Nobel may increase NU Press cash flow

Elaine Helm

In the week since Imre Kertesz was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, Northwestern University Press has sold about 35,000 copies of his books, improving the troubled publisher’s financial outlook.

The international recognition for NU Press, the sole publisher of Kertesz’s works in English translation, comes after a difficult year in which the publisher lost $877,000.

Although officials remain cautiously optimistic that sales of the books can help the press increase revenues, the additional sales will not fix the publisher’s problems overnight, said Donna Shear, NU Press acting director.

“It’s certainly welcomed,” she said. “But it’s not going to change our strategy, and it’s not going to solve everything.”

Sales could stay high for some time as more people hear of the books and as university professors order them for use in classes, said Laura Leichum, publicity manager for NU Press.

But as time goes on, both Leichum and Shear said they expect sales of the books to taper off to a lower level.

“I would think that the major distributors, wholesalers and stores have placed the bulk of their orders,” Shear said.

Alan Cubbage, NU’s vice president for university relations, said no one knows yet what windfall could result from Kertesz’s Nobel Prize. But he noted that any increase in sales would affect revenue.

“Fateless,” Kertesz’s debut book, was published in 1975 and NU Press printed it in English in 1992. The book remained among Amazon.com’s top 25 sellers and BarnesandNoble.com’s top 50 on Wednesday, according to the book-sellers’ Web sites.

Sales of “Fateless” had reached about 20,000 by Wednesday morning while another Kertesz novel, “Kaddish for a Child Not Born,” accounted for an additional 15,000 of the 35,000 copies sold, Leichum said.

More important than the financial impact of increased sales of “Fateless” and “Kaddish for a Child Not Born” could be the recognition brought to the press, Leichum said.

“It’s visibility and it just enhances our reputation in general,” she said.

NU Press printed only 5,000 copies of “Fateless” in the 10 years prior to the announcement of Kertesz’s Nobel Prize.

Kertesz, 72, is a Hungarian-born survivor of the Nazi’s Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration campus. On Oct. 10 the Nobel committee recognized his work as writing “that upholds the fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history.”

A notice on BarnesandNoble.com’s Web site said after the Nobel committee’s announcement, “‘Fateless’ immediately became the No. 4 bestselling book at BarnesandNoble.com for the day. But some readers will have to wait a little while for their copies: NU Press is rushing out more copies to meet the sudden new demand for the Nobelist’s work.

Leichum said NU Press sent out all of its available stock of Kertesz’s novels by Oct. 10 and new orders of “Fateless” and “Kaddish for a Child Not Born” should be available in about three weeks.

“It’s been wonderful for us,” Leichum said. “(We’ve had) all sorts of international media attention, and the phones are ringing off the hook.”