Small prints, small structure, copyright ridiculous but very large turnover. At Harmattan, one does not know the crisis we saw.

It’s pretty amazing but true: with 800 titles per year (as much as
Gallimard), and an annual turnover of 34 million francs, the L’Harmattan are fast becoming one of the biggest French publishers. Denis Pryen, its director, has an optimistic “the opposite of the general lament.” The crisis of the humanities? He does not know. Or rather, he saw, to shock his colleagues by methods unorthodox, to say the least.

No need to search bestsellers in the catalog of Harmattan. There are not any. What then is the key to successful business also, born in 1975 on the ruins of the Third World and initially intended to promote in France “dominated cultures” in Africa, the Caribbean and elsewhere? Essentially gross publication trunk of a multitude of French and Francophone academic work (memories, conference proceedings and theses) that, from the mid-80s were increasingly hard to make their way in the traditional publishing; 120 titles per year in 1980 to 400 at the end of the 80, 700 in 1995 in a depressed general context exponentially.

Atypical, corporate strategy, installed in the heart of the Latin Quarter, comprising a library, based on two pillars: production costs minimized and authors paid the same. By the mid-80s, L’Harmattan systematized the “ready-made stereotype.” Manuscripts should arrive not only seized computer disk (which removes the composition of costs) but models and formatted to house standards, the author’s expense. Everything can directly go to the printers. Relations with them have also been optimized: production is planned well in advance, the machines print several books at once. Up to eight at the same time, the formats are defined once and for all and machines could remain keyed a drawing to another. Maintaining a slight permanent structure (twenty-five employees, many series editors are volunteers) continues to reduce fixed costs.

The editorial policy is basic: multiply the collections entrusted to academics, to rake the widest possible. The work on the manuscripts, when it is minimal: it is to prune or cut. “We will not bother to do the best for rewriting 300 pounds,” says Denis Pryen unashamedly, for whom “good thesis is often more interesting than a public trial so he revisited n ‘ brings nothing “.In addition, they must provide their” ready-made stereotype, “the authors do not receive the advances and no right below 1 000 copies (between 1 000 and 3 000 sales, they receive 7% rights, 10% above 3000). As the means prints are, without exception, below the threshold of 1000, an author does not cost Harmattan. It is sometimes obliged to pay: poetry writers, literary criticism, and theses published in full must buy fifty copies of the draw. As for translations, there is virtually none. How many copyrights Denis Pryen he pays annually? 800,000 F on average, he says, less than 2.5% of its total turnover!

Co-founder of the house, from progressive Catholic circles, with energy to spare, Denis Pryen does not bother emotional and not afraid to remain marginal (it is not a member of the National Union of publishing, where, he said, “some tenors wrong stonewall”). His diagnosis is that its commercial square bet: if the crisis strikes his colleagues is that they do not adapt to the necessities of the time and continue to live beyond their means. While admitting having a diffusion problem of its collections (how to properly distribute a book from 300 or even 500 copies?), He claims a policy of “networks” (made for twenty years in the associations, academic or institutional) very targeted mailings. He must reverse the prevailing logic: the problem, he says, is not so much to sell books detractors accuse him also to let sleep stocks that reduce costs to enable the works who deserve to exist. Cynical, say some, accusing Denis Pryen exploit the ego or desperation researchers. Useful, argue others who Harmattan edge gaps of the university system and the heaviness of the institutional issue