Frankfurt: Do Small Book Markets Need Government Funding?

In News by Olivia Snaije

A panel in Guest of Honor Slovenia’s professional program looked at why cultural funding is essential for publishers in small book markets.

Panelists at a Guest of Honor Slovenia’s discussion, “Cultural Policy in Book Markets with Lower Returns,” are, from left, Herbert Ohrlinger of Paul Zsolnay Verlag; Slovenian author Andrej Blatnik; moderator Rüdiger Wischenbart; Slovenian author Tanja Tuma; Croatian publisher Nikica Micevski. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Olivia Snaije

By Olivia Snaije | @OliviaSnaije

A panel at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair on “Cultural Policy in Book Markets with Lower Returns” was held Wednesday (October 18) in the Guest of Honor Slovenia pavilion, discussing the question of government policies on financing books and publishers.

Moderated by consultant Rüdiger Wischenbart, panelists included Austrian publisher Herbert Ohrlinger who manages Paul Zsolnay Verlag, a subsidiary of the Hanser Verlag group; Nikica Micevski, of the Croatian publisher Fokus; Slovenian author Tanja Tuma; and Slovenian author Andrej Blatnik who also teaches publishing studies at the University of Ljubljana.

In answer to Wischenbart’s opening question—should books and publishing be financed with taxpayers’ money?—the resounding answer from all panelists was yes, but with some form of accountability.

Even if Slovenia publishes many new titles per year in proportion to its population of just over 2 million inhabitants, Tuma said that because the book market is so small, when a novel sells 1,000 copies it’s considered a bestseller.

Low print runs and high publishing costs mean that supporting the entire publishing chain is vital. Moreover, “Without public support certain books would not be published at all. It’s impossible for a publisher even to break even without this [government] support.”

Micevski began by saying that everything Tuma described about Slovenia “can be applied to Croatia.

“The ministry of culture is the one with the least money and within the ministry books are at the bottom of the list” of priorities.

“After 25 years of seeing books come last, in terms of government funding, booksellers and publishers created an association and studied the market. They went to the Ministry and presented their analyses. One important point they wanted to make was that in a system in which the government buys books for libraries from certain publishers, the same publishers were being chosen year after year.

Micevski said that the government has “finally started to listen to us. Since then, we’ve had a good cooperation with the ministry.”

A pilot project has been started in which libraries have more of a say in which books they would like to see purchased for their readers.

Blatnik said that in Slovenia, the government gives libraries a budget and the libraries choose which books they want. He said that deep reading should be a priority for the government, as well as support for the entire publishing value chain.

As an example that deep reading needs more support, he said that the biggest funding from the Slovenian government had gone to the translation of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, rather than supporting a more literary title. By working with all facets of the trade, a better balance can be achieved in terms of distribution of funding.

In Austria, there’s a national system of subsidies, Ohrlinger said. Subsidies there began in 1992 when some publishers went bankrupt.

Publishers can apply for up to €180,000 euros per year (US$189,593) from the Austrian government and subsidies can also be obtained from regional bodies, he said.

Additional translation funding is available for books from other languages into German. “This makes it possible to bring certain books to the Austrian market that would not be otherwise justifiable, commercially.”

For Ohrlinger, what has the most impact on the industry “is to have readers read books…We have to fight for each reader, to get people to be curious and willing to read books.”

Micevski suggested creating an association of professionals that would hold governments accountable to how money is being spent. “Small markets can’t work without government money. But there should be some way to track how the government is spending money.”

Tuma said that government “cultural policies have a big responsibility. There should be a fixed-price law for books.

“We need to help certain elements in the book chain,” she said.

“And we need readers,” she said, echoing Ohrlinger. “We’ve never had a massive campaign to promote reading. The Dutch have this, the Finns have it. Let’s learn from others.”

Wischenbart closed the session by commenting that a database for the European Union that aggregates information about subsidies and their effects would be helpful.

More from Publishing Perspectives on Frankfurter Buchmesse is here, more on Slovenia is here, more on translation and translation funding is here, more on the world’s international trade shows and book fairs is here, and more on guest of honor programs is here

About the Author

Olivia Snaije

Olivia Snaije is a journalist and editor based in Paris who writes about translation, literature, graphic novels, the Middle East, and multiculturalism. She is the author of three books and has contributed to newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The Global Post, and The New York Times.