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Sven Ehmann at StoryDrive Asia (Photo: CY. Schmidt)

Design meets Story Telling – Sven Ehmann from gestalten

Maja Linnemann, May 30. 2014

Mr. Ehmann, what are your impression from your visit to China?

Before I came to China, I had the idea that we would mostly be facing old men. Therefore I was delighted to find, that during this one week visiting program at Chinese publishing houses and publishing related businesses, there were many young people and also many women on all levels of management. We have been received very friendly, and the discussion have been very open and much less hierarchic than I would have expected. I am very stunned by the huge variety of the companies we have visited.

Were there any highlights during your visit?

Firstly, I liked the visit to the Today Art Museum which is located in a beautifully designed building. In their bookshop I even found some of our books, and I learned that the museum also publishes books which in style, quality and price are similar to those we make.

I also appreciated the visit of a company named Beijing OpenBook Information Technology Co., Ltd., which collects and organizes publishing industry data – among them bestseller lists – and can help foreign publishers to track their book sales when they sell a license to China. They provided lots of information on the Chinese book market, on the market share of foreign titles, on the topics that are “ hot” or not, and so on. For us publishers from Germany, the Chinese market seems very blurred, very hard to grasp. So just to know that there are instruments to get hard facts and numbers about this market is very helpful. Otherwise we just might think, we sell a book, then it gets copied illegally and we have no means of tracking what happens to our product.

So how do you see the prospects to enter the Chinese market for your books?

This is still an ongoing process. We have had a distribution agent in Shanghai for about ten years for our English language books. We will now have to find out, if our books are only a niche product or if there is more potential. Looking at the prices of most books in China, is quite disheartening, since they would not even cover costs. But of course there are particular shops which also offer higher priced specially designed books, for example on Chinese history.

Can you imagine to make books in Chinese in Berlin?

When I look at the Chinese market I can imagine that it could make sense to translate some of our existing books. I can also imagine to develop books together with local Chinese partners. That could work in both directions.

From the lectures at StoryDrive I got the impression, that it may be a trend or even a necessity to expand from producing a medium – be it books or videos like Martina & Simon from eat.your.Kimchi – to owning a real space where people meet each other (and the products). You also recently opened a second shop in Berlin.

Yes, we used to do workshops and lectures in different places and found that the impact was easily diluted. Also, making a book can be rather lonely exercise where you spend most of the time behind a computer screen. So almost 4 years ago we decided to open our own space in Berlin Mitte, a concept store, where we do not only sell our books but also products related to the books. There is also a gallery attached to hold exhibitions and other events. Most of all it is a meeting place, where you can have eye-to-eye conversation with readers and creative people from all kinds of fields.

Since this has worked very well we have now opened a second presence called Gestalten Pavilion on the roof terrace of Bikini Berlin in the City West. There we have a mixture of book, products and a café.

Mr. Ehmannn, thank you very much for the interview!