Éditions Gallimard History

5, rue Sébastien-Bottin
75328 Paris cedex 07

Telephone: (33) 01 49 54 42 00
Fax: (33) 01 45 44 94 03

Private Company
Founded: 1911
Sales: $317 million (2003)
NAIC: 511120 Periodical Publishers; 511130 Book Publishers; 422920 Book, Periodical, and Newspaper Wholesalers; 451211 Book Stores; 511210 Software Publishers.

Company Perspectives:

Gallimard wishes to be worthy of the literary heritage and values which presided over its creation, while at the same time preserving its financial and commercial independence, and developing original market strategies. This policy has overseen the gradual reinforcement of the Gallimard Group, a diversified and balanced structure ensuring that dynamic growth and development remain synonymous with the Gallimard brand-name.

Key Dates:

Nouvelle Revue Française (NRF) is founded.
Les Éditions de la NRF is founded.
First three NRF books are published.
Gaston Gallimard agrees to publish Marcel Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu; the company creates an editorial board.
Éditions de la NRF is reorganized as Librairie Gallimard under the leadership of Gaston Gallimard.
La Revue Musicale is founded.
Tuesday meetings of the editorial board are inaugurated.
Gallimard purchases a share in Les Nouvelles Littéraires.
Detéctive and La Revue du Cinéma are launched.
ZED Publications is founded.
Voilà is launched.
Marianne is founded.
Éditions de la Pléiade is purchased.
Claude Gallimard joins the firm.
L'étranger by Albert Camus is published.
Série noire is launched.
Gaston Gallimard is exonerated of charges of collaborating with the Nazis during the occupation of France.
The company is renamed Les Éditions Gallimard.
NRF is allowed to resume publication as Nouvelle NRF.
Publisher Denoël is purchased.
Mercure de France is purchased.
ZED Publications merges with Librairie Gallimard.
Gallimard founds its own distribution company.
Gaston Gallimard dies at age 94.
Claude Gallimard is succeeded by Antoine Gallimard as managing director.
Outside investors acquire Gallimard stock.
The Gallimard family wins control of 61 percent of the company's stock.
The Gallimard family increases its company stock holdings to 98 percent.

Company History:

Éditions Gallimard is the third-largest publishing group in France. It consists of a number of imprints, including Éditions de la Pléiade, NRF, Denoël, Mercure de France, the Du Monde Entier imprint of foreign authors, and its paperback imprint Folio. The company publishes approximately 750 new titles every year. Gallimard's backlist catalogue of 17,000 titles includes most of the great French and international authors of the twentieth century, including Marcel Proust, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Genet, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Franz Kafka, James Joyce, Jack Kerouac, Philip Roth, Sigmund Freud, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Michel Foucault. Gallimard's reputation also rests on the Pléiade collection of classic authors and Gallimard-Jeunesse, its renowned children's book division. Gallimard distributes its books through La Sodis, its distribution company. Gallimard also operates a handful of bookstores, including Schoenhof's Foreign Bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Birth of a Publisher in the 1910s

Éditions Gallimard emerged from a marriage of convenience of Gaston Gallimard and the Nouvelle Revue Française (NRF), a leading French avant-garde literary journal. In December 1910, the magazine's editors, comprised largely of modernist writers such as André Gide, decided to found a book-publishing company. Needing a business manager, they turned to thirty-year old Gaston Gallimard, son of a wealthy patron of leading Impressionist painters. Gallimard's father also possessed large collection of rare first editions and used his wealth to finance the printing of deluxe editions, sometimes limited to as few as two or three copies. Gaston inherited his father's interests. By the time he was twenty years old, his life centered on fine art, rare books, the Parisian theater, gourmet restaurants, beautiful women, and his friends.

Gaston was precisely the kind of person the NRF was looking for: wealthy enough to make a significant monetary investment in the new firm, with both good business instincts and refined tastes in literature, who would put quality ahead of short-term profits; who could provide leadership but was flexible enough to consider the opinions of NRF editors. Moreover, most the NRF's editors already knew him. Growing bored of his shiftless playboy life, Gallimard jumped at the opportunity. With FRF 20,000 borrowed from an uncle, he became a partner in the new publishing house Les Éditions de la NRF. Gallimard had sole responsibility for managing the publishing house. He threw himself into the job, working from pre-dawn until early evening. In June 1911, the publisher's first three books were issued: Gide's Isabelle, Paul Claudel's L'otage, and Charles-Louis Philippe's La mere et l'enfant. Others by Saint-John Perse, Gide, Claudel, and Dostoyevsky expanded the list further in 1912. Off to a healthy start, Les Éditions de la NRF moved from a storefront and Gallimard's bedroom to larger offices where they would remain until 1921.

The house was determined to position itself at the cutting edge of French letters. Despite its intentions, however, it nearly lost one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. In 1913, Gaston Gallimard solicited two 550-page manuscripts by a little-known writer named Marcel Proust. The NRF editors, especially Gide, rejected the work as overly long and overly traditional. Proust had to resort to a vanity publisher to print Du côté du chez Swann, the first volume of his masterwork A la recherche du temps perdu. When the NRF editors saw the published book they realized their mistake. Despite its traditional characters, the work was stylistically adventurous and its language beautiful. Gaston visited Proust again and asked if he had other works. The mammoth novel was the only writing that interested the author, and Gallimard could have it--but only if he published it in its entirety. Gallimard agreed and Proust withdrew the work from Bernard Grasset, another Parisian publisher. When Proust died in 1922, NRF had published all six volumes of A la recherche. The Proust affair was the beginning of the fierce competition between Gallimard and Grasset that would last until after World War II.

Later in 1913, Les Éditions de la NRF enjoyed its first modest commercial success with Jean Barois by Martin du Gard. By 1914, NRF had published approximately 60 titles, with typical print-runs of about 1500 copies. At the same time, problems were brewing in the NRF offices. André Gide worried that Gallimard's publishing program for NRF coupled with his concurrent investments in a Parisian theater were overextending the house's still tenuous finances. Gide tried to have Gallimard removed from the firm. Gallimard responded by establishing a formal NRF editorial board, which threw its support behind the publisher and rejected the successor Gide had proposed. The establishment of the board brought Gallimard an added advantage, given that he had a seat on it. For the first time, he had a voice in editorial decision-making.

Publishing Disrupted by World War I

Éditions de la NRF was not spared the shock of World War I on European life. Paper, electricity, and manpower were in short supply. The front cut the house off from its Belgian printer. Talented young writers such as Alain-Fournier and Charles Péguy, were dying almost daily. The war sent Gaston Gallimard into a depression so serious he had to be hospitalized. Somehow, though, he kept the NRF publishing program going. Manuscripts were the one thing not in short supply. NRF signed Paul Valéry and acquired the French rights to Joseph Conrad's works.

Éditions de la NRF survived the Great War, but its financial situation was far from healthy in 1919. As the underlying impulse of the enterprise shifted subtly from an idealistic literary endeavor to a full blown business, the tensions between Gide and Gallimard reemerged, threatening to destroy the company. Gide deeply resented Gallimard's growing influence at NRF, but he was also aware of the advantages that giving full responsibility to Gallimard, who could provide the house with a single guiding spirit, would bring. In June 1919, the magazine NRF resumed publication with Gaston Gallimard the head of its publishing arm. André Gide distanced himself from NRF's day-to-day operations to concentrate on his writing.

Reorganized in the 1920s

In July 1919, the NRF was renamed Librairie Gallimard. It had five principal shareholders: Gallimard, Gide, and Jean Schlumberger, plus a childhood friend of Gaston's and his brother Raymond Gallimard. The additional shareholders guaranteed Gaston's control over the firm. Moreover Raymond, while not particularly interested in literature, was a superb businessman. With Raymond administering finances, Gaston could give his full attention to the publishing program. Gaston and Raymond's de facto partnership lasted nearly fifty years. Meanwhile, Gaston was struggling to get the house on its feet again. In late 1918, it published Proust's A l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs. When the book won the Prix Goncourt, France's highest literary honor, sales rocketed. The profits enabled Gaston to become a shareholder in the St. Catherine Press, Gallimard's Belgian printer. The agreement guaranteed that Gallimard could produce large print-runs if it had another surprise bestseller. Proust's success gave Librairie Gallimard a higher profile. The house received more submissions than ever before as the 1920s began.

In 1921, Gallimard established an institution that quickly became a mainstay of its publishing business: the Tuesday afternoon meetings of the readers on its editorial board. Comprising literary authorities in all fields, board members met once a week to present recommendations and vote on works to be published, although final authority rested with Gaston. It became one of the great honors of French literary life to serve on the Gallimard editorial board. By the 1930s, Gaston and his board had made the house one of the most respected and competitive in France.

Little advertising or promotion was done in French publishing in the 1920s. Nonetheless, Gaston managed to publicize Gallimard books. In 1922, he invested in Les Nouvelles Littéraires, a literary newspaper, and subsequently the paper gave special attention to its co-owner's products. Gaston also put real effort into winning French literary prizes and capitalizing on the attention they brought. Given the high quality of Gallimard's books, and the friends Gaston managed to place on juries, that was easy. Between 1919 and 1935, Gallimard's authors won eight of 17 Goncourt Prizes awarded. The firm added a host of authors to its ranks in the 1920's and 1930s, including Antonin Artaud, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, John Dos Passos, John Steinbeck, Erskine Caldwell, and George Simenon. André Malraux was lured away from another publisher with the promise of a position on Gallimard's editorial board. Malraux's first book for Gallimard, La condition humaine, won the Prix Goncourt.

New Imprints and Magazines in the 1930s

Gallimard acquired Éditions de la Pléiade in 1933. Originally founded in 1929, the house published classic authors in the public domain. The finely manufactured complete editions were leather-bound in a uniform pocket size and printed on Bible paper. The Pléiade's first publication in 1931 was Baudelaire's complete works, and others quickly followed. However, the consignment payment system widespread in French publishing slowed Pléiade's cash-flow and put the house in financial difficulties. Despite the efforts of André Gide, no French publisher, including Gallimard at first, was interested in taking over Pléiade. After Gaston finally gave in, Éditions de la Pléiade soon became the house's most distinguished imprint.

Gallimard also expanded its magazine line during the 1920s and 1930s. Detéctive, launched in October 1928, specialized in hard-boiled crime fiction and mysteries. Despite complaints that the magazine was too lowbrow for the publishing house, Detéctive became a huge success, in Gaston's mind his most successful commercial venture ever. While it existed, Detéctive's profits financed, to a large degree, Gallimard's serious publishing. However, to distance Detéctive somewhat from Gallimard's more highbrow publications and to provide a springboard for other new periodicals, ZED Publications was founded in December 1928. Other Gallimard periodicals founded around 1930 included La Revue du Cinéma, the photo-weekly Voilà, and Marianne, a weekly journal of news and opinion. The commercial success of Gallimard's magazines peaked around 1936. Serious political developments in Europe, the Spanish Civil War in particular, caused large drops in Voilà and Detéctive's readership. Even Marianne's readers slowly deserted it. The magazine reached a circulation peak of about 120,000 in 1936 and was sold a year later.

Gallimard scored a major victory in its 1932 contract negotiations with Hachette, then France's largest distributor of printed matter. Hachette agreed to pay Gallimard 75 percent of sales upon receipt of its books. The concession, unprecedented in French publishing, was made on the strength of Gallimard's backlist, the NRF journal, and the publisher's reputation. At a stroke, the deal eliminated three of the Gallimard's major problems: the financial risk involved with publishing unknown authors, returns of unsold copies, and financial dependence on bookstore sales. By the late 1930s, Gallimard had grown significantly in all respects: annual turnover, the number of new titles published annually, new imprints, and the size of advances to authors. Gaston concluded the decade with another brilliant coup, obtaining the French rights to Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind, which would eventually sell nearly one million copies.

Occupation and Liberation in the 1940s

France's defeat and occupation by Nazi Germany in June 1940 caused an upheaval in the country even greater than that brought on by World War I. Gaston Gallimard considered selling his business and going into exile in the United States but ultimately remained in France. Gaston Gallimard's policy during the occupation was to push as much as possible without making waves, to placate the Germans without violating his principles. He published classic German authors like Goethe, Meister Eckhard, and Theodor Fontane, while continuing to publish bold new French works. Albert Camus' L'étranger appeared in June 1942, at the height of the occupation, and his Le mythe de Sisyphe soon afterward. Saint-Exupéry's Pilote de guerre was published despite some disparaging references to Hitler that had to be deleted from the manuscript. The war helped sales. With public entertainment greatly limited, French interest in reading was unprecedented, limited only by the usual shortages of ink, paper, and manpower. Despite his efforts at conciliating the Nazis, Gaston was forced to replace the NRF's editor. He agreed, hoping to maintain some control over book publishing. However, the Nazi takeover of NRF cast a dark shadow over the magazine until into the 1950s.

After the liberation of France, Gallimard continued to boast an impressive roster of authors. They included the so-called "Resistance writers"--Jean-Paul Sartre, Camus, and Malraux, among others--who were the most influential literary figures of postwar France. Important new writers such as Émile Cioran and Jean Genet were also joining the house. The Série Noire, a series of crime and mystery novels translated from English, was introduced in 1948. The imprint introduced the work of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler to a French audience. Indeed, Gallimard was not lacking for product at this time. According to his biographer, in 1949 the publisher had a backlist large enough to support the house for twenty years.

The NRF had been banned after the war because of the articles its Nazi editor had published. Gallimard's hopes to resume publication were kindled by two special issues that had been permitted. Eventually the publisher won out and the magazine was allowed to appear once again under the modified title Nouvelle NRF, or Nouvelle Nouvelle Revue Française. After a few years the redundant "nouvelle" was dropped.

Growth and Tension in the 1950s

The Gallimard house entered a period of change in the 1950s. The company adopted the name Les Éditions Gallimard in 1951. A year later, when ZED Publications obtained a 90 percent share in the publisher Denoël, it absorbed an influential competitor. In 1957, the company bought Mercure de France, a leading literary journal. Under the Gallimard banner, the acquired companies retained full editorial independence. In 1954, Gallimard published a complete edition of the works of Marcel Proust and Saint-Exupéry's Vol de nuit became the first Livre du Poche when Gallimard licensed it to Hachette's new paperback imprint.

However, during the 1950s there were also family tensions that nearly destroyed the proud Gallimard empire. Gaston had brought his twenty-three year-old son Claude into the business at the end of the 1930s. In 1940, Michel Gallimard, Raymond Gallimard's son, joined the company. Michel and Claude were as different as their fathers. Michel, like his uncle Gaston, loved literature and art, but he also favored left-wing politics. Claude, like Raymond, was far more interested in administration and business than literature and was a political conservative. Factions formed around the cousins at Gallimard, and the resultant animosity threatened to tear the publishing house apart. The feud reached such a pitch that a separation of the cousins in offices in different sections of Paris was considered. The impasse was resolved in tragic fashion in January 1960 when Michel and his friend Albert Camus were killed in an automobile accident.

Claude Gallimard at the Helm in the 1960s and 1970s

The 1960s were a period of quiet growth for the company. By 1967, it was publishing 15 separate series, all commercially successful. In 1969, Gallimard's assets were valued at FRF 37.54 million. Two years later, the value had risen to FRF 47.05. In the mid-1960s, the day-to-day operations of the company were taken over by Claude Gallimard. In 1967, he oversaw the merger of the subsidiary ZED Publications with Gallimard, which brought ZED's authors and customers directly into the Gallimard sphere. The zenith of Claude's reign was the Hachette Affair. Hachette, Gallimard's exclusive distributor since the early thirties, renewed its contract with Gallimard in 1949 and again in 1956. That contract eliminated all Hachette's sales guarantees and increased Hachette's commission to 48 percent of the retail price. When it expired in 1971, the ensuing negotiations were more hard fought than any before. The companies had new heads--Claude at Gallimard and Bernard de Fallois at Hachette--both eager to prove their mettle. In the end, Hachette's commission demands were too much for Gallimard, and the publisher chose to end its relationship with its longtime distributor.

Within six months, Gallimard had established its own distribution company, La Sodis, and a new paperback line, Folio. The loss hurt Hachette more than Gallimard, whose titles accounted for a full 13 percent of the distributor's business in 1970. When Gaston Gallimard died in 1975 at the age of 94, the backlist he had built was one of the most honored in world publishing. Its authors had won a total of 18 Nobel Prizes, 27 Goncourt Prizes, and 18 Grand Prizes for the Novel awarded by the French Academy.

Milestones in the 1980s

In the 1980s, Gallimard was stronger than ever before, with an influential backlist, a regular stream of stimulating new titles, and a variety of successful imprints unparalleled in publishing. In spring 1984, it butted heads with another major media distributor, the French firm FNAC. Gallimard refused further sales to the Europe-wide discount book and music retailer on the grounds that it was violating French law by discounting books by as much as 20 percent. FNAC countered that the pertinent French laws were in violation of the free trade rules of the European Economic Community. In June 1984, Gallimard lost the case and had to resume shipments to FNAC. Three years later, Gallimard passed a milestone when the copyright protection on Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu expired. In seventy years time, Gallimard had sold more than four million copies of Proust's masterwork in French alone. Subsequently, any publisher could publish its own edition.

Family Feuds in the 1990s

In 1990, new inter-family conflicts emerged at Gallimard. Claude Gallimard had announced In 1988 that he was stepping down as the company's managing director. As his successor, he named his younger son Antoine, passing over his elder son Christian, who for as long as Gaston was alive had been considered the heir apparent to the publishing concern. Claude had removed Christian as Gallimard's head in 1985. In 1990, to strengthen Antoine's position, Claude secretly gave him an extra 21 percent share in the firm. The deadlock broke when Françoise, one of Antoine's two sisters, announced she wanted to sell her interest in the company. She hired a British bank to estimate Gallimard's value, which was appraised at $315 million, about twice the firm's annual revenues. Antoine offered $86 million for a 75 percent interest from his siblings. Françoise rejected the offer. It looked as if an outside publisher, perhaps Hachette or Presses de la Cité, or a media baron such as Rupert Murdoch or Robert Maxwell might attempt to seize control of Gallimard and that the firm's editorial independence could vanish. The deadlock broke later in 1990 when Isabelle, Antoine's other sister, sold her 12 percent share to the Banque Nationale de Paris. By July, both Christian and Françoise had also sold out. Control of 54 percent of the company passed to a group of outside firms. At the same time, Antoine Gallimard engineered a plan which limited the stake of outside shareholders to 12 percent and the publishing house became a subsidiary of a new holding company, Sopared, which was controlled by Antoine. The scheme preserved Gallimard's independence and left Antoine, for the time being at least, in control.

In the mid-1990s, Gallimard entered another growth phase. The company was building its travel book division, as well as negotiating the licensing of the Pléiade series to the Italian publisher Einaudi. A major source of revenue and prestige was twenty-year-old Gallimard Jeunesse, which was one of the most successful and respected lines of children's books in world publishing. The American publisher Scholastic Books, holder of a small share in Gallimard, licensed a number of Jeunesse titles for translation into English. By 1999, Gallimard boasted an annual turnover of over FRF 1.5 billion. With a list running to more than 40,000 titles, the firm published approximately 28 million individual volumes that year. The print runs of the publisher's numerous titles ranged from as low as 400 to nearly half a million.

The Company Regained in the 2000s

At the end of the 1990s, Madrigall, Gallimard's holding company controlled by Antoine Gallimard and his sister Isabelle, managed to take over a majority share in the publishing house. Shares were repurchased from two of Gallimard's three big corporate shareholders, the Italian publisher Einaudo and the French media giant Havas. Havas was compelled to sell its shares after the Gallimard board ruled its merger with Vivendi made it a direct competitor. After the repurchase, Madrigall had a 60 percent majority holding in the publishing house. That was increased to 98 percent in January 2003 when Madrigall repurchased the Gallimard holdings of five other outside shareholders for EUR92 million. The repurchase of the stock was termed "an act of faith" by French newspapers. Nevertheless, Antoine Gallimard expressed confidence that the firm would continue to prosper, and in 2003 it had sales of $317 million. One year later, in spring 2004, however, Antoine Gallimard announced he might be willing to sell a minority interest in Gallimard to Natexis, an investment bank, to purchase parts of the French publisher Editis Lagardere.

Principal Subsidiaries: Éditions Denoël; Les Éditions du Mercure de France; Nouveaux Loisirs; Gallimard Jeunesse; P.O.L. (88%); Les Éditions de la Table Ronde (57.8%); Centre de Diffusion de l'Édition; La Sodis; France Export Diffusion; Schoenhof's Foreign Books (U.S.).

Principal Competitors: Hachette Livre; Édition Presses de la Cité; Éditions Flammarion; Éditions Albin Michel; Éditions du Seuil.

Further Reading:

  • "The Americans Are Coming," Hindu, February 1, 1998.
  • "Antoine Gallimard: Si la distribution impose ses choix de livres, c'est la fin de l'edition," Tribune, March 12, 1997.
  • Assouline, Pierre, Gaston Gallimard: A Half Century of French Publishing, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York, 1988.
  • "As Time Goes By," Economist, November 7, 1987, p. 108.
  • Cadet, Valerie, "Les quatre-vingts ans de Gallimard," Monde, May, 31, 1991.
  • "Claude Gallimard, 77; Led Publishing House," New York Times, May 2, 1991, p. B15.
  • "Control Shift at Gallimard," New York Times, July 14, 1990, p. A40.
  • Dromard, Thiébault, "La maison familiale, premier éditeur indépendant français, contrôle désormais 98% de son capital," Figaro, January 7, 2003.
  • "Gallimard Case in Higher Court," New York Times, April 3, 1990, p. D21.
  • "Gallimard Chief Gains in Feud," New York Times, March 12, 1990, p. D7.
  • "Gallimard Faces Shareholder Changes," Figaro, May 10, 1995, p. 41.
  • "Gallimard Family Members to Give Up Control of Firm," Wall Street Journal, July 16, 1990, p. B6.
  • "A Gallimard Move Disclosed," New York Times, February 8, 1990, p. D25.
  • "A Gallimard Sets Deadline," New York Times, February 7, 1990, p. D17.
  • "Gaston Gallimard, France's Foremost Publisher, Dies in Paris at Age of 94," New York Times, December 28, 1975, p. 33.
  • Lamy, Jean-Claude, Frédéric De Monicault, and Virginie Vetil "Gallimard: l'irréductible," Figaro, October 30, 2000.
  • Le Pape, Pierre, "La mort de Claude Gallimard Le mainteneur du royaume," Monde, April 30, 1991.
  • "MACIF Acquires Stake in Gallimard," Echos, March 23, 1993, p. 39.
  • Marnham, Patrick, "Attempt to Turn the Gallimard Page Draws Blood," Independent, 26 January 1990, p. 10.
  • Noiville, Florence, "Antoine Gallimard: la liberté de prendre des risques," Monde, February 12, 1999.
  • ------, "Gallimard et Bayard s'allient pour contrôler 22,3% du marché du livre pour la jeunesse," Monde, October 13, 1999.
  • ------, "L'avenir de Gallimard," Monde, May 6, 1995.
  • "Predators Close on in Feuding Gallimard," Financial Times, January 30, 1990, p. 30.
  • Riding, Alan, "French Publishing House Is Torn by Classic Family Feud," New York Times, February 26, 1990, p. C11.
  • ------, "Gallimard's President Wins Control," New York Times, July 20, 1990, p. D5.
  • ------, "Stake in Gallimard Is Sold; Fear of Takeover Revived," New York Times, April 7, 1990, p. A37.
  • Rosenberg, Claire, "French Family Publishing House Faces Share Feud," Guardian, January 26, 1990.
  • Savigneau, Josyane, "Gallimard entre frères et soeurs," Monde, January 30, 1990.
  • ------, "L'affaire Gallimard et la résistance de l'esprit," Monde, February 16, 1990.
  • Salles, Alain, "La holding familiale de Gallimard contrôle maintenant 98% du capital de l'entreprise," Monde, January 7, 2003.
  • Smith, Alex Duval, "Obituary: Simone Gallimard," Guardian, October 25, 1995, p. 15.
  • "A Tale of Two Brothers," Economist, February 3, 1990, p. 72.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol.72. St. James Press, 2005.