By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Levi: ‘We Thank Government and Parliament’In a Christmastime cliffhanger, a tone of deep disappointment had settled into statements arriving from the book publishing business and associated industries of Italy, as Rome appeared to be ditching the internationally admired “18App” program that since 2016 has funded 18-year-olds with money to spend on books and other cultural items.
As late as December 20 and then again on December 21, distressed messages came to us from both the Association of Italian Publishers (Associazione Italiana Editori, AIE) and the Confindustria Cultura Italia (ICC), the cultural industry federation.
“We note with deep regret and concern the cancellation of the 18App as we know it,” said Innocenzo Cipolletta, the president of cultural industries association, “regarding the approval in the budget commission … [which] effectively cancelled the 18App for all 18-year-olds, to introduce two bonuses that will have disbursement limits linked to ISEE and merit.”
As it has turned out, however, there has been a reprieve: in a long overnight session just before Christmas, a preliminary renewal of the funding for the 18App was made part of the Georgia Meloni government’s late-year budget process, legislation that then was green-lighted for 2023 near the end of the year by the Roman Senate.
This means that the 18App’s traditional funding of €500 (US$531) to Italy’s citizens as they turn 18 has survived for one more year, in its now-familiar form, an electronic charge-card that can be used on the purchase of cultural products.
In 2024, however, Cipolletta’s reference to a new and differently modeled version of the 18App is scheduled to come into play, as confirmed by Pierpaolo Molinengo’s reporting for Wall Street Italia, dividing the benefit into two separate (but combinable) bonuses that have their disbursement limits linked to ISEE and merit. The ISEE in Italy is an indicator of the economic status of a family, an “Equivalent Economic Situation Indicator” that guages household income as a criterion.
So it is that these two benefits are being reorganized for 2024. The carta cultura is to be tied to a given family’s assessed income and need—a household income of €35,000 or less (US$37,156)—and the merit card is to be associated with final-exam performance of an 18-year-old who applies.
The mood at this point now is comparatively upbeat, although there’s some concern being heard that the two-way application options and verification procedures may discourage participation. It’s expected that further measures this month will work out where the bonuses can be spent in the forthcoming 2024 edition of the program.
Ricardo Franco Levi, AIE’s and the Federation of European Publishers‘ president, on December 23—as passage of the extension of the program seemed assured—said that this year becomes a grace period in which the reading habit must be reinforced for young people ahead of the anticipated 2024 change. He has noted in commentary that the household-income criterion for the basic culture bonus will make the benefit unavailable to a substantial number of citizens.
However, he says, “The time between now and the implementation of the ‘Culture Card’ and the ‘Merit Card’ in 2024, will allow us to address the issue of how to promote reading among all young people and accompany publishing in a difficult economic situation, alongside and together with the support that the government and parliament have wanted to reserve for the poorest families and students who graduate with honors.
“Faced with the first indications of total cancellation of the 18app,” Levi says, “the world of books has been able to speak with one voice, representing the risk of heavy repercussions on reading, young people, families, and the entire industrial sector, obtaining the audience of government and parliament, whom we thank in view of the opening of the discussion tables on the future of our sector.”
In short, the book business’ and cultural industries’ objections were heard and responded to by the government–although after 2023, its new models are to be imposed.
The 18App and the Book Business
The 18App has been a demonstrable boon for the Italian book business. The country’s publishers have reported that in the first two months of 2021—a time when the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic had levied enormous pressure on the Italian market—surveys were revealing real gains as a result of the 18App’s funding.
In studies, 31 percent of those asked said that they read more than they did before getting the 18App’s funding, and 25 percent of respondents said that they purchased more than before. Only 13 percent of recipients of the aid said that they read or purchased less than before. Most important: The association’s data indicated that in January and February of that year, 18-year-olds spent a formidable 80 percent of their 18App allocations on print books. During the Mario Draghi administration, the 18App’s federal funding at the time rose from €150 million to €220 million (US$159 million to $233 million).
This makes it easy to see why the 18App has been so important to the book business in Italy (as well as the envy of all of us 18-year-olds everywhere else).
Established in 2016, the 18App has been inspirational across borders.
France, for example, in 2021 went into national distribution with an allocation of €80 million (US$89 million) for a similar “Culture Pass” for young people, the French edition being worth €300 rather than Italy’s €500 per person, according to Bruno Giancarli’s reporting for the Giornale della libreria. Testing of that program began in 2018 under the French minister of culture at the time, the Actes Sud CEO Françoise Nyssen.
In addition, Edek Osser has reported in Il Giornale Dell’Arte on Germany’s federally funded KulturPass, reportedly worth €200 (US$212) in electronic vouchers usable in bookstores, music stores, museum visits, cinemas, theaters, and concert venues.
More from Publishing Perspectives on the Italian market and news from its publishers’ association is here, and more on Italy’s 18App program of cultural subsidy for young adults is here. And more from us on the still-ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which factors into this story’s look at the 18App in Italy, is here.