"The impact of new media remains unclear"

Vikerkaar, Estonia

12 September 2012
Only in en
Generous funding for Estonian journals, rooted in the politics of national identity, has shielded them from the effects of the crisis. Yet past continuity is no guarantee for the future, as Vikerkaar and others negotiate the transition from print to digital formats.

Financing European cultural journals

Like other types of cultural organization reliant on public funds, cultural journals throughout Europe have felt the impact of recession. In addition to funding cuts, journals are also having to negotiate the upheavals taking place in the print sector. Through a European survey of financing for cultural journals, Eurozine takes stock of the situation of the network, in order to communicate its experiences internally and to others who hold a stake in European cultural policy today. [more]

Inspired by the Eurozine initiative, our long-standing partner “Varlik” conducted a survey of Turkish journals. Like their European counterparts, Turkish journals need public support. However, they are far more wary of risking their independence by receiving government funding. [more]

Thirty per cent of Vikekaar‘s budget comes from sales, the remaining 70 per cent is funded by the Estonian Ministry of Culture. This comes via the publishing house Kultuurileht, a non-profit foundation founded by the Ministry in 2000 that publishes a dozen cultural periodicals in Estonia (before that the journals had a different publisher). Currently, the total granted to Kultuurileht is 1.5 million euros. Although this allowance has been granted automatically in the annual budget of the Ministry of Culture, there is no guarantee against its discontinuation or sharp reduction: each new minister may have different ideas about what to reform and how. Until recently, authors’ fees (around 25 per cent of Vikerkaar‘s costs) were funded by Kultuurkapital, a public institution affiliated to the Ministry of Culture; we had to apply for this funding annually. In 2011 this system was discontinued, to the relief of the journals themselves, and the funding deficit is now covered by the Ministry of Culture. In terms of “hidden funding”, since 2011 public libraries have been obliged to subscribe to Kultuurileht’s journals, which has increased Vikerkaar‘s subscription figures by between 50 and 70. However there is no VAT rebate for periodicals (as there is for books). Vikerkaar does not make use of voluntary unpaid work.

The stable funding situation can be attributed to the fact that there haven’t been any significant changes of government in this century; the Reform Party (Reformierakond) has been the elder coalition partner since 2002, and the Ministry of Culture has been under their supervision from 1999, with a short interruption between 2005 and 2007. This relatively strong support from the state means that Estonian cultural journals have not been affected by the European economic crisis. The priorities of the present government include creative industries, cultural export, copyright, digitalization, centralization (e.g. of museum management), but also devolution (getting the municipalities to cover the costs of local institutions). Language policies are the responsibility of the Ministry of Education. Of the three Russian language cultural journals in Estonia, Raduga closed in 2005 because of declining of readership (and, it must be said, quality), while the remaining journals Tallinn and Vyshgorod operate on project basis with the support of Kultuurkapital.

Literature and literary culture has been a major part of national identity, since Estonian nationalism is first and foremost language based. Some Estonian Cultural journals like Looming and Akadeemia can trace their ancestry back to the first independence (1918-1940); many others were founded under the Soviet rule. Vikerkaar‘s origins during perestroika is not a major contributing factor to its continuing economic survival, since official attitudes to the struggles of 1987-1992 are ambivalent. The kind of liberal, moderate dissent that ran high during those years is no longer in vogue. On the one hand, the former communists are back in power as neoliberals; on the other, former underground radical nationalist resistance is officially more highly valued than the moderate dissent, which often bordered on collaboration.

Vikerkaar makes between a quarter and a third of our content available on its webpage (www.vikerkaar.ee). We assume this has a promotional value for the print-version. We have a Facebook account with 1000 “friends” — 200 more than subscribers. Again, the supposed benefits are in generating public awareness for the journal. We have explored various ways of reaching potential readers and subscribers using monthly reviews posted on mailing lists and portals. Having said that, Vikerkaar‘s circulation has remained fairly stable throughout this century (between 1450 and 1500). This leads us to believe that the print format remains relevant in the short-term, at least. Still, it also seems quite possible that new technologies and changing reading habits will force us to abandon the paper format in the next five years. It may be that we are still in a critical period during which the impact of new media remains unclear.

Vikerkaar has not adapted its content to changing media formats and reader habits (if anything, it is the academic world with its conventions, jargon, methods of quotations, and so on that have the greater impact). In this sense, the mainstream media seem to have undergone a deeper crisis. Whether new collaborative options have emerged between mainstream publications and cultural journals is a moot point: Vikerkaar has been approached in recent years by two big media outlets, the Baltic web portal Delfi and the daily newspaper Postimees, with offers to run abridged versions of Vikerkaar articles. In the case of Delfi, collaboration never came to fruition partly because of the extra work involved (abridging essays and clearing copyright), partly because some authors were reluctant to have their essays subjected to anonymous comments, and partly by the inability of Delfi to promote Vikerkaar sufficiently. The collaboration with Postimees has yet to get off the ground.

Vikerkaar has so far not ventured beyond journals publishing (with the exception of occasional anniversary editions). In terms of our digital publishing strategy, Vikerkaar has been available as an e-magazine in .pdf and .epub formats since 2010. However sales seem to be miniscule (less than 30 a month, though growing steadily). Since 2010 readers have also been able to subscribe to the e-version of Vikerkaar.

Save taking on the functions of an international lobbying organization, it’s hard to think how a network like Eurozine could contribute more to consolidating the position of cultural journals in Europe. For Vikerkaar the partnership with Eurozine has been beneficial for cultural and intellectual reasons. It has helped to spread Vikerkaar‘s name and content beyond Estonia, making it surprisingly well known for a journal in a small language. Through the Eurozine Review, the reader of Eurozine is able to get an idea of what is topical in Estonia. Pieces contributed to Eurozine by Vikerkaar, for example on the Bronze Soldier scandal, have been quoted in other channels and some have been translated into other languages. Association with Eurozine has also enhanced Vikerkaar’s reputation at home, since it suggests a strong international backing. And Vikerkaar has benefited a great deal from having access to the articles mediated through the network that we have translated.

Published 12 September 2012

Original in English
First published in Eurozine

Contributed by Vikerkaar
© Märt Väljataga Eurozine

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