Headquarters of Hürriyet, one of Turkey's major newspapers, in Istanbul. Photo: Wikipedia

Running a print publication in Turkey has never been easy, but the dramatic devaluation of the lira this year has added to the industry’s hardships. Beyond the incurable problem of declining readerships, a battle with censorship and constant fear of having writers jailed, publications are now faced with not being able to afford paper.

Since 2005, Turkey’s publishing industry has had to import the paper it uses. The country’s first paper company SEKA was privatized in 1998. Less than a decade later it was closed down under the pretense that it was cheaper to buy paper from abroad than to source it locally.

This is why the paper market is directly influenced by the foreign-exchange rate. All transactions take place in terms of US dollars or euros, leaving the industry extremely susceptible to fluctuations in the exchange rate.

Last month the Turkish lira lost 30% of its value. Not only did this weaken the purchasing power of publications, but it sent paper prices skyrocketing.

In less than a year, the price of paper used for book covers has nearly doubled, high-grade paper pulp used in school books is up 130% and regular book paper has gone up nearly 60%. According to the Turkish Statistical Institute, paper is one of the three items that have increased the most in price this year.

Newspapers have already been struggling for different reasons but the exponential rise in the price of paper is expected to be the final nail in the coffin of many publications. Yilmaz Karaca, chairman of the Federation of Journalists of Turkey, certainly believes so. Karaca says the local press will suffer the most, estimating that 100 newspapers will have shut up shop during 2021. 

The third-quarter report of the Turkish Association of Journalists estimated that in the last six years newspapers have lost half of their readerships. Moreover, newspapers and magazines have recorded their lowest circulation figures in 2021 than during any year in the last two decades.

While this is in line with the global shift of audiences from print to digital and declining advertising revenues, Turkey has faced a further problem: Many news organizations have lost credibility.

Gradually Turkish newspapers have come no longer to be viewed as reliable sources of information. More and more news enterprises have been sold off to companies close to the government and slipped into becoming mouthpieces for them.

It is sad to watch the structural decline of an entire industry as it is slowly eviscerated. The remaining few publications with their integrity intact and journalistic values undiminished are now being pushed to the verge of extinction.

When sport magazine Socrates was launched in 2015, it became one of the few Turkish publications to expand internationally. But editor-in-chief Caner Eler is now worried. He recently said on Twitter that the magazine “has been stocking stacks of paper to be able to ensure the publication of [the] magazine in the upcoming six months.” Who knows what will happen after?

The owner of Kirmizi Kedi (Red Cat) Publishing House, Haluk Hepkon, is adamant that the prices of books must increase, “not to make a profit but to avoid losing money.” Books currently sold for 20-30 lira would have to rise in price to 80 lira. Although publishers must do this to survive, it is unclear whether readers will pay the extra.

Publishers have held off increasing their prices so far because the cost of publishing books is unclear. As Elif Akkaya, president of the Turkish Publishers Cooperative, explains: “It is not only that the cost of paper has doubled, the cost of printing has doubled also, with the prices of items such as ink and printers continually rising as well. There is speculation that these prices might triple in the new year.”

Still, the most problematic expense remains paper. Kenan Kocaturk, president of the Turkish Publishers Association, predicts that “finding paper to print might not be possible in the near future.” Hence publishers are using the paper they do have carefully and only the books deemed most important are currently being printed.

The economic policy adopted by the ruling Justice and Development Party is focused on producing cheap labor and production for export-driven companies. It takes no account of the many industries that will suffer as they can no longer afford to import what they need. 

The suffering of the publishing industry is also part of the government’s legacy of destruction and neglect toward the nation’s cultural pillars.

For those engaged in producing and printing words, Turkey only promises a future riddled with anxiety. How will the publication industry support Turkish writers? How can the current climate ever give rise to and produce young writers? Will anyone ever feel motivated enough to study this craft, let alone pursue it? 

A dim future awaits publications, where the reader will not be able to buy and the publisher will not be able to print. But it is even darker for those pursuing the craft of writing.

This article was provided by Syndication Bureau, which holds copyright.

Alexandra de Cramer

Alexandra de Cramer is a journalist based in Istanbul. She reported on the Arab Spring from Beirut as a Middle East correspondent for Milliyet newspaper. Her work ranges from current affairs to culture, and has been featured in Monocle, Courier Magazine, Maison Francaise and Istanbul Art News.