Turkish agency urges 'understanding' for publishers in crisis-hit country

Turkish agency urges 'understanding' for publishers in crisis-hit country

A leading literary agency in Turkey is calling on publishers and agents around the world to support the country's book trade with their "understanding" following the economic crisis and fall of the lira.

Nermin Mollaoglu, the owner of Istanbul-based Kalem Agency, predicted that not only would Turkish publishers be buying fewer books for less money at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair (FBF), but fewer Turkish book trade companies would be able to make the trip at all. A number of smaller players are likely to be forced to close "or take a very long break" in the current climate, she added.

Turkey's currency lost 20% of its value last Friday (9th August), the same day Donald Trump announced he was doubling US import tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminium following a dispute over the detention of US pastor Andrew Brunson. Before this, Turkish lira was already the world’s worst performing currency, dropping by more than 40% against the dollar in the past year.

In an email sent to all international agents and publisher clients, Mollaoglu wrote that "even though the goverment says the exact opposite ... we are in the midst of economic crisis" which "affects all sectors" in Turkey. "You can see how it's changing so fast and dramatically," wrote the agency's founder, citing figures evidencing the currency's crash over the past month. "I am afraid TRY [lira] is going down a bit more even while I am writing this newsletter," she said.

For its part, the agency must "stand with Turkish publishers" and "do our best to help publishers to escape with nothing but a few 'scrapes'", Mollaoglu wrote, before going on to ask its international clients to "consider offers from Turkey in the light of these facts [about the country's current predicament]".

Speaking with The Bookseller, Mollaoglu called the situation in the country "scary and upsetting" and said that whilst it was not in a position to ask for help, it could ask for understanding.

She explained that 50% of books published in Turkey were works in translation, but stumping up the same level of advances and royalties will now prove difficult for Turkish publishers. Paper and printing costs, both of which tend to be paid for in dollars and euros, have also become pressure points affecting cash flow, she said. 

"We are not in a position to ask for help but understanding, that is the main issue, because it is not easy to explain why [for example] the previous payment was €1,000 and now it is €700," Mollaoglu said. "It is in a short time that the value of the currency changed so, if (companies) ask, 'I want the same or more' (for rights), the Turkish publishers cannot afford it."

She continued: "Turkish publishers tend to buy fewer and fewer books, which is also scary, because the Turkish publishing market is 50% translation-dominated. It will be only Turkish books [available] if they cannot [afford to] buy [internationally]. Else the small and middle-sized publishers will stop and take a break; this is also scary for the sake of the market, it will be only the big publishers playing the game.

“The landscape is changing and it’s not healthy, that’s the thing.”

Of the agency's newsletter sent on Thursday (8th August), alerting clients to the strain Turkish publishers are under, she said further: "My colleagues were concerned it was holiday time and maybe this was not the right time to send it. Some said we should wait. But this is the time, it is happening right now ... Turkish publishers have paid good advance payments for the last ten years but I don’t think it will happen this Frankfurt. Not more than five publishers can now afford decent advances. Even though international publishers will want to sell, they won’t get what they would have done.

"I hope [there will be some flexibility shown]. We got a lot of emails back and of course there’s no amusement here, the situation is real. I am so sure this week our bank account won’t receive any money. As soon as this situation is over it will be more lively."

Although Mollaoglu has spoken out, she said most in Turkey's publishing community were "silent, don't complain, don't say anything, don't send any emails like we did", nodding to widespread censorship in Turkey.

On the heels of the failed military coup two years ago, 29 publishers were closed by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government. Since then, there have been more writers imprisoned in Turkey than anywhere in the world.