough. On the other hand, you see magnificent booksellers, understanding that book buyers expect quality, atmosphere, service, etc.

Having said this, the biggest bookstore is and will be online, in Bol.com. They sell around 20 percent of our books. The chains are not what the used to be; Ako and Bruna seem to focus more and more on a small assortment: bestsellers. But there is a significant group of independent bookstores, like Libris, who are the next-biggest retailer for us.

How have you embraced digital technology at Podium?

We publish all our books also as ebooks. It’s a small market, around 4 percent. Market piracy is bigger, but this is difficult to avoid. I expect that a Spotify model with “streaming” subscriptions might work, but only when a powerful player could prove to make deals with all publishers. Amazon is very low in our country, also due to the market position of Bol.com.

What advice would you give a startup indie publisher in The Netherlands?

Specialize. Don’t publish too many titles. Find a niche. Keep overhead low. Invest in very skillful editors, or hire them freelance. Know how to approach media. Find a partner for selling it all to retail. Make books beautiful. Don’t expect to become rich. But it is still possible to create bestsellers when you’re a small player.

A huge thanks to Joost for speaking to me. You can learn more about Podium on their website. You can also follow Joost on Twitter.

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