Turkey’s economy is in freefall. The lira, the country’s currency, has dropped 40% in value against the dollar so far this year and the nation is heading toward an economic collapse. The implications for the country’s publishing industry are severe and, among other pressing issues, Turkish publishers are now paying a significant premium on existing contracts with foreign publishers, authors and agents.
The Turkish trade publishing industry was ranked the 11th largest in the world, according to publishing consultant Ruediger Wischenbart in his 2017 BookMap Project. The industry generated approximately $3 billion in annual sales in 2014, the latest date for which statistics were available. It is also heavily dependent on foreign rights sales and licensing, with 35% of revenue coming from foreign rights sales and licensing, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization.
Last week, Nermin Mollaoglu, an agent at the Kalem Agency in Istanbul, emailed her industry contact list to make them aware of the dire issues in her homeland, and its book business. (Mollaoglu is one of the most vocal members of the Turkish literary community, and head of country’s most prominent literary agency.)
“Turkey is still trying desperately to stop a downfall that could trigger an economic crisis,” she wrote. “Even though government says the exact opposite, let me tell you the truth, we are in the midst of economic crisis!”
She then went on to encourage people to be patient with disbursements of payments. “As sub agents, we represent your titles and do our best to sell your books' rights and protect you and your authors' benefits, but at the same time we have to stand with Turkish publishers.” She went on to say that “there might be delays and postponements on payments due to these reasons.”
In further emails to PW, Mollaoglu explained that the impact of the burgeoning crisis has resulted in Turkish publishing houses reducing the number of new titles they are producing—in 2016, the Turkish trade sector published 55,000 titles—and curtailing foreign rights purchases. The latter reduction is of particular note, because approximately half of the trade titles published in Turkey are translations.
“[The big publishers] have given preference to Turkish authors, especially commercial ones or social media stars,” Mollaoglu said. “The small publishers have dramatically disappeared. We haven’t seen any new titles from them for several months, as they don’t have money to pay for printing. And, for the most part, the printers don’t have paper stocks on hand, as paper is bought in euros or dollars and it is a very uncertain investment to make.” She added that advances for authors have also shrunk.
Ironically, perhaps, Turkish consumers continue to buy books. “Reading is the cheapest cultural entertainment,” said Mollaoglu. “In my studies of the Turkish publishing sector, I have seen that whenever we have a crisis, book sales go up.”
Yesterday, Michiel Kolman, president of the International Publishers Association, told The Bookseller in the UK that he encouraged the global publishing community "to work together to make sure that the Turkish publishing industry survives."
Kenan Kocatürk, president of the Turkish Publishers Association, was also quoted in the same story and went so far as to say, "International publishers should abandon the advance payment system on licensing or should accept a small advance payment based on sales reports, to show solidarity with the Turkish publishers they cooperate with, during these hard times."
For her part, Mollaoglu, who runs the Istanbul International Literary Festival, said her work is now more important than ever as it does more than merely facilitate publishing deals; it builds cultural bridges. "We have to keep working hard," she said.