The end of educational book market in Hungary

The Federation of European Publishers believes in democratic societies based on freedom of expression and its corollary, freedom to publish. At its September 2014 meeting in Cracow, our Hungarian colleague testified of the extremely worrying situation in his country. FEP calls on everyone who is committed to a fair and cohesive society, to address the serious issues raised by recent changes as demonstrated in the following text. The trend developing in many European countries, to nationalise textbooks’ publishing, is a limit to the freedom of choice of parents, students and teachers. FEP is mobilised on this topic.

Pierre Dutilleul, President FEP

La Fédération des Editeurs européens défend les sociétés démocratiques basées sur la liberté d’expression et son corollaire, la liberté de publier. A l’occasion de sa réunion de septembre 2014 à Cracovie, notre collègue hongrois a témoigné de la situation extrêmement préoccupante dans son pays. La FEE demande à tous ceux qui sont engagés en faveur d’une société unie et équilibrée, de répondre aux problèmes sérieux engendrés par de récents changements et soulignés dans le texte qui suit. Le mouvement qui se développe dans de nombreux pays d’Europe visant à ‘nationaliser’ l’édition scolaire, est une atteinte à la liberté de choix des parents, des élèves et des professeurs. La FEE est mobilisée sur ce sujet.

Pierre Dutilleul, Président de la FEE

The end of educational book market in Hungary

For those who still firmly believe that market economy is one of the evidences of 25 years old Hungarian democracy, and that book market is part of it, the first bad signs began to show up in the very early days after the actual Government majority won the elections in 2010. The few existing book subsidies were cut off. Hungarian cultural policy leaders’ behaviour towards the so-called „Márai-project” (a fund of cca. 3 million Euros to subsidize libraries by offering them a long list of book titles, selected by a special board), became ambiguous. The fund diminished to actual 300 000 Euros, the criterias and the compositon of the board were changed, and the logistic was given to the one and only state owned actor of the Hungarian book market (National Library Supplier or KELLO). On the other hand a huge and heavily overfinanced governmental book publishing project of 300 million HUF (1 m Euros) was launched with the name „National Library”, with the aim to supply, partly free of charge, the readers with a doubtful selection of what was considered the basic literary heritage for Hungarians. 300 million HUF are quite a lot of money, while the whole applyable literary budget of the National Cultural Fund for the same year (2012) was merely 200 millions.
But this was just the beginning.
25 years ago book market in Hungary was succesfully and completely privatized – with the only (and logical) exeption of KELLO, the National Library Provider. And this happened in accordance with general democratic changes and expectations in Hungary. However, the actual „centre-right” Government seems to have basically different priorities. Today’s official trend is to nationalize and to fight against banks and global finance system. As for public teaching and education, the first step was to centralize public schools run by the local authorities. The result was a giant mega-center as the exclusive employer of all the thousends of school teachers in Hungary. This step was followed by giving KELLO the monopoly of supplying the schools nation-wide with school and text books in Hungary, while KELLO, a relatively small company, with notorious payment difficulties in the past, has never had anything to do with school book distribution before. This change, introduced overnight without any previous professional consultation, effected not less than 25 % of the Hungarian book market, with a turnover of cca 15 billion Ft (50 million Euros), and ruined immediately about 100 accredited school book dealers, book shops etc. The promise that the new distribution system will reduce the price, turned out to be false very quickly: while school book distribution rate in the previous system had only been 12 %, KELLO doubled it immediately.
As a result, at the beginning of last year’s September (and somewhere even months later) many schools haven’t yet got the books they have ordered. At this point the Hungarian PA set up a serious protest. As for the teachers, who were forced previously to register in the newly formed and centrally controlled Teachers’ Chamber, they came under pressure. Just like the cca. 50 school book publishers (with 4 – 5 big ones among them), who were afraid to lose their market.
But being cautious didn’t help them at all. At the end of last year the Head of the Ministry of Human Resources submitted a bill that discontinued or nationalised market-based schoolbook publishing in Hungary at a single blow, and the new law was adopted exceptionally quickly by the two thirds governmental majority in Hungarian parliament.
This practically stopped the operation of school publishers. At the same time, free competition and the free choice of schoolbooks were eliminated. Previously, in Hungarian public school teaching the number of available text books was between 4 and 5 thousand, and every class could choose from 4 or 5 books per subject. The new law limited the choice to not more than two schoolbooks per subject, but the great majority of nationalized schools are not even allowed to choose from these two.
The next step was to introduce state school book publishing. The biggest private educational book publishers were threatened to be deprived of their market, if they didn’t let themselves to be nationalized. Two of them accepted this – and with that, school book market went practically under state controll. As a metter of fact, there is no more reason to speak about “market” at all. About half of the books are free of charge in the first 8 grades, and the government’s intention is to make them all free of charge step by step. On the other hand, 90 % of all the actually available school books are prepared by the two newly nationalized big publishers. As for the content, while in the past the approval of every single school book had to go through special commissions after 1 or 2 years of experimental phase, now it’s practically up to the minister to decide immediately. The teachers, having no real choice, couldn’t even see the “experimental” new text books, prepared during this spring and summer, apart from some “samples” with a number of shocking details, presented in August.
The Association of Hungarian School Publishers (with chamber licences in the past) was already dissolved by the Ministry. Nevertheless, a number of the publishers affected by all this process, went to the Strasbourg Court. They might win in 3 or 4 years, even if their existential ruin seems to be definite. But it’s obviously not about them – it’s about our children.

Imre Barna
Vice President

Péter László Zentai

Hungarian Publishers’ and Booksellers’ Association
Established in 1795

Kertész u. 41., H 1073 Budapest
Phone: +36 1 343 2540, Fax: +36 1 343 2541
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