By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Stimulating ‘Cultural Spending Habits’Co-funded by the European Union, Resilience, Innovation, and Sustainability for the Enhancement of Bookselling (RISE) is a three-year program of the European and International Booksellers Federation (EIBF), the intention of which is “upscaling, reinforcing, and maximizing the capacity and resilience of the European bookselling sector.”
As might be expected the growing number of “culture vouchers” in various stages of deployment in several European markets are of great interest in the field, not least because the original and understandably celebrated €500 “18App” in Italy has been found to at times drive some 80 percent of its young recipients’ allocated funding into the purchase of books, as our story from June 1, 2021, related.
Having come under new scrutiny by Rome with the advent of the Giorgia Meloni government at the end of last year, Italy’s highly regarded program survived in its original state for this year, but is to undergo a structural reconfiguration beginning in 2024. More on that is in this article, and the coming changed iteration of the 18App is feared by many to be far less effective because the Meloni government is placing a family income cap of €35,000 on the availability of the grant, along with other adjustments. (Handily, a comparison of the old and new plans is part of this report, on pages 3 and 4.)
The Italian app and its three European cousins are the topical interest in newly released RISE analysis by the booksellers federation’s Daniel Martín Brennan and Tora Åsling. The document is a welcome one, doing what many in publishing are working to achieve across borders on many parts of book-publishing economy: it provides coherent points of comparison and experience from four “culture voucher” programs in:
Fundamentally, a “culture voucher,” as the term is generally being used, is a national market’s allocation of funds for citizens reaching a certain age. In Italy, it’s called the “18App” because 18-year-olds are the ones lucky enough to be given access to a kind of allowance (currently that €500) which they can spend as they like on cultural goods and services. A culture voucher normally can be spent on museum exhibitions (and books), musical events, dance and theater performances, books, and perhaps more, according to each program’s design.
As Brennan and Åsling write in their report, “These cultural vouchers are physical or digital cards as well as mobile phone apps that are granted to 15- to 18-year-olds with a fixed amount of money to be spent exclusively on cultural goods and activities for a limited amount of time.
“In some countries,” they write, “such as Italy and France, the cultural voucher scheme has been in place for years; in the case of Italy, almost a decade. Meanwhile, other countries, such as Spain and Germany, introduced these schemes more recently, in part, as measures to help the cultural sector rebuild after the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Indeed, the youngest of these programs is only one month old: Germany’s KulturPass was activated on June 14, offering €200 (US$224) to 18-year-olds who register on the app. This rollout has followed the cultural minister Claudia Roth‘s pilot project and has a budget of €100 million (US$112.2 million).
The coherence of the Brennan-Åsling project in analyzing the Continent’s four programs—each designed to stimulate young citizens’ interest and familiarity with their nation’s arts as well as to help financially sustain national culture—comes, of course, from a consistent application of basic questions for each of the four culture voucher projects, and this is now reflected in the 18-page report:
- Country name and flag
- Cultural voucher name
- Web site(s)
- Year of implementation
- Format of cultural voucher
- Applicable cultural content and/or products
- Total budget or funding available
- Book market size (turnover) in 2022
- Money per voucher
- Time constraints and other deadlines
We’ll provide you with the link to download (PDF) of the report below, of course, so that you can examine these factors from country to country for yourself.
‘Young People at a Volume Not Seen Before’
On Page 17 of the PDF, then, you’ll find Brennan and Åsling’s overall assessments both of “positive impacts” from the advent of these culture vouchers and “lessons learned,” both sets of observations being very helpful.
Perhaps of the highest importance to our international book publishing professional readership is the very top-line result statement:
“As witnessed by booksellers in all countries where the scheme has been implemented, and confirmed by studies on reading and cultural spending habits conducted in France and Italy, the cultural voucher schemes have brought young people into bookshops in a volume not seen before, and young people seem to start reading for pleasure, and not just for school.
“As these new readers enter bookshops to pick up the books they ordered via the cultural voucher schemes, it might very well be the first time that they enter a bookshop; or at least, the first time they enter a new or unknown bookshop to them. It is clear that the schemes have been largely successful in introducing a wider group of young people to culture, and more specifically to literature.”
And that, alone, is of course music to the ears of publishers, booksellers, authors, and everyone else in any market’s book-business value chain.
Pros and Cons: ‘Cultural Options’
Additional points we recommend you scan:
- Geo-localization elements of these programs are used to help guide these younger consumers to their nearby cultural options, at bottom simply getting them “on the hoof,” as we say, off the couch and into the streets of culture in their own communities.
- “Vested readers” are seen to be diversifying their repertoire and reading more when the modest windfall of a culture voucher gives them more funds with which to try new things.
- The explosive dynamic in the digital era that sees so much of what publishing calls “book to film” and “words to screen” development is readily a value enhanced by a culture voucher. “A brilliant example of this,” the report points out, “can be found in the hard data provided by the cultural vouchers: books that have recently been adapted into TV-series are the most reserved titles by the young beneficiaries of the scheme.” And this means that “all boats float” as these youngsters, flushed with funds, are able–probably for the first time–to follow a favorite work across various media developments. In Spain, culture voucher users are required to spend across three media at least: live performances, physical goods, and digital products: smart.
Among the “lessons learned” points, you’ll see, for example:
- “The culture vouchers are not reliable sources of income,” and this is because “the schemes are dependent on political support and each new government may decide to adapt the overall budget and implementation of the scheme. There is, unfortunately, no guarantee that the schemes will run permanently,” a reality that Italians, of course, have seen close-up.
- Diversified support counts, especially in a nation’s geo-demographic specifics: “The voucher scheme needs to be complemented by additional, overarching cultural policies and funding opportunities to enrich the cultural offer also in rural and remote areas so that everyone can have access to culture and benefit from the scheme equally.”
An overall assessment leads Brennan and Åsling to write, “From the perspective of the book sector, the perceived weaknesses of the scheme fade in light of what is to be gained from it. What is particularly positive for the sector, besides the growing revenues derived from the voucher, is that the scheme seems to have succeeded in creating new readers of those young people that did not read before, while also making already vested readers explore different genres and diversify their repertoire.
“This is shown in the results of surveys and statistics from the voucher platforms, as well as the reported experience of booksellers who have witnessed a new demographic entering their bookshops for the first time.”
The RISE report on culture vouchers is of distinct value to any international book market the publishers and booksellers of which are considering proposing such a framework, and the booksellers federation’s provision of this concise and thoughtful assessment carries real practical value with it.
You can learn more about the RISE program from the EU and the EIBF, and you’ll be able to download copies of both this report and one on returns here.
More from Publishing Perspectives on bookselling is here, more on the work of the European and International Bookselling Federation is here, and more on culture vouchers and their development is here.