‘When ethics and quality come together’

Iyi Kitap

Zarife Biliz of “Iyi Kitap”, which specializes in children’s and youth literature, challenges journals to stop printing unimpressive pieces by renowned authors and instead give voice to a variety of authors selected with more editorial attention, and be more inclusive.

Roughly speaking, what percentage of your budget currently comes from sales and what percentage from and advertising? How do you deal with economic difficulties? Are you widening your field of activities beyond strictly publishing? Are you exploring new business models, lobbying cultural decision-makers, or appealing to the public?

Iyi Kitap does not generate sales revenue; it is financed and published by Tudem Publishing (children’s books) to fill a gap caused by the lack of a periodical focusing solely on children’s and youth literature. It is given to readers for free. We print ads, but we are not dependent on advertising income. We print and circulate 50,000 copies monthly and since all contributions are paid, no ad revenue could finance such an operation. Our only expectation is that there is additional interest in children’s books – which actually concerns everyone and that parents strive to find good books for their children.

While journals in Europe continue their existence largely with the help of public support, this is not the case in Turkey. What should be done in Turkey to secure public support for art and literature journals?

The library network in Europe is extensive, and these buy a book or journal as soon as it is published to add it to their collections. When institutions (libraries, local administrations, schools, universities, civic centres, NGOs) become the customers of journals instead of individuals, the problem will be solved. This way, the government or the private sector (which has begun to make significant investments in this area) will support publishing and thought without being actively involved in it. Here, even existing libraries are not functional; there is no notion of going to the library, borrowing a book to read; on the other hand, new books hardly ever make it into library collections – all of this turns into a vicious circle. Expanding the library network, keeping collections up to date with new publications and other cultural policies will help the publishing industry to keep standards high, worry less about sales and remain independent, while fostering the reading habits of the public.

Public funding for journals is the complete opposite of Iyi Kitap: this is a journal with a high cost that is financed entirely by the publisher because they feel a need in this area.

What is your distribution and sales strategy? How do you take your journal to its readers?

As a free journal that focuses on children’s and youth literature, Iyi Kitap distributes mainly to schools (students, teachers, librarians), universities (departments of education and literature) and civic centres where we can reach children and teenagers directly. We ship the magazine to these locations regularly every month. Tudem’s dealers distribute it across the country to bookstores and other central locations to reach readers. Digital subscribers receive the PDF version of the magazine on the first day of the month.

Journals tend to extend their publication intervals due to economic difficulties. How does this impact a journal’s communication with its readers?

Iyi Kitap will be four years old in March 2013. Until now, the monthly frequency has not been disrupted. There were a few cases when the journal was late in distribution, and we received emails and calls from parents, teachers and institutions. Regularity of the magazine means the reader will try to find out what happened to the journal if it is late. I think stability is more important in this regard. If the journal is full of rich and varied content, it could be published quarterly or even every four months. Readers would develop an appropriate expectation, and would not lose interest in the journal as long the content is satisfying and it appears on time.

Do you have a website? How much of your content do you make accessible on it and what other uses does it serve? How do you make use of social media and what do you perceive to be its benefits?

We publish the entire content of the journal on our website at www.iyikitap.net. All issues are available in PDF format at www.tudem.com.

Are you experiencing opportunities for synergy or co-operation between big and small media, or print and digital media, that previously did not exist?

With the advent of the internet, there is more collaboration between print and online media. If Iyi Kitap were to have a larger online reader base, we could reduce printing and delivery costs. But it will take a long time for the online version to replace the printed version. I belong to a generation that would prefer a printed journal, but I can’t say what future generations will want.

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]

Read the statements here:

Varlik, Turkey

Ord&Bild and Glänta, Sweden

Vikerkaar, Estonia

Wespennest, Austria

Sodobnost, Slovenia

Host, Czech Republic

Res Publica Nowa, Poland

Mute, UK

Intellectum, Greece

Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik, Germany

Are there political or literary polarizations between journals? If any, what should be the nature of contest between journals?

Iyi Kitap is the only journal in its field, so we cannot talk of any polarizations or competition. As long as we base our publication on the criteria of quality and objectivity as a basis, I can’t think of extremes forming in the field of book reviews and critiques. There could be differences in thought, but the journal is not homogeneous; there are many different people who contribute, so we would always have some diversity.

Iyi Kitap‘s publisher is the Tudem Publishing Group, but the books we review aren’t limited to this publisher’s titles. We keep track of the publishing industry in general and try to include books from as many publishers as possible.

Having said that, it is a fact that many publications are aligned with their parent companies. On the other hand, independent, small-scale journals tend to be limited to specific individuals or circles, and isolate themselves from the rest. This would mean that only people from a specific community can write there, and aspiring writers would not have an opportunity to receive editorial attention and advice.

Any kind of competition between periodicals should be in terms of content and quality, not in terms of other means of competition in the market.

Do you think journals continue to be a school for aspiring writers and poets? In the past, writers and poets would usually publish their books after gaining acceptance by having their works published in journals; journals were stepping stones for young writers and poets, and would introduce important foreign writers to their readers before their books were translated. Has this situation changed? What is your opinion of writers who publish books after gaining popularity online?

The publishing business underwent quite a change with the advent and spread of digital technologies. In the old days, the only means of having one’s writings reach others was the printed media, and journals played an important part: they were the modest but dependable way of making a name for yourself. Today, blogs and websites have become publishing media. There are authors I have never heard of, but whose books have been printed by the thousands in several languages. The book has been translated even before it was published in its original language. And this is a first book! I really don’t know who these people are or how they have come to be writers. You could simply pay to have your book printed. Something we could call outsourced or contract publishing has emerged. This is partly because there is increasing pressure on publishing to become a profitable business. Marketing has taken precedence over production. People now think that writers too can make money. The image of the writer is also changing, sometimes stepping ahead of his work. Much has changed since Sait Faik said “I would have gone mad if I hadn’t written”, and will continue to change. This creates some confusion. On the other hand, it really doesn’t matter how the writer or poet makes a name, because like I said above, making a name in print media is no longer that immaculate. It’s the product that matters. That’s what counts.

What responsibility does the bias and cultural inadequacy of mainstream media (daily newspapers and others) bring on journals? Are journals able to stand up to the task? What responsibilities do readers expect journals to undertake?

A journal that depends on ads instead of readers could not stay independent. When a journal cannot reach an adequate number of readers and recover its costs, a kind of indirect, industry-wide support like I discussed above could be vital. Once the journal depends on ad revenues, quality and objectivity flee the scene.

We shouldn’t underestimate the internet: I recently came across a blog called “kitedit” making good critiques of children’s and youth books, and remaining anonymous to avoid the intricacies and cliques in the industry. This is a great initiative and perhaps one of the few good outcomes of changing technologies.

Reader expectations could change depending on what the journal focuses on. Talking about book reviews and critiques, I would look for objectivity, genuineness and reliability, not for praise slathered on for friendship’s sake or to secure ad revenues. The same goes for a literary journal: instead of printing an unimpressive piece of work simply because it is written by someone renowned, they should give voice to different people selected with more editorial attention, and be more inclusive. Sincerity instead of interests, and competent people with a say in the selection process… It is difficult, but I think we will find a way when ethics and quality come together.

Published 29 March 2013
Original in Turkish
Translated by Sila Okur
First published by Varlik 2/2013 (Turkish version); Eurozine (English version)

Contributed by Varlik © Zarife Biliz / Varlik / Eurozine


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