Qompendium is an evolving and ever-changing platform for philosophy, art, culture and science, represented by a series of print publications: magazines, books and monographs. Furthermore, it is enriched by a gallery concept, a work shop and a fast-moving online portal.
Jacoby & Stuart features a high-value program consisting of ambitious children’s books, both richly illustrated and well-written and outstanding novels as well as biographies for young readers. Furthermore Jacoby & Stuart publishes charmingly designed gift books, reference books for adults as well as inventive and exquisite cookbooks.
Edmund Jacoby, born in 1948, is a German publisher, translator and author of several books.
What aroused your passion for books initially?
When I was a child, I read a lot, mostly for fun or because I was curious. I was especially intrigued by books with pictures in them. I loved to hold books in my hands and I got used to them.
Which titles do you especially recall from your childhood and do you still possess these childhood books? I only have three books left and they are still of immense sentimental value to me.
One of my two favorite picture books was “Pitschi” created by the Swiss artist Hans Fischer in 1948. Much later, I learned that “Pitschi” had become a classic. One day we got a young black cat – I was so sure that it had to be named “Pitschi” that I could easily convince my brothers and sisters. The other most beloved of my picture books was an album, which some ancestors in the nineteenth century had put together in form of a collage made of cutout etchings from magazines or picture sheets –without any sense or order but with a good feeling for dramatic effects. The first novel, which I read at the age of seven, was a German adaption for children of Cooper’s “Pioneers”; printed around 1880 in “German” Gothic letters. Reading this book was really hard work, and I certainly did not understand half of the text. But the more cryptic the book was to me, the more mysterious it became the more it gave free-range to my fantasy. Of course these three magical books have always accompanied me. They look a bit used nowadays – just as a good teddy bear has to look like.
Were you always interested in illustrated books, myths, fables and fairy tales, or did your doctoral adviser Iring Fetscher, who is known for his Märchenverwirrbuch inspired you?
Yes, I liked folktales very much, the ancient biblical and classical myths and medieval epics. Later on, I discovered that you could decipher the content of our mytho-magical heritage historically. I worked on folktales when I studied in Paris with Jacques Le Goff who impressed me much. Even later, I found out that popular epic traditions are indispensable for keeping literature alive. Using folktales for satiric purposes as Iring Fetscher did, for example, presupposes a widespread knowledge of these tales.
Well, Stith Thompson has also made an attempt to index the motifs of both folklore and mythology, providing an outline into which new motifs can be placed, and scholars can keep track of all older motifs. But I am far more interested in how these folklores are changed and new ideologies are transferred via children’s books. A lot of harm could be done, don’t you think? What values do you try to transmit to the young and vulnerable generation?
Indeed, children’s books have always transported ideologies of the adults’ world, mostly the respective ruling ideology. Competition and struggle for wealth and power on the individual scale as well as on the national scale. Nonetheless, since the invention of modern childhood in the late 18th century, the children’s world has been a sort of reservation territory for values like friendship, solidarity and a sense for non-mainstream thoughts. Romanticism considers the childish approach to the world as being truer than the adult approach. I think that you have to try to benefit as much as possible, from the privileges which children’s literature has, in order to propagate solidarity values; but, on the other hand, you have to be aware that romantic indulging in chevaleresque values can end in pure escapism: Reading fantasy novels is good as long as you don’t really believe that the fantasy world is more real than the real one.
Everybody has a view of the world and how mankind should be. How should people be in your opinion?
I don’t at all want to change human nature. Nonetheless you can try to make children – and people generally – think about the conditions of their being happy, which certainly include the respect for other people.
As you mentioned briefly you studied literature amongst others, then you have been working as a lector, author and as publishing house manager for the German Gerstenberg Verlag. What tempted you to fund your own publishing house finally?
Nicola Stuart and myself both wished to be definitely free in choosing and creating our books, and we wanted to live in Berlin.
The focus of your publishing house is children’s books. Almost all books for children are created and produced by adults. How can a grown- up see the world with a child’s perception? Further, what should the author consider when creating a book for children? Is there a “testing” lab where children try out your future publications and give their notions and feedbacks?
All adults were children once upon a time. And hopefully they have preserved the memory of how things felt when they were young. And even more they should have preserved a somewhat playful way of working with language and pictures. We have preserved this memory. Therefore the testing lab for children’s books is mostly in our own brain. But nevertheless we cherish feedback from contemporary children wholeheartedly. Besides, unfortunately or not, children’s books are bought by adults.
Yes, the deciders are the parents. Have you ever thought of simply creating illustrated books for adults?
Oh yes, it is an old dream of mine to make the culture of the adult’s illustrated book resurrect which has been so strong in pre-war Germany. Abroad, illustrated books for adults are still popular thanks to the art of the comics. Comic books and illustrated books for adults are unfortunately still marginal in Germany. But we are working at changing this.
I suppose there are still some kids reading books intended for them…!? Why do you think it is important for children to be exposed to fables, fairy tales and rather irrational myths and stories?
Without knowing the bible or classical mythology you can’t truly understand literature. This is why I think it very important to make children familiar with this kind of texts and the iconography associated with them.
True, even Hollywood blockbusters mostly visualize stories of old myths. Every second movie features its own version of Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, etc. How many versions of those are necessary?
There is no limitation for reinterpreting and rearranging myths. Even long before Hollywood, the theatres, including traveling theatres, and operas did just that.
Do you believe in God?
As you may have observed I believe in humanity or mankind. And this means that I think that adult people should take on themselves all responsibility for them and for the society in general.
Do you believe that altruistic values are overestimated (by religiously inspired publishers) over values such as intelligence and competence?
The contraposition of altruism to egotism is a puritan perversity, just as the cult of intelligence and competence is. It would be healthier, I think, to persuade people that they might get happier by developing their social intelligence.
Now to daily routine: what criteria are vital for the selection of the books you publish? Do you decide by a certain gut instinct or the result of well-planned marketing research?
Marketing research is only useful for finding out, what kind of stuff has been successful lately and for creating “me too”-products. This is what book factories do. If you want to create or propagate something new, you can only rely on your gut feeling – which, of course will be impregnated with experience.
Sometimes the promotion of a book depends more on the author than the subject of the book. "The English Roses" by Madonna might be on your table. It might be a good idea to have an anchor celebrity for the image transfer, but do you think it is profitable also otherwise?
"The English Roses" were, as far as I know, not an extraordinary success, in Germany anyway.
How’s that? Even after the entire world knows and adores her, no Schwarzenegger-effect here? Maybe German parents are too precautious of their children’s pre-school education …
This is because the world of books is a different culture to pop culture. But certainly some publicity can be very useful for books. If Madonna, who certainly is a celebrity, offered us to publish her next book, and if this book were not complete rubbish (which the “English Roses” evidently are not) we would be happy. But still we may want to work with her on the book and we would tell her that she couldn’t expect to sell millions of copies in Germany.
As we’re speaking of selling millions of copies; a new Dan Brown novel gets unlimited sales promotion like entire display windows, shop sections, reviews and media coverage. As a rather small publishing house with comparatively low profile authors and books range, what do you do to promote your publications?
The best promotion we, as a small publishing house, can get for our books is good press. Journalists still look out for high quality, and a good review in a renowned newspaper or magazine is not only much cheaper but also much more efficient than many expensive ads or display material for the booksellers.
So you don’t pay for special placements on the display shelves?
Promotion that costs money helps only to increase the impact of a well-known book or the new book of a famous author. But from time to time it is necessary to pay (if money allows) for extra-material and advertising, if only to demonstrate to the booksellers that we ourselves believe very strongly in a book.
Let us come to an issue that is crucial for publishers. An inevitable subject in our modern lives is the electronic book. In the introduction of your current publishing program you are aiming to disenthrall booksellers and book lovers from the fear of the electronic book. What assures you that future generations growing up surrounded by Nintendo Wii and flat screens will still be interested in printed books?
A book is not just some sort of product. A book has always had a sort of magical charm, which is not replaceable by an electronic gadget. The hype on electronic readers will soon calm down. This does not mean, that the world of books shall remain untouched by new technologies.
There won’t be any further printed editions of the Brockhaus!
Yes, printed Encyclopedias and dictionaries will be dying out, so it seems. But – quite a while ago – Bill Gates predicted that the last p-book (p for paper) would have had been printed some five years ago. This has turned out to be perfectly wrong. The book has lost its monopoly as an information technology, but it will remain important for many more decades, let’s say, it is similar to the railway, which perfectly has survived the triumph of motorcars, although predicted vice versa.
Yes, we are familiar with the "Video killed the Radio Star". So as to rebut Gates, what should printed books offer in order to be – and stay – an object of desire, and a profitable product?
Reading and learning is not only a matter of the brain. It involves the senses of the whole human being. Books therefore have to look good and feel good, they have to weigh and even to smell in a way that may remind us of happy reading moments or induce us to happy reading moments. They make us imagine sensual things in a sensual way. So, books can be objects of desire. As such they do underlie fashions, like clothes do. And if you succeed to create fashionable books both in content as in appearance, you will be successful, albeit in the haute couture, the prêt à porter-department or the mass market.
Can you name one "haute couture book" on the publishing market?
No, there is not a single one, which would ring a bell to a majority of your readers. I am simply talking about artist’s books with a limited and numbered print run, produced not for a general public but for a well-off community, just as haute couture.
We just talked about how books can become an object of desire. Most of Jacoby & Stuart’s books feature charming illustration and elaborated graphic design to achieve this status. How do you find and select your artists and designers?
There are a couple of artist communities, of people who like each other’s work. If you know a couple of them, you get to know many more.
The digitalization of publications through platforms like Google Books has caused some discussions. Do you also see the intellectual property rights of authors and publishers endangered?
They always have been in danger, mainly by political or commercial monopolies. Google won’t necessarily impoverish the authors but by its commercial power as a monopolist Google can dictate the conditions under which authors have to sell their rights or at least part of them. This is against the idea and the laws of copyright and, furthermore, against the principle of intellectual property.
But nevertheless, when do you intend to join the digital market? Do you feel forced to expand your program to this market?
So far not. But of course we try to integrate digital rights in our author contracts, as all publishers do. This might turn out to become very useful.
At the end we’d like to ask you to give us your list of recommended books or publishing houses, which deserve more attention than they receive!
I am sorry, but I am very bad at studying the lists of my colleagues. Probably out of lack of time.
But there must be something you read out of pleasure and not as a daily duty!?
Daily newspapers, sometimes a new novel that my wife recommends to me, more often books on history and philosophy. During my last summer holidays I finally managed to finish "War and Peace” – that was a real treat.
What is ...
the best part of your work?
Developing books with authors
The most annoying part of your work?
Your favorite occupation?
Art or design?
Not easy to tell the difference
72 ppi or 300 dpi?
Good printing is better than your computer screen.
my wife and friends.
believe in …
I am ...
interested in …
too many different things
influenced by …
oh, this always slips my mind
I'd like ...
to meet …
to eat …
an honest steak.
to possess …
enough money to make all ends meet.
to kick the ass of …
to give all my money to …
a charitable foundation I myself could guide.
to ban …
no, to make it unnecessary to ban things.
to thank …
my wife and the others who work with me.
Jacoby & Stuart GmbH
Straßburger Straße 11
Phone +49 30 47 37 47 90