Financing cultural journals: A European survey

12 September 2012
Only in en

Cultural organizations reliant on public funds have been amongst the biggest losers of austerity policies throughout Europe (see this map of European culture cuts published in The Guardian) and cultural workers have significantly shaped protests against the current assault on the social. Alongside the performing and visual arts, cost-intensive and conspicuous fields and thus well represented, cultural journals have also felt the impact of recession. In addition to funding cuts, cultural journals are having to negotiate the upheavals taking place in the print sector and thus face a double challenge to their economic basis. As a network of European cultural journals, it has been clear for a some time that Eurozine must collectively take stock of the situation it finds itself in and to communicate its experiences both internally and to others who hold a stake in European cultural policy today.

Various Eurozine partners representing a geographical and economic sample of the continent have been asked to comment on their financing situations and, if possible, to analyse the cultural-political background for changes affecting them individually and for other journals in their countries. We wanted test the thesis that, where culture is concerned, “austerity” is a pretext and opportunity for structural alteration to the cultural sector (keyword: “creative industries”). Yet, persuasive as this argument may be, is it sufficient? Are other processes also at work? For example, as “national identity” loses its traditional meaning for cultural policy-making, and as other policy priorities (e.g. “usefulness”, “competitiveness”, but also “multiculturalism”, “access”) come to the fore, does support of literature and the humanities as instrument of nation-building decline?

As the responses illustrate, developments differ from country to country and the overall picture is fragmentary. Journals in countries where a tradition of cultural support continues (Sweden) have been shielded from the worst of the recession, while those with a weak tradition find a bad situation getting worse (Greece). In “old” western welfare states, where onetime support has eroded, protest is articulate and well organized (UK); in central eastern Europe, a no less articulate sense of resignation emerges (Slovenia). The post-communist countries seem on one hand to have “leapfrogged” the West in cultural policy terms: journals must comply with criteria more germane to the business sector than to culture proper (Poland). On the other hand, certain historical continuities remain a factor (Estonia).

However, public funding cuts may not present the sole or even major cause of economic difficulties facing journals. We asked whether journals are experiencing a crisis similar to that facing the mass-media, whose causes lie primarily in structural upheavals in the media market. Or is the “long-tail” actually working in journals’ favour? For the journals that are entirely self-financing, the outlook ranges from incremental growth through subsistence to steadily declining circulations. For them, the overriding concern is to consolidate readerships. For journals with mixed funding models, more abstract questions also come to the fore: what is it that distinguishes a cultural journal from other media and how can that be preserved in the transition to digital publishing? While strategies for dealing with media change range from the proactive to the probationary, all journals express a strong commitment (for the time being) to the print format and, despite some concessions, to the long-form text. At the same time, encouragingly, no journal rules out the digital format per se as medium for cultural publishing.

So, while the picture is fragmentary, it is not so fragmentary as to allow some general observations: that, throughout Europe, financing for cultural journal has become increasingly difficult and that this is related both to declining public spending on culture in the recession and to declining readerships and revenues in a period of media change. Precisely how both recession and media change impact on cultural policy in general, and journals policy in particular, depends a great deal on how one defines “policy”. Can one say of journals policy what was long ago said for ideology: namely, that no policy is also a policy? Let the discussion commence!

Simon Garnett

Published 12 September 2012

Original in English
First published in Eurozine

© Eurozine


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