It’s the most coveted read in the world right now – “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” the shocking exposé lambasting the US president’s leadership, intellect and even mental health. Henry Holt, the book’s publisher, has received orders for more than one million copies and sold hundreds of thousands of e-books and audiobooks. In Germany, the English version is ranked number one and two in paperback and hardcover, respectively. And that’s the untranslated version. The German version is due to be released in February.
Celebrating behind the hype is a firm in the southwestern German city of Stuttgart. You wouldn’t expect it from a simple concrete facade tucked between residential homes with big backyards, but this is the headquarters of one of the world’s most powerful publishing houses, the Holtzbrinck Group.
The Holtzbrinck Group bought the publishing firm Macmillan in 1995, which owns New York-based Henry Holt. Despite not being as well-known as its German rival Bertelsmann, owner of Penguin Random House, the Holtzbrinck Group’s holdings are vast. It has several German imprints, as well as stakes in Internet firms such as Rocket Internet. Last year it made a profit of €1.7 million.
The publisher was first established by Georg von Holtzbrinck as a book club in 1948, passed onto his three children upon his death. It is now run by Stefan von Holtzbrinck and his half-sister Monika Schoeller, while his half-brother Dieter von Holtzbrinck stepped out and formed his own media company, which also owns the Handelsblatt Group, among other assets.
The 54-year-old Stefan von Holtzbrinck, who is more than 20 years younger than his siblings, is known to enjoy his privacy, taking a hands-off approach to operations. Having studied law, he has helped to usher the publishing house into the digital age.
“Activism without a purpose is a great mistake,” Mr. von Holtzbrinck told a German newspaper in a rare interview, talking about online strategy. “You also have to be able to sit by the river and wait. Not every trend is a long-term move.”
Mr. von Holtzbrinck and Michael Wolff, the author of “Fire and Fury”, are not the only ones smiling. There is another, completely unrelated, book titled “Fire and Fury”, and its sales have soared out of what appears to be sheer confusion. That other book’s author is Randall Hansen, the director of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. His work is about the allied bombing of Germany in the World War II. On Twitter, Mr. Hansen has wondered tongue-in-cheek whether he owes his additional royalties to Donald Trump: “If so, the irony will know no limits.”
Barbara Woolsey is an editor for Handelsblatt Global in Berlin. Handelsblatt's Lazar Backovic contributed to this article. To contact the author: [email protected]