Publisher Pierre Belfond, founder of the house of the same name and lover of foreign literature, died at the age of 88, the company said in a statement on Wednesday. Pierre Belfond died on Tuesday at his home in La Celle-Saint-Cloud (Yvelines). In 1963, by founding the Poche-Club with his wife Franca, he had chosen to invest in a rapidly expanding niche, that of paperbacks. After having republished classics, he had shaken up the customs by publishing in this format, in 1964, a first novel by an unknown person, A Summer in Mexico by Gilbert Toulouse.
His career was marked by some resounding moves in buying the rights to foreign bestselling novels, beginning with The Love Machine by American Jacqueline Susann in 1971. He had success republishing the Austrian Stefan Zweig and the American Francis Scott Fitzgerald at times when they were neglected, but also The birds hide to die by Australian Colleen McCullough in 1979, or Scarlett by American Margaret Mitchell in 1991, the sequel to Gone with the Wind. He was also the publisher in France of the first African writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, the Nigerian Wole Soyinka.
In 1985, he became the first novel publisher to list his company on the stock market. With successes such as Cuisine flavor, cuisine minceur in partnership with Weight Watchers, he then claims the highest profitability in a sector that is reluctant to open its books of accounts. He gave up control of his company in 1989, and left the presidency in 1991.
Founder of other subsidiaries, including the Presses de la Renaissance or Acropole, he published memoirs in 1994, Les Pendus de Victor Hugo, republished and completed in 2021 under the title Scenes from the life of a publisher. He had also led a fight in the 1980s to “moralize” the literary prizes, which the grand juries never granted him, preferring houses established for longer. Belfond now belongs to Editis, the publishing subsidiary of Vivendi, a group controlled by billionaire Vincent Bolloré. “Pierre Belfond marked the world of publishing with his insatiable curiosity, the talents he introduced to France, his vision of a popular and accessible culture, and the innovations in terms of genre and formats that he has impelled. The edition owes him a lot, “commented in a press release the general manager of Editis, Michèle Benbunan. Within the same group, the son of Pierre Belfond, Jean-Daniel, also founded a publishing house which he has directed since its creation in 1991, L’Archipel.