UK-Swiss Publishing Day: The Recap. Swiss Publishing Panel

7th December, 2020

Our resident ELNet blogger ROSIE EYRE shares her observations of the panel discussions through the day. Each blog includes a link to the video of each panel.
The goal of this, the first ever UK-Swiss Publishing Day, was to promote and support the translation and publishing of Swiss books in the UK. It was the concluding event of the Literally Swiss project in the UK, as it hands over operations to Pro Helvetia in Zurich.
Through the creative use of digital media, funding from Pro Helvetia and support from the SBVV and the Swiss Embassy in London, this also became the first ever ONLINE UK-Swiss publishing event.

1. Swiss Publishing Panel: The Recap

Panellists: Reina Gehrig, Eva Stensrud, Myriam Lang
Chair: Rosie Goldsmith

Focus on Pro Helvetia with Reina Gehrig and Eva Stensrud

  • In August 2020, Reina Gehrig took over as Pro Helvetia’s new Head of Literature (she previously worked as director of the Solothurn Festival). Reina made the following points:
  • Every four years the Swiss parliament issues a ‘message of culture’ defining themes/regions Pro Helvetia will focus on for that financing period.
  • For their current mandate (2016-2020), one of the focuses was to carry out ‘intense promotional work in Berlin and in London’, which is what Rosie Goldsmith and the team have been doing over the past few years – and thanks to this, Pro Helvetia now has a fantastic network of publishers, translators, festivals and other literary contacts across the UK.
  • Looking ahead to the next four years, Pro Helvetia is looking forward to expanding this network further, working directly from Zurich. The UK remains a very important region for them and they are committed to continue supporting projects in UK, whether in terms of translation grants or funding the participation of Swiss authors at festivals, readings etc. in the UK. 
  • Reina’s colleague, Eva Stensrud (our direct contact for Literally Swiss) then proceeded to provide more detailed information on Pro Helvetia’s mandate in Switzerland and abroad, part of which is ‘opening new networks and markets’ (as they have been doing in the UK over these past three years).
  • In terms of the activities undertaken by PH’s literature department, three areas of particular interest from the perspective of a UK audience are: translations, literary events and book promotion – these are the three ‘instruments’ for which festivals or publishers from abroad can apply for grant funding.
  • For translations, PH will generally pay 100% of translation costs. They will also pay 50% of licence costs for children’s books, as well as part of the literary costs for comics and graphic novels. 
  • From 2021 onwards, publishers will also be able to apply for funding for ‘literary reading tours’ (previously, such funding was only available for events such as festivals/literature houses), but this new funding will also be available for readings with Swiss authors in the UK (with PH covering travel costs and fees for authors travelling to the UK).
  • As part of her online presentation, Eva Stensrud gave a virtual tour of the new ‘Translate Swiss Books’ website (https://translateswissbooks.ch), recently launched to replace the physical 12 Swiss Books magazine. The site features: information about Swiss books along with sample translations in English (and this includes children’s books, reflecting the renewed interest in Swiss children’s literature since the 2019 Bologna Book Fair); information on major Swiss literary prizes and prize-winning books/authors; a section on funding (with details on what PH supports, deadlines and guidelines, as well as a specific link to the additional TRADUKI translation funding platform www.traduki.eu); and back editions of 12 Swiss Books (dating back to 2012).
  • Eva also offered a virtual tour of the ‘My Pro Helvetia’ portal (https://www.myprohelvetia.ch), where publishers can create a profile and submit funding applications. 
  • Eva ended her presentation by providing the contact details of the people responsible for different languages at PH – she is responsible for German literature; Aurélia Maillard Despont for French; and Ana Gysi for Italian and Romansch. This is an open invitation for all of you to get in touch via email with any questions, or for suggestions for books that might fit their portfolio – they’re here to help! All the contact details can be found below.

Website links 

TRADUKI translation funding platform www.traduki.eu

Translate Swiss Books website: https://translateswissbooks.ch/    

My Pro Helvetia portal: https://www.myprohelvetia.ch/

Pro Helvetia team contact details 

Eva Stensrud (Pro Helvetia Literature Specialist – German): estrensrud@prohelvetia.ch

Aurélia Maillard Despont (Pro Helvetia Literature Specialist – French): amaillarddespont@prohelvetia.ch

Ana Gysi (Pro Helvetia Literature Specialist – Italian and Romansch): agysi@prohelvetia.ch

Entremets – Discussion of the pandemic’s effect on Swiss book industry

  • The pandemic has been tough – as in many countries, publishers have been unable to do classic promotion activities and many decided not to go ahead with certain publications this year, or to postpone publication from spring to autumn 2020. Nevertheless, the pandemic has given rise to some exciting new online formats and festivals. 

Presentation of Swiss publishers’ associations by Myriam Lang (SBVV): Part One 

  • There are three official Swiss publisher and booksellers’ associations, reflecting the multilingual landscape of Switzerland: LIVRESUISSE for French, comprising 60 bookshops and 57 publishing houses; the Italian association ALESI comprising 24 bookshops and 10 publishing houses; and SBVV for German, the largest of the three with 153 bookshops and 177 publishing houses, which also includes members from the principality of Liechtenstein. 
  • Additionally, there is the Graubünden Books association representing the fourth national language, Romansh (which is also part of SBVV). 
  • There are approximately 280 publishing houses in Switzerland that regularly publish books (and are not self-publishers).
  • In addition to the figures cited above (which are the official member figures for the respective associations), there are also further publishers and booksellers in Switzerland that are not part of these associations.
  • Myriam stressed the essential role of the above associations in establishing the political, cultural and general conditions of the trade in books – this role includes issuing binding statements, providing security via general employment contracts and social facilities, as well as providing education and CPD. They also represent Swiss publishers at different international bookfairs such as Paris, Brussels, Bologna, London, Frankfurt, Vienne, Beijing, Guadalajara, Montreal and Turin.
  • In collaboration with partner organisations, SBVV also organises Swiss book culture promotion projects in foreign countries – and this year saw them organise the first Swiss ‘digital book days’.
  • SBVV also operates the ISBN agency in Switzerland. 

Part Two: The response to the pandemic 

  • Myriam expressed pride at how the Swiss bookselling scene responded to lockdown – many bookshops were able to maintain sales by expanding their online bookstores overnight and setting up services such as external pick-up boxes and bicycle delivery, as well as offering advice via social media, WhatsApp, telephone, etc. and linking up with other local stores. In this way, they were able to show people there is an alternative to Amazon – and ensured people continued to receive their ‘soul food’ along with deliveries of basic provisions. Myriam also gave a specific mention to Swiss children’s books publishers’ response to lockdown – these publishers immediately began offering colouring templates, craft instructions and reading aloud videos, as well as excerpts of children’s books (in the form of serialised novels) free of charge on their websites. 

Part Three: Other reasons to be proud of the Swiss publishing scene

  • Commitment to sustainability – example of Kampa Verlag producing the first climate-neutral paperback series in the German-speaking world.
  • Strong innovative power – example of Rüffer&Rub and Kampa Verlag putting their faith in digital marketing even before the onset of the pandemic, producing wonderful videos to present new titles. During the first digital book days, numerous other Swiss publishers also produced unique presentation videos.
  • Many Swiss publishers are also active in promoting young authors from Switzerland and abroad – and they are not afraid to invest in translation. Example of Editions Zoe and their commitment to translating authors from German-speaking Switzerland, despite this requiring them to put a lot of work into marketing and communication to make the authors appealing to their readers, given the significant cultural and psychological differences between French and German-speaking Switzerland. In this respect, Pro Helvetia’s support for translation is indispensable.
  • The majority of Swiss publishers – across the fields of literature, non-fiction and children’s books – are independent, which allows for a wide range of published books, authors and topics. 
  • Over the years, two award-winning international illustrators published by Swiss publishing houses have received the Hans Christian Andersen award for illustration (the first of these was Alois Carigiet in 1966 and the second was Albertine in 2020), and in 2008 Jürg Schubiger won the Hans Christian Andersen award for writing.
  • Switzerland’s appearance as Guest of Honour at Bologna Book Fair in 2019 also offered the opportunity to showcase the talent of the country’s illustrators to the world. Since then, over 20 young Swiss illustrators have signed their first contracts across national borders – in countries ranging from Sweden to Mexico. 
  • In addition to general interest publishers, Switzerland is also home to internationally-recognised scientific publishers, including publishers of textbooks, and in recent years these publishers have shown considerable innovation in the field of digital teaching aids.

Part Four: Swiss publishing at home and abroad

  • Generally, it is impossible for Swiss publishers to make a living in Switzerland alone (unless they focus on specifically Swiss topics or a special niche), so most generate a large proportion of their sales (sometimes up to 90%) in Germany, France and Italy. Despite the advantage of having sales opportunities in these other markets, on the flip side these markets tend to be more price-sensitive, meaning that Swiss publishers earn less abroad while still needing to cover salaries, rent and production costs in Switzerland. There are also added complications of currency difference, logistics and customs costs. 
  • As a result of all this, running a publishing house in Switzerland is often a ‘luxury’. However, to support Swiss publishing houses, the Swiss government has created a federal publishing house founding programme. This was originally mandated to run from 2016-20 and has now been renewed for 2021-24 – during this period, the Federal Office of Culture will support 94 publishing houses, with a total investment of 7.5 million Swiss francs. 57 of these will be based in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, 31 in the French-speaking part and six in the Italian-speaking part.

Part Five: Sectors within the Swiss publishing scene

  • In general, the Swiss publishing scene has great diversity – many publishers cover several sectors, with the majority active in the fields of literature, non-fiction and children’s books. 
  • Non-fiction covers mainly current affairs, essays, biographies, history, self-help, cookbooks, hobbies, health and philosophy.
  • Within the area of children’s books, Switzerland has a great tradition in picture books, and in recent years more publishers have also developed programmes in narrative children’s books.
  • Swiss publishers also have a strong reputation in the fields of art, architecture and design – either because they publish in English, or because they have their international distributor in the UK.
  • In the field of textbooks and science, there is also great diversity – ranging from educational media for all ages to legal textbooks and medical works.
  • Myriam ended her presentation by directing everyone towards the PDF document she has put together with details of publishers across the different national languages, including catalogues, foreign rights information and relevant contact persons – she said that Emma House would send out copies of this after today’s event.

Looking to the future – post-pandemic and post-Bologna bookfair

  • SBVV plans to maintain a hybrid dimension with bookfairs from now on, as a safeguard against any future pandemics.
  • Pro Helvetia plans to continue its new push on children’s books following on from the success of Bologna, which has given a lot of impetus to the scene – including extending this push to the UK.
  • Swiss government support for publishing has remained strong despite the pandemic (as reflected by the publishing house founding programme discussed in Myriam’s presentation) and Pro Helvetia’s standard funding programme also remains unchanged (they are continuing to fund translations, literary reading tours, etc.). In response to the pandemic, Pro Helvetia has additionally launched some ‘hors du commun’ initiatives over the past year – including a multi-disciplinary call for projects called ‘Closed Distance’, as well as a call focused on book promotion (with more flexible criteria to reflect the current situation). Depending on situation next year, they will most probably launch further calls in 2021.

Website links

Pro Helvetia website: https://prohelvetia.ch/

SBVV website: https://www.sbvv.ch/ 

Video link

Watch the full panel here:

Blog by Rosie Eyre


Reina Gehrig is the new Head of Literature at the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia. She took over the role in August 2020, having previously worked as director of the Solothurn literary festival.


Eva Stensrud is a Literature Specialist for German at the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia. Over the past three years, she has also been the European Literature Network’s direct contact for the Literally Swiss project.


Myriam Lang is responsible for exhibition management and promotion at the Swiss Association of Booksellers and Publishers (SBVV).

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