The Colibri Publishing House
The "Colibri" Publishing House was established in 1990. It edits fiction, documentary and reference literature, vocabularies and manuals. Amongst the authors published by "Colibri" there are some of the most prestigious representatives of European modernism in literature, with a focus on the interest towards French culture.
Today the "Colibri" Publishing House runs three bookshops in Sofia, each of them offering more titles than one can find in "Slaveykov" Square - the biggest Sofia open book market. Not only the published editions of "Colibri" can be found in the bookshops - since 1992 the publishing house is a direct importer of books, vocabularies, encyclopaedia, reference literature, language learning systems, art albums, design and fashion albums from France, UK, Germany, USA, Spain, Italy. Individual orders of items from catalogues and CD-ROM are available too. The clients of "Colibri" are highly educated, most of them being young francophones. In 1990 Raymond Wagenstein together with two other associates created the "Colibri" Publishing House without any initial capital. Unlike his partners - experienced translators and editors at the prestigious "Narodna Kultura" Publishing House, Wagenstein came to the book publishing business from the cinema field. In the beginning none of the three entrepreneurs had any idea of the real market mechanisms of book publishing and book distribution (still today money is not a key value for the "Colibri" team). Each one of the leaders of the "Colibri" knows several languages, is well aware of several cultures and maintains a large network of colleagues in Bulgaria and abroad. Alongside these advantages there is some reluctance toward publishing boulevard literature.
The main reason for the success of "Colibri" according to Raymond Wagenstein is the flexibility of publishing behaviour. "A publisher should be like a shark - if it stops moving it stops breathing and dies".
Who represented the dramatic push on the way to success of the "Colibri"? At the Film Berlinale Wagenstein by chance met a publisher married to a Bulgarian, who asked him: "Would you like me to make a selection of books for you and send them over to sell?" Raymond's answer was positive. As a result a truck full of books appeared out of the blue in front of the "Colibri" office located on the fourth floor of a central street in Sofia. After the cargo was lifted and the books had been jammed into all rooms, Raymond and his associates acknowledged that they would have to open the first private bookshop in Bulgaria and to implement a three-month payback strategy with the books imported from Germany.
According to Wagenstein, the Bulgarian book market is too small to be of interest to Western Europeans. The boss of "Colibri" foresees our integration in Europe as a sinister development: a Western European publisher will open a venture in Sofia and his powerful resources will disastrously undermine the profitability of a bookshop that a Bulgarian owner has been nurturing for 10 years only to pay back the investment.
"Yet no one publishes a book to keep it home", continues Raymond, who is the current chairman of the Bulgarian Publishers Association. "Once we used to publish books ad hoc: we threw a book on the street and if someone bought it, it was O.K. Nowadays we care about a certain segment of the market. Literature fades away as a type of entertainment. For five years now we have made a turn in our profile and from literature publishers we have moved towards textbook publishers. Vocabularies are a serious business and demand complete adjustment of all activities. That's why we are the only publisher exporting books to France and Spain. Nothing may run smoothly in Bulgaria, yet children learn languages."
The "Colibri" has opened and closed down four bookshops (two of them in Sofia, the others in Varna and Plovdiv). The wildest times for the company were when Raymond had to run to the exchange office three times a day to change the daily turnover into hard currency, because the rate of the BGN shifted very quickly and the morning profit could turn into a loss in the evening. Wagenstein claims that the currency board system currently in place in Bulgaria is favourable toward publishing. He does not find it necessary for the state to adopt a law on books. According to him the state has to manage the book distribution that has been disastrously shattered during the times of transition. "Colibri" does not need support from the state. What is needed is that the state does not stand in the way.