"Our reach is very limited, and this makes us vulnerable"

Host, Czech Republic

Heavy dependency on steadily declining state funds makes the situation for Czech journals unsustainable, says Host editor Marek Seckar. As a small sector of the cultural budget, journals funding barely registers wider policy trends. It is precisely this inconspicuousness that gives cause for concern.

Roughly speaking, 80 per cent of Host‘s budget comes from public funding and 20 per cent from sales and advertising. Legally, Host is not a company but an “association”, meaning that if there’s a profit it can’t be paid out to staff but only reinvested. Funding comes primarily from the Czech Ministry of Culture and its programme for the support of periodicals; some money also comes from regional institutions, such as the cultural funds of the South-Moravian region and the city of Brno, but this contribution is fairly negligible.

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]

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Host, Czech Republic

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Though we have to apply for national funding every year, there is some continuity in the Ministry’s decisions, at least as far as Host is concerned. Numerous journals apply for this money; the ministry summons a board of “experts” (writers, scholars, translators, publishers) responsible for distributing the money. Parallel activities are often financed through project-based grants: the literary festival Brnenské kulturní hostování is supported by the South-Moravian regional council, for example. A very small amount of third-party funding comes from the Czech Literary Fund. The only form of “hidden funding” we receive is through subscriptions from public libraries, though this is insignificant in terms of income. Host does not use unpaid volunteers.

The funding situation for Czech journals has been steadily worsening in recent years. In 2008, the total amount allocated by the Ministry of Culture to periodical publications was 20 million CZK (approx. 800,000 euros); in 2012 it was 11.2 million CZK (approx. 450,000 euros). This drop reflects a decrease in the ministry’s budget as a whole. However, rather than decreasing funding in a blanket manner, the Ministry chooses to discontinue aid to those publications that are considered unsuitable or of less importance. I wouldn’t say that directly political criteria play a role how these decisions are made: Host has published several critical articles about the Czech government’s cultural policy, but it has caused no problems. Nevertheless, one can’t exclude the possibility that the personal inclinations of the board play a role.

Indeed, most objections towards existing cultural policy are based on the fact that there is no consistent policy. At the end of the day, the Ministry favours big, traditional cultural institutions such as the National Theatre, which swallow more than two-thirds of its budget and tends to neglect the so-called “live culture”, a somewhat vague term used more or less synonymously in the Czech cultural milieu with independent and unconventional. Of course, one might ask whether a literary journal like Host can be considered “live culture”, but generally speaking it is, simply because it is not part of the mainstream.

It’s difficult to say whether the cultural policies of the current conservative government have made themselves felt in the journals field, since publishing and literature make up only a very small segment of the ministry’s agenda. A discussion of the government’s cultural policy would have to address restitution of church property, for instance, or the conservation of historic buildings, art collections and so on. These are all controversial topics with a lot of money at stake, but have little to do with us. On the other hand, as elsewhere in Europe, the Czech government has introduced recession-related austerity policies. We should bear in mind that cuts and savings are most easily carried out in areas that are not at the centre of attention. Host is not conspicuous enough, our reach is very limited – and this makes us vulnerable.

Host publishes around one third of its content online. The website provides information about individual issues and soon will also serve as an archive of older issues in electronic version. We have a Facebook site, but at the moment social media don’t play an important role. Since 2011, Host has also been available as an e-book; subscribers receive issues in .pdf format and individual issues are available in various e-reader formats in several Internet bookstores. Sales of these digital formats are still negligible. The print journal is still the main thing, although we expect a gradual change to occur. The fact that the magazine’s circulation (approx. 1200) has remained practically unchanged might be explained, at least partially, as a result of the “long tail”. In terms of altering reading habits and the type of content we publish, there has been little change. Host has always been a niche publication and for this reason it is very difficult to spot any such tendencies. There have certainly been no conscious measures taken in this respect.

In terms of our response to economic challenges, it is clear that the conservative model by which most Czech cultural journals are financed (i.e. nearly complete dependence on the subsidies provided by the Ministry of Culture) is unsustainable. New models will have to be found. Host has partially diversified its activities. One of these is, as already mentioned, the annual Brnenské kulturní hostování literary festival. The festival serves as a tool of promoting the journal and improving its visibility, and though no direct profits were expected it puts the journal a better position when applying for funds. For us it is also a way of escaping from the “ivory tower” – its program includes poetry competitions, readings, theatre, art exhibitions, public debates and so on.

Simply by facilitating and encouraging cultural exchange, Eurozine plays a role in consolidating the position of cultural journals in Europe. Through exchange, the journals’ quality and relevance improves and their position consolidates. It might be possible to use Eurozine as a platform for international campaign, but the scope for this seems to me to be limited, since individual journals face very different problems in their respective countries and very different approaches must be adopted. If we are talking about a “European public sphere”, then that is a complex thing that cannot really be institutionalized. We can only contribute to its ongoing development by working together on projects such as the debate series “Europe talks to Europe”, sharing ideas and experiences and so on.

Published 12 September 2012
Original in English
First published by Eurozine

Contributed by Host © Marek Seckar / Eurozine

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