Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Werner Girbig's Jagdgeschwader 5 vs. Erik Mombeek's Jagdgeschwader 5 history, Oblt. Frank Liesendahl's Jabostaffel

" Much as I appreciate all the work that went into making such a book, I'm not very willing to pay $70 for it (not to mention shipping costs). Especially when I see books like Werner Girbig's Jagdgeschwader 5, a hardcover, 320-page book to be published this month by Schiffer (in English), which I have just pre-ordered at Amazon at a mere $27.10..."

The comment above was posted on the TOCH forum in response to an announcement regarding the publication of the latest volume in Erik Mombeek's history of Jagdgeschwader 2 which was previously covered on the Luftwaffe blog here. Erik Mombeek is of course the leading author of self-published Luftwaffe fighter unit histories and has already produced the histories of JG 1, JG 4, and JG 5. The two volume history of Jagdgeschwader 4 was translated from the original French and German text by this blog author. The third volume of Erik's on-going series devoted to JG 2 has just appeared in French. Volume 1 in English, translated by myself, is still available from Erik's website. I post Erik's response to the comment above here, not only because I had a hand in composing it, but because it offers a rare insight into the trials and tribulations of self-publishing large Luftwaffe unit histories and because of the rare information contained in Erik's reply on a member of Oblt. Frank Liesendahl's noted Jabostaffel...

" ...First of all, thank you for starting this debate and my thanks to those who have participated or who are willing to offer a comment here. I am very interested to read all your opinions since I have recently been considering exactly how to proceed with my book series especially with regards to the sensitive issue of pricing. In fact on price I have already taken a decision communicated just last month to the various bookshops stocking my books and which I will attempt to explain here.

To return to certain points raised in the various posts here. In my view the general and ‘elderly’ history of JG 5 – dating from the 1970s- that Schiffer are finally publishing is frankly a long way from my detailed JG 5 history published over four large-format volumes representing more than 1,000 pages and nearly 2,000 photos in a day-by-day diary format. Incidentally, while the Schiffer book appears under Girbig’s name, it was largely researched and compiled by Erich Mikat. The original manuscript was entrusted to me by the JG 5 veterans association along with their archive when I took on the task of writing the history of this Geschwader.  Of course if a general Osprey-style overview is all that the reader is looking for then this new book is probably fine – so far as it goes.

I suppose we should note – if not perhaps entirely understand – a work that skims the surface is probably adequate for a certain readership. However if the enthusiast wants more detail, more pictures – in short much more depth - then we get into much more specialised areas. That of course involves its own costs.

Speaking personally, lists of names whether of aces or their claims has never been enough for me. Those who know my books will appreciate that I always try where possible to place a person in a precise historical context, both militarily and, where I can, on a human level. I tend to think that this is not just ‘history’ but on one level ‘psychology’ and such a presentation lends itself to a better understanding of events that took place seventy years ago and helps to inject a ‘spark of life’ into the stories of those young men whose lives were cruelly cut short in their 20s. Perhaps some readers are not at all interested in the sort of information that appear in letters such as the one that follows, but these are the types of details – if I can find them - that I want in my books.

Take one particular example that comes to mind from the latest volume of my JG 2 history; the death of Gottfried Weiser, a member of Liesendahl’s Jabostaffel, who was KIA on 31 March 1942. Does the following letter add anything to our understanding of events in the history of JG 2. I personally tend to think so. Others though may find it superfluous;

“ Dear Mr. Oblt. Liesendahl,

.. I received your news that our son Gottfried is not coming back home. We have received his personal effects. Unfortunately on the day that Uffz. Mücke delivered them to Brieg, my wife was visiting me at Schießwasser. We only returned home the following day. We so much wanted to talk to your officer!

“ So we know that Gottfried has died. He has thus joined his elder brother Erich, an Oberleutnant in a Stuka unit, who was killed on 1 June 1940 near Dunkirk as he was leading an attack against a troop transport vessel in the port itself. What a horrible coincidence of fate! Erich’s last words as reported to us were “ I am attempting an emergency landing..” Despite all our efforts we have been unable since to ascertain the whereabouts, either of Erich himself, his radio operator or his aircraft. Gottfried was driven to avenge the death of his brother. He was eager to go into combat and now he has been taken in his prime.

“ And can you imagine, Monsieur Liesendahl, that on the very same day in Schießwasser that we learnt of Gottfried’s death we were told that our last son had also fallen on the Western Front on March 1st. For us as parents this is an unbearable burden, especially if we tell you that our brother-in-law Doctor Strauss was also killed last February with the rank of Leutnant on the Eastern Front.

In three months we have received three death notices in the family! Yet we carry on because we want to win this war, we must win this war and a war such as this demands sacrifices. Has any trace of Gottfried been found on a beach somewhere or has the Channel swallowed up both our sons so completely that we shall never know where either one lies.

“ In conclusion I would like to send to both you and your Staffel, to which Gottfried was so proud to belong, and to all his comrades, our best wishes and much success, but also our hopes that you will all one day return home to us here in Germany..

Sincere greetings,

your J. Weiser Hauptmann”

So you will probably say, "OK, that’s fine, but is it a reason to make your books so expensive?” Well, try to put a cost on 50 hotel nights per year in Germany, two or three hours of work on a manuscript per day over the past twenty five years; printing and postage costs, storage costs and wholesalers who offer you a margin of just $1 per book for your own book - you can appreciate that only a small percentage of my costs in writing, research and book production, whether financial, or in time and energy, are covered. It is easy to get discouraged and sometimes I wonder whether the amount of work and effort involved in producing such volumes is appreciated at all. It has never been my intention to ‘make money’ from this hobby (which by definition brings no financial reward) but the past twenty five years has been rich in rewarding contacts...even so to pay for the second volume in a series, the first has to pay its way..

Take the example of the first English-language volume in this series, JG 2/1. As I believed the American market would be interested in this work, I organised a print run in China for distribution via the West coast of the US. With hindsight this was a mistake – the print and binding quality was inferior to what I could have expected from a book produced in Europe – Jukka’s remark hit the nail on the head. Importing the book into the US was out of the question since my original distributor ripped me off and I am now paying to ‘re-import’ my books back to Europe. Roughly speaking I have covered my production and distribution costs when I have sold two thirds (2/3) of the print run. The last third is not exactly ‘profit’ but represents a cash sum that is re-invested into the production of the following volume in the series. Thus far I have sold only 300 copies of JG 2/1 in English – I need to sell an equivalent number before even considering JG 2/2 in English.

Of course the numbers of veterans that I can contact is diminishing rapidly and with their disappearance my travel costs are also decreasing – there are correspondingly fewer trips to Germany and Austria to make. Therefore the costs of producing each book are consequently decreasing. This is why I have recently decided that I can price my large unit history volumes at under 50 Euros for those books purchased directly from myself. However I doubt whether my books are price sensitive – the audience is simply too restricted.  I also doubt whether book sellers will bring their prices down in line with my new pricing structure as they of course have their own costs and sales criteria to take into consideration. So much for my contribution to this debate. Thanks for reading!

Erik Mombeek