With an important past in the publishing sector- formerly the General Trade Director of the Mondadori Group and CEO of Einaudi, to name a few- Riccardo Cavallero began a new project in 2016, founding SEM (Società Editrice Milanese). For its first book, the company will publish and unreleased work by Federico Fellini, L’Olimpo. It is the story of the erotic passions and dramas of the Gods, an opportunity to retrace the archetypes of our imaginations in a biting but dreamlike way as only Fellini, one of last century’s greatest storytellers, knew how. Now, however, we hear the editor’s story:
Let’s talk about madness. The choice to open a publishing house in 2016- isn’t that crazy?In a world where everyone talks about “innovation,” book publishing essentially has not changed since Gutenberg. Even the process of creating a book hasn’t changed. After my 25 years of international work experience (in the USA, Spain, South America and Italy), a friend Mario Rossetti– founding partner of Fastweb and innovator by calling- and I decided to try to change the rules of the game. With a lean structure, solid professionalism and a propensity toward tailored publishing, we treat books as individuals, like one-of-a-kind products. We’re not about blockbuster series, homogenization, or corporate thinking. The only brand that interests us is the authors and their stories. It was not by chance that we chose a retro, “transparent” name like Società Editrice Milanese. We don’t spend a single Euro on advertising; instead we invest in technology and good service. For example, we are the first in Italy (and among the first in the world) to offer the reader the digital e-book and audio book included in the price of the printed version. We sell stories, and the reader should be free to decide how to access them.
Was there a moment or meeting or idea that pushed you in this direction?
It all happened fairly casually. I worked in Finance, doing mergers and acquisitions. Then when I was around 30 years old I began working at Mondadori as the Marketing Director. When I spoke about books as “products” it sent my coworkers over the edge, they chastised me for it, but then it just clicked. When I was approached for another job I suddenly realised that working in publishing was the greatest job in the world and I wanted to stay in this archaic, but fascinating sector. It is an extremely difficult, all-consuming and continually stressful job. But there’s a strange magic to it that I’ve not encountered in any other industry. Of course, it helps to have “colleagues” like Ken Follet, Vargas Llosa and Nicolò Ammanniti help me get through the tougher parts of the daily grind.
Why is reading so important?
It helps to form a broader view of the world so we are less afraid of it. It serves to offer us new perspectives that are different from our own. It teaches us never to give up, to never stop growing and to never stop learning.
Is there a trick to know if a book is “good”?
It is very complicated and changes every day. There are a million ingredients but no real scale by which to measure them. Only experience, insight, and a bit of good fortune.
How did you discover the unreleased work of Fellini that will be published at the end of January?
Our Editing Director, Antonio Riccardi, has long collaborated with Rosita Copioli, curator of the text and one of the most renowned scholars on the master Fellini. It was a complicated process, but we are thrilled and proud to be able to kick off our publications with a work of this calibre. Imagine, this work supposedly contained the nucleus of what was supposed to be a character for a TV series. This was forty years before Netflix. Talk about modern.
When I say style and elegance, what comes to mind for you?
I think of the Nobel ceremony in ’82 and the marvellous white guayabera worn by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who I had the fortune of being friends with and editor for during my years in Spain. A good-natured and very sweet person with a simple charm, not at all an attention-seeker, but with an unmistakable style on paper and in life. He was very elegant, despite not being an Adonis. Gabo was Gabo because he didn’t have anything to prove to anyone. When he passed away, I didn’t hesitate to fly 20 hours over three days to attend his funeral. He was one-of-a-kind.
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