From 10-14 October, over 7,200 publishing companies from around 110 countries gathered in Germany for what is universally considered the most important date in the international publishing calendar: the Frankfurter Buchmesse, or Frankfurt Book Fair. Italy was represented by some 280 publishers who exhibited a variety of products ranging from books to CD-Roms, audio books to DVDs. They are at the forefront of an industry that employs around 21,000 people, had a turnover of nearly e4.2 billion in 2005 and produces over 50,000 titles every year.

However this apparent bill of good health belies an underlying malaise. Part of the problem lies in the way the industry is structured. Of the 7,739 publishers registered in Italy at the start of this year, only a handful are household names. These are the ones whose books we see in bookshop windows or advertised on the front pages of newspapers: Einaudi, Arnoldo Mondadori, Rizzoli, Piemme, Bompiani, Sonzogno, Adelphi, Guanda, Feltrinelli.

Many of these publishers come under the auspices of large groups such as Mondadori, Rizzoli-Corriere della Sera (RCS) Mediagroup, Gruppo Editoriale Mauri Spagnol (GEMS), Feltrinelli and De Agostini, which together account for well over half the market. By far the most powerful is Mondadori, which is controlled by Fininvest, the holding company owned by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. According to its website, in 2006 the group had a turnover of e439.5 million and issued 2,787 new titles and 4,937 reprints, to a total of 56.4 million copies.

In addition these groups are often also involved in printing, distribution, advertising and promotion or retail sales, giving them a hold on various aspects of the industry. For example Mondadori and Feltrinelli not only publish books but they also have their own distribution systems and retail chains nationwide. GEMS owns the promotion company Pro Libro, whose representatives badger booksellers to ensure that the books published by its companies find their way onto bookshop shelves. The group itself is owned by Messaggerie Italiane, one of the leading distribution companies in Italy.

This concentration has led to the development of a two-tiered market: on one level there are the big publishers producing