Having already shaken the global economy, the economic crisis has hit the ailing Turkish publishing sector particularly hard. Many publishers large and small are drastically adjusting business operations in the face being closed down, even staying home to save on the office electricity bill. But the financial crisis is not entirely to blame for the ailing publishing business; business practices, politics and Turkish culture have all played a role.
The root of the publishing industry's problems go way back. Political fluctuations that appeared in Turkey in the 1960s, reached their peak on March 12, 1971, with a military coup d’etat, putting many leading Turkish intellectuals into prisons. When they were pardoned by Bülent Ecevit, the prime minister at the time, and regained their freedom in 1974, the intellectuals wanted to join Turkey’s growing class movement.
The Writers’ Syndicate was established at this point under the leadership of master Turkish writer Aziz Nesin. Author Yaşar Kemal was also one of the 70 founding members. The aim of the syndicate was to resolve disagreements between publishers and writers and draw a stable roadmap for the publishing industry.
The first steps toward copyright contracts took place during that time. Before the foundation of the syndicate, writers and publishers were making agreements without official documents, causing fights between publishers and writers.
A book is more dangerous than a gun
Tevfik Taş, secretary general of the union, spoke to Hürriyet Daily News and Economic Review, "Unfortunately, our syndicate could not manage to reach the point Nesin had intended for us. An organization was founded by leftist intellectuals. We are unlike the Writers' Union. They have good relations with the rulers of every era; however, we have had a different struggle in every era," he said.
Taş talked about Turkey’s political past. A book was considered more dangerous than a gun and reading habits never reached their desired level, said Taş. "The situation is not that different today; the reading rate is too low compared to the youth of the society."
Taş said lots of publishing houses will close down in a few months due to economic problems and lots of writers will have difficulties related to that. Taş said the expenses of the industry increased day by day and the costs of paper and printing never decreased. He said that, alongside these issues, one of the biggest problems of the industry was the weight of taxes.
Speaking about the issue, an official from Can Publishing House said: "Our sales go down but we cannot increase prices. We continue printing new books but our publishing program has shortened."
Sevgi Özdilber from Güncel Publishing House said that books have never drawn interest in Turkey. "We have been buying paper with credit cards for four months."
Namık Kemal Atalay from Dharma Publishing expressed their problems saying, "The publishing sector has always been in crisis but now distribution is also a big problem. We cannot even pay our rents anymore."
Taş mentioned that even without the crisis, the Turkish publishing sector had always had financial problems and said that, with the exception of publishing houses owned by banks and holdings, publishing houses were struggling for their existence under hard conditions. He said the business of publishing was being encouraged all over the world. "In our country, small publishers are not even allowed to enter the door of the Ministry of Culture. Problems are growing bigger and bigger."
He said the Ministry of Culture has an important responsibility to deal with this matter and concluded, saying: "It might be a first step if the ministry buys 1,000 copies of every printed book; that would return to its writer through copyright."