Turkey’s book publishers in dire straits, with the worst yet to come

According to representatives of the Turkish book publishing industry, the sector is struggling amidst rising input prices and an increasingly strained domestic economy. Kenan Kocatürk, the chairman of the Board of Directors of the Turkish Publishers Association, has said that the number of books published in Turkey declined to its lowest level since 2014.

Duvar English

Stakeholders say that the Turkish book publishing industry is in dire straits. Amidst rising raw material input prices and the depreciation of the Turkish lira, along with decreased purchasing power of domestic consumers, publishers say that the industry is desperate.

According to the data of the General Directorate of Copyrights of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the number of books published in the first two months of 2022 is at its lowest level in nine years. In just one year, the domestic book-producing sector shrunk by 20%. In two years, that rate of contraction was over 40%, according to reporting by online news outlet Diken. 

Key figures in the book production industry point to one main issue in terms of publishing in Turkey: the paper production industry. Kenan Kocatürk, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Turkish Publishers Association, and Rober Koptaş, the editor-in-chief of Aras Publishing, both say that if Turkey were to rebuild its domestic paper industry, the book publishing sector might be able to rebound.

As it stands, Kocatürk says that the number of books published in Turkey declined to its lowest level since 2014. “We think [this decline] will continue to accelerate even more,” he said.

The economic loss is based on a simple economic principle - the increase in the price of books has been lower than the increase in the cost to produce books. As a result, publishing houses are now, for the most part, operating at a loss.

“Everyone has to make a plan considering this situation. Many books will not be published,” Koptaş said. "Publishing houses will have to shrink accordingly and this is very painful.”

Turkey used to produce its own paper domestically through a government syndicate called SEKA, established in 1934. Paper production was privatized, however, as part of the national push for privatization in 1998, and SEKA was subsumed by Sümer Holding Company in 2005. 

As a result, Turkey now imports most of its paper-producing material, such as pulp. As the Turkish Lira tumbles against the dollar and the euro, this has become exponentially more expensive. 

Kocatürk says the cost of producing books increases every week. Not only is the lira depreciating, but the cost of materials themselves is increasing.

“Due to the increase in raw material prices, there is an increase in paper prices. Turkey has less paper supply than it needs. That's why prices are going up,” he said. 

Paper pulp was 650 dollars per unit in January 2021; it now costs 1,600 dollars. The finished paper used for book printing was 800 euros at the beginning of last year, now it’s up to 1000 euros. The cost of producing a single book has increased by 40 to 50% in the past year, according to publishers. 

Book producers rely on imported printing molds, ink, packing boxes, and other materials. Added to this is the increase in the cost of natural gas, electricity, and water, which have all skyrocketed since the beginning of the year. 

This means that publishers need to invest significant amounts of money in every new book they print. And that means that they need to be absolutely confident in the viability of every title. As a result, many more experimental or off-beat titles are now not being printed. This poses an enormous risk to young or new writers. 

Now, publishers cannot print books that they are not very sure of in a system where they will pay for their paper in cash,” Kocatürk said. “Book production has slumped to its lowest level since 2014. We think it will continue to accelerate.”

If publishers were to increase their prices at the same rate their costs are growing, they might not be able to publish books. Therefore, they are now producing at a loss while also having to increase employees’ salaries in the face of inflation and an increase in the cost of essential goods. 

For now, this means a decrease in the number of books printed and a focus on best-sellers. However, in the future, it could mean the strangling of the industry as a whole, especially of smaller publishing houses.

“Smaller and medium-sized publishers and magazines like us, which are important actors in the cultural world […] will have a hard time,” Koptaş said. “Yes, there will be closures and withdrawals, as well as downsizing at many companies.”