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German bookseller bans Vancouver publisher’s gay books is wholly owned by the Catholic Church

The English cover of Gay Icon Classics of the World, which Icon Empire Press says Weltbild rejected. Credit: Icon Empire Press

A small gay press was shocked to be notified that its books would no longer be welcome by German publisher and retailer Weltbild, which claims to be the second-largest German-language online retailer and sells nearly one-fifth of all books in Germany.

Icon Empire Press, a Vancouver subsidiary of Open Mic Press, had asked the retailer to carry its German-language books after it noticed that Weltbild carried its English, French and Spanish books but not its German translations. Weltbild asked Icon to send copies for review.

According to Icon publicist Robert Christofle, Icon then received a letter from Weltbild saying it would not carry the books because they conflict with the company’s mission to promote “traditional values.”

Weltbild is owned wholly by the Catholic Church’s German dioceses. It was founded in Augsburg in 1948 and claims to employ more than 6,800 people and generate revenues of 1.6 billion euros. It claims that 18 percent of all books in Germany are sold by Weltbild.

“The company faces the daily challenge of harmonizing its Christian world view with the requirements of the market in a convincing manner. It focuses strongly on its values,” the company says on its website.

Xtra‘s attempts to reach Weltbild were unsuccessful.

Christofle says Weltbild objected to Icon’s short fiction anthology The Gay Icon Classics of the World. Christofle says the e-book hit number one on the German iTunes chart’s gay fiction category and has been in the top 50 since. He adds that Weltbild was only the “fifth or sixth” largest seller of Icon’s German-language books and the retailer’s ban is not a significant financial hit.

Weltbild appears to be applying its values selectively. A search for gay and lesbian titles on its website yields a few dozen results in both fiction and non-fiction. Brokeback Mountain is available as both a DVD of the Hollywood movie and Annie Proulx’s novella.

Moreover, the company is also one of Germany’s largest distributors of heterosexual erotica. Fifty Shades of Grey is one of the site’s top sellers, and the publisher also offers hundreds of other erotic titles. The retailer has come under fire from Catholics in the past for profiting from the sale of erotica and pornography.

German news outlets, including Der Spiegel, have reported on Weltbild’s decision to drop Icon’s books. Many reports highlight the hypocrisy of banning gay books in the name of traditional values while continuing to sell erotica and porn.

Censorship at Weltbild has been an issue of concern in Germany for a while. German news website reports that the company banned books by queer author Jürgen Friedenberg in 2011 on the order of then-pope Benedict.

A Facebook group set up to protest the censorship at Weltbild has grown to more than 900 members since it was founded June 12.

For its part, Weltbild is not commenting on the story beyond a brief statement it gave to Der Spiegel, which stated in German, “We regret if our selection gave a false impression. We ask for your understanding that like other booksellers we reserve the right not to carry individual titles and publishers for different reasons.”

The company refused to answer Christofle’s questions about why it was banning Icon’s German books but continues to carry other gay books and erotic books.

“That’s why we’re so confused by this. Is it everyone or just us?” he says.

Christofle says that since the story broke in Germany, he’s received hundreds of emails of support from Germans.

“We’re really touched by the support of the German people,” he says. “Even talking to some of the German reporters, I had a sense that they were embarrassed.”