Turkey’s Publishers Hold Their Ninth Biennial Assembly: Digital Focus

In News by Porter Anderson

The Turkish Publishers Association, in its 2020 assembly, has taken a fresh look at digital publishing, prompted by the coronavirus pandemic to appreciate both its value and its imperatives.

Municipal workers move through city bus transport centers – this one the Eminonu stop – disinfecting equipment. Image – iStockphoto: Tolgaildun

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘The Right To Read in One’s Mother Tongue’
Holding its sessions online, of course, the Turkish Publishers Association concluded its ninth biennial Publishing Assembly in late June and has today (July 29) provided to the news media with a final statement from the event.

One of the attempts made by participants was to get some sense for how the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic may impact business models, copyright, digital publishing, and the reading culture. And there’s reason for this, as Turkey is among the world’s hardest hit markets at this point in the pathogen’s international progress, some of which came to light in our Coronavirus Worklife feature with Şafak Tahmaz of Istanbul’s Kalem Agency.

At this writing, the 9:35 a.m. ET update (1335 GMT) of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center places Turkey at No. 17 in the world for caseloads, with 227,982 infections and 5,645 fatalities in a population of 82 million. Daily counts of new cases have hovered close to 1,000 in recent days. A staff report in the Daily Sabah says that the death toll for a single day dropped to 15 on Tuesday (June 28), the lowest daily fatality count in a month, even as discussions go forward about how to handle the coming school year.

On July 19, Reuters reported that Ankara had closed the country’s flights to Iran and Afghanistan in an effort to buffer Turkey against nearby viral spread.

Free Expression, VAT, Copyright, Education

Looking at several high points from the final statement issued today by the Publishers Association in response to the Publishing Assembly, the highest-level guidance appears to be a call for unity—and this contains a call for free expression in a market known for the Erdogan government’s repressive stances.

Freedom of thought and speech, the foundation of publishing,” the statement reads, “is one of the fundamental rights protected by the constitution. Censorship and self-censorship should be fought against.

“The rights to read in one’s mother tongue and to choose, access, and obtain any book should be provided with the principle of equality. In all parts of society, particularly at schools and libraries, creative ways of reading—which can raise enthusiasm for books—should be encouraged.”

Other points get at issues of diversity and environmental and climate concerns, while copyright gets an early and prominent boost, as well: “Copyright should be respected, to protect producers of culture and creative labor. It should be provided that the economic narrowing caused by the pandemic does not harm those who work individually such as translators, editors, illustrators, graphic designers. Publishers should act in solidarity with their creative laboring partners following the principle of transparency.”

One quick effect of the coronavirus’ presence discussed is a need to generate platforms that can provide digital education materials for the anticipated complexities of the coming school year. “Along with widespread use of distance education,” the assembly team writes, “quality content produced by looking out for copyright has gained even more importance.

“In the new hybrid period that will combine ebooks and print books for remote education systems and materials, the need for special platforms in educational publishing has increased. Regulations to realize the print on demand model will also be needed.”

In copyright, the publishers are calling for action on piracy and they look forward to a day when the kind of digital uptake seen especially in education will provide substantially more revenues to the industry and to authors. But there’s a cautionary note, too, in favor of collective rights management organizations.

The assembly is calling on the government to scrap the VAT (value added tax) on ebooks and other digital content, as, for example, occurred in the UK, when No. 10 Downing Street removed digital content VAT so that it matches now the zero rate of print materials. In Turkey the situation is quite similar with print being exempted from VAT charges but digital formats being charged at 18 percent VAT.

In terms of workaday concerns, the assembly also took up a need to pay workers hourly through labor-law regulations so that employees working both in-house and remotely are consistently paid. Clearly, the association foresees—as is happening in so many world markets—a long-term set of conditions, some of which will become permanent, as working from home is anticipated to become for many workers.

The Digital Question for Turkey’s Book Business

Social distancing notices on public transport in Muratpaşa. Image – iStockphoto: Kenan Cinkis

And Turkey, still a market largely devoted to print, sees its publishers making a concerted effort to begin changing the national mindset about digital publishing and reading.

During the pandemic period, digitization has taken first place not only in our country but in the world’s publishing agenda.

“The duty of the publishing world with regard to the future of digital publications—which have not reached a significant size in Turkey—is to increase digital publication diversity by producing quality content and improve and standardize digital content production procedures.”

One of the areas the publishers want to address first is security. “In cooperation with platforms where readers engage with digital publications,” they write in their paper, they want to ensure content security, building “transparent and traceable business-licensing models that generate regular and sound reporting.”

Reader preferences will determine the improvement and growth rate of the digital market in the new future,” the assembly team writes. “What will determine reader preferences are reading needs and experiences.

“Both publishers and platforms should cooperate in developing business processes that support this goal and establish sustainable business models.”

Another angle on the digital needs of the market , the publishers have announced, is database development. “At the outset,” they write, all information on new books should take place in the database and gradually all metadata belonging to our country’s cultural diversity should be accessible.

Besides accessible information needed by the industry, this database should also shorten the supply chain which gets a book to the reader, and it should provide information sharer between stakeholders.” 

In Konak, İzmir, on July 16. Image – iStockphoto: Idil Toffolo

More of Publishing Perspectives’ coverage of the Turkish market is here. More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here and at the CORONAVIRUS tab at the top of each page of our site.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.