Publishing and government intervention in the digital era

Emily Gruener, English, Government, and Plan II Honors Student at the University of Texas at Austin

The movement of media like art, music, and literature, into the digital realm has unquestionably created new opportunities for cultural industries, along with new challenges. Globally, governments have recognized the value of supporting their national cultural businesses, and many have spearheaded initiatives designed to help content-based industries like the publishing industry to transition smoothly into the digital era.

The Russian publishing industry is one that has struggled to thrive in this digital era. The industry has declined steadily in value in recent years, and since 2010, as many as twenty percent of Russian bookshops have closed their doors. Through the Culture of Russia Federal Target Programme, begun in 2012 and slated to continue until 2018, the Russian government intends to provide more than $100 million in funds to help the industry develop and grow. The funds will go to support Russian book fairs, publishing books by Russian authors, small publishers, and the advancement of literacy among citizens in general, which is perceived to be in decline.  Although Russian E-book sales are growing, the transition into digital media is a peripheral concern for the Russian government as it seeks to revive its domestic publishing industry.

However, the French government sees the increasing intersection of technology and content as a major concern. President François Hollande commissioned a report released this May that reaffirms the government’s commitment to supporting French cultural industries in the face of this intersection. In fact, the report proposes an initial one percent tax on internet-capable devices, including smartphones and tablets, to be paid by the consumer at the time of purchase of the device. The money, which could total up to eighty-six million euros per year, would support the creation of digital content and other cultural activities. The government hopes to ease the transition of culture into the digital world by lessening the imbalance in profits accrued by the companies who sell the internet-capable devices and the people who produce the content, like music, media, and e-books, that consumers of the devices enjoy.

In a contrasting strategy, Brazil is supporting its publishing industry by exempting e-books and e-readers from federal taxes in hopes of making digital book content more affordable for consumers. Imported electronic devices in Brazil are taxed at extremely high rates, but a bill passed in 2012 excludes e-readers from these rates, effectively equating the digital book with the constitutionally tax-exempt print book. With this initiative, the government hopes to support the transition to digital content in the publishing world, which may improve literacy and interest in reading by increasing consumer access to literary materials.

The Chinese government has made facilitating the transition of the Chinese publishing industry into the digital age a priority. In addition to investing in the technological restructuring of publishing groups like the China Publishing Group and Shanghai Century publishing group, it has also set up industrial bases dedicated entirely to digital publishing. The first national digital publishing base, Zhangjiang Digital Publishing Base, was created in 2008, and other bases with the same goal of fostering the development of digital media have sprung up following its success. China Publishing Group, which is state-sponsored, also launched Digital Media Co. Ltd. as a subsidiary with a focus on digital media and technology in 2010. Still, China continues to employ methods to support physical bookstores alongside the development of digital technology. In 2012, Shanghai announced a plan to spend at least 15 million yuan per year to support bookshops, with the majority of funds being used to subsidize privately owned stores.

Governments in other countries like India and Singapore have also supported their publishing industries by making extensive use of digital content in education. In India, the Online Publications Repository houses thousands of articles in academia on the web. The National Book Development Council of Singapore aims to upgrade and educate publishing professionals in topics like digital product development through its training arm, the Centre for Literary Arts and Publishing.

In a global trend, governments have shown that they believe helping national cultural industries to navigate the transition into the digital age is worthwhile. Government investment into industries like the publishing industry, whether through subsidies or federal programs, aims to allow national businesses to grow and flourish in the digital landscape.

Emily Gruener

English, Government, and Plan II Honors Student at the University of Texas at Austin