Not even the fact that a title is from another country and was a great commercial success there offers a guarantee for the same amount of attention in the German-language market -- not to mention manuscripts that are offered to German publishers.
When Rowohlt chose not to publish Uwe Tellkamp's almost 1,000-page novel "Der Turm" ("The Tower") without significant cuts, he took it to Suhrkamp instead, which published it in its entirety. It was no small risk for the publishing house. But the book received the German Book Prize in 2008, sales have since climbed to almost a million books, and the book was turned into a TV movie, making it a financial success for the publisher.
Suhrkamp's experience with "The Tower" suggests that its sense of quality could pay off in the end. Perhaps not as broadly as in the past, but certainly in such a way as to provide an answer to the question of why publishing houses are still needed.
Thomas Bernhard, another Suhrkamp author, initially sold less than 1,000 copies of his prose books. At the time, hardly anyone would have been willing to bet that the Austrian would go on to sell millions of copies of his works and help to ensure that Suhrkamp continues to achieve at least a small return on sales.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan