’The Age of Discontent’ – Greek publishing through six years of austerity

Panoramic view of the Pleiades bookshop in Athens

by Socrates Kabouropoulos*

The effects of the 2010-2015 economic recession on the Greek publishing market have been unfortunate, by all means; they have affected and changed its structure, operation, quantity and quality features. While we can roughly touch upon some of those consequences, funnily enough we can’t thoroughly analyse them as a result of austerity. Between 2013/2014, the Greek government decided to suspend the operation of the National Book Centre of Greece (NBC, in Greek: EKEBI), and so they did for its specialized Documentation Unit for book statistics.

A brief idea of what the picture looks like after six years of austerity, can be summarized along the following lines.

  1. Less books published

The number of Greek books more than doubled during the ‘90s (from appr. 3,000 new titles, in 1990, to 7,338 in 2000), in what may justifiably be described as a ‘book title boom’. In the course of 00’s the number of new titles kept increasing until 2008 (10,680 new titles); then they started decreasing, back to the number of appr. 7,000 titles in 2012, according to the unpublished latest data by the NBC. One might see that this fragility would have been an inevitable consequence of a very fast growth, irrespectively of the crisis; this is true to some extent. However, it’s interesting to watch how different parts of book publishing have been affected by the shrinking of the consumer market. Fiction and poetry, i.e., have shown the greatest resilience, while the production of social and human sciences has been fragile and that of children’s books and of all the other subject issues (self-help books, ELT, pure & applied sciences, art books) showed a steep fall.

  • Literature as a means of identity (decline in the number of translations)

Literature (fiction, non-fiction and poetry) rose from 20.5% of the total titles, in 2006, to 27.9% in 2011, led by Greek fiction. The rate of translations in the book production fell from 42.5% to 32.1%, during the same period (Greek novels topping the ones in translation for the first time, in 2011, by 507 vs. 455). The cost of rights and translation fees is only one reason for that, while the persistent commercial success of titles by Greek authors bears witness to an extended usage of literature as a means of reaffirming notions of cultural identity, identifying with- and, at the same time, escaping from the harsh realities of the crisis.

  • From Contemporary History to Politics, and back (disenchantment in politics & economics)

The last part of the ‘00s saw a revived interest in retelling the Greek story of WWII and the Civil War that followed, through a new and unconventional approach. The outbreak of the crisis has interrupted this discussion, shifting the interest towards politics, economics and the European Union (History: 531 titles in 2010, 273 in 2012; Politics: 234 in 2010, 247 in 2011, 207 in 2012; Economics: 119 in 2008, 157 in 2010, 120 in 2012, according to Biblionet). This could be seen only between 2010-2012, when the social democrats’ reconciliation with the necessity of ‘tough measures’ marked a decline in political and economic debate and a shift towards political philosophy, radical ideology (paving the way for the left wing, SYRIZA government), and, in 2015, towards contemporary history, anew.

  • Poetry: a young generation of agitated poets?

In parallel with Greek fiction, Greek poetry books showed a persistent growth during the crisis (from 444 new releases in 2008 to 547 in 2012); the main difference being that, in the majority of the cases, the poets are being asked to contribute in the publication cost, making the deal beneficial for a number of niche publishers. The surplus of new books is accompanied by an enlarged presence of the younger, politically sensitive poets, who are in their 20’s-30’s, in websites, blogs, readings and public events (i.e. like when 36 of them read poetry for the “unburied dead”, inspired by Sophocles’ Antigone, at the Attis Theatre, Athens, in May 2015). “A radical new generation of poets ignited” is noted in publications such as Futures: Poetry of the Greek Crisis (ed. by Theodoros Chiotis, UK: Penned in the Margins, November 2015), or Austerity Measures (ed. by Karen Van Dyck, US: forthcoming).

Books on display at Saixpirikon

  1. Book publishing: media groups, independents and start-ups

In 2004, seven leading publishers, producing over 200 titles a year, accounted for 24% of the total book title production. In 2011, their number was diminished to merely three and their production share to 8.8%. On the other hand, the number of businesses publishing over 10 new books/year, has grown from 151 in 2004, to 167 in 2011, retaining a production share of 77% – and leaving the remaining 33% to a “very thin, very long tail” (according to the expert Mike Esplen) of over 700 nonsystematic or occasional publishers. The effects of the crisis were felt more severely at the top, where the media groups involved were more globally exposed to the negative effects of the recession (from reduced consumption to diminished advertising expenses): Ellinika Grammata (owned by Lambrakis Press Group, with a backlist of 4,000 titles) seized operating in 2011, Modern Times (owned by the Alter TV/”O Kosmos tou Ependyti” Weekly Newspaper consortium) followed in 2012, as did IntroBooks (owned by Imako Media group); while Lambrakis Group suspended their book title production by 40%. The decrease in net profits, between 2010-2011, was lower for the medium size companies (i.e. with a turnover between 1 and 2.5 m euro), compared to the ones with a turnover over 2.5 m euro (20,7% vs. 77,7%).

Putting some of the leading players off the ring (such as Ellinika Grammata and Modern Times), the crisis has created more free space at the top. Two different models of corporate “success” have been shaped, consequently. The one of a global, balanced and diversified publisher, building its sustainability mechanisms through the variety of its production and readership (i.e. Patakis), and the one of a publisher investing in high-cost advances mainly in fiction & children’s books, buying rights for the major Greek and international best sellers (i.e. Lena Manta, Chryssa Dimoulidou, Stieg Larsson, Khaled Hosseini, Haruki Murakami, Margaret Atwood, Umberto Eco, J. K. Rowling, including the Man Booker Prize winners), adopting offensive marketing and raising sales and profits (i.e. Psichogios). Most of the few other key-players fall somewhere between these two models, in the fight for sustainability (Metaichmio, Livanis, Kastaniotis, Minoas, Kedros). Alongside the resilience shown by the specialized and experienced, medium-sized publishers (such as Agra, Hestia, Polis, Dioptra, Gutenberg, Kritiki, Nefeli, Alexandria, Ikaros, Papadopoulos, Potamos, Melani, Indiktos, Klidarithmos, et. al.), a number of startups have emerged, often (but not always) run by former employees in the book business, aiming at a small literary production of an artistic quality (Kichli, Perispomeni, Shakespearean/Shakespirikon, Antipodes, ePoema, Poikili Stoa, Kokkino, et. al.)

  1. Bookselling: de-regulation and the sinking of flagships

The decline of the media conglomerates has affected bookselling, as much as it has affected book publishing. While the only important foreign investment withdrew from Greece in 2010 (Fnac), the two leading chains experienced a dramatic downturn in both sales and profits, leading them to close down the majority of their stores (Eleftheroudakis, from 31 in 2009 to only 3 in 2015, Papasotiriou, from 30 in 2009 to 14 in 2015). High street bookshops have been further affected by the frequent, and often agitated public protests in the centre of Athens. The year 2013 has marked another negative landmark: the closing-down of Hestia Bookstore after 120 consequent years (and 5 generations) of operating, its history going hand-in-hand with that of contemporary Greece. Public, a company created by a successful ex-telecommunications businessman, copied the Fnac concept of a multiple product store (books, music, films and microelectronics, with phones and tablets leading the way), and expanded in every major Greek city (45 branches in Greece and 3 in Cyprus, in 2015). The rise of their turnover to 134.2 m euro, in 2013, though, was not eventually accompanied by profit, but by balance sheet losses (11.5 m euro in 2013).

As a measure to flare up consumption, the Greek government modified the Fixed Book Price Law in 2014, which had been in power since 1997, allowing free discounts for all books with the exception of ‘fiction’ and ‘children’s books’, whose retail price was kept under discount control (can only be discounted up to 10% for a maximum of two years, as long as the book is not republished). According to last year’s experience, free discounts have mainly benefited a couple of ‘heavy discounters’/booksellers in Athens and in Thessaloniki, while Public, Eleftheroudakis, Papasotiriou, Ianos and the majority of the key-players abided to the old, ‘regulated’ prices, offering a discount of up to 10% in most of the titles. While Amazon has never reached the Greek-language market, there’s a visible threat that heavy discounters are going to conquer a disproportional share of it, as has happened during the 80’s and the early 90’s.

At the same time with the shrinking in the bricks-and-mortar, commercial bookshops, a number of new, small independents have sprung up, often created by ex-book professionals (Epi Lexei, Pleiades, Shakespirikon, Booktalks, Lexikopoleion, Mauve Skiouros, Booktique, et. al.) Their business models include an enlarged selectivity towards distinct quality books, even if they are to leave bestsellers totally out of the picture; events and readings organized on a regular basis; and a credible service of orders which come out of personal contact.

  1. Higher education textbooks: state buying, ill-pricing & photocopies

Despite all the reforms which were imposed to Greece during the period 2010-2015, the state is the only commissioner of textbooks in public sector higher education (and the only schoolbook publisher in primary and secondary education). All university textbooks are published by commercial publishers, purchased by the Education Ministry and distributed to the students for free. This has led, over the years, to a notoriously bad practice: textbooks are being luxuriously printed and over-priced, so that they bring the maximum benefit to their publishers after the ‘discount’ bid, and their price grows irrationally high for the rest of the consumers. This leads the students who aren’t entitled to free textbooks (i.e. the ones from private colleges or universities) to extensive, irregular photo-copying, and the publishers to protest against the abuse of their work. A reform based on a volunteer shift of the textbook writers towards e-textbooks, which was announced in 2012, wasn’t thoroughly followed in the implementation phase.

  1. Book reading: an unaccomplished object of desire (expansion of the audience but towards the ‘weak readers’)

Between 1999-2010, the National Book Centre of Greece has conducted three nation-wide surveys on reading behaviour, based on the same methodology (and, therefore, producing comparative results). The basic findings of these surveys are that: (a). The percentage of the Greeks who identify themselves as ‘book-readers’ is comparatively minor to that of the ones who don’t read at all, together with those who read only for professional or educational purposes, (b). The percentage of ‘medium to avid readers’, among them, i.e. of those who read ‘more than ten books a year’, notably, has been stable along the decade (from 8.2% in 1999, to 8.0% in 2010), (c). By the end of 2010, the interest towards book reading seemed to increase, compared to 2004, based on the ‘weaker’ strand of the readership (of those who read on average, up to 3-4 books a year). The positive sign in this development is a potential shift (even in terms of an unshaped or even wishful thinking) towards book-reading, at a time of economic downturn. At the same time, a number of ‘objective’ constraints seem to interfere in this desire, having to do with individual uncertainty, unemployment, longer working hours/less leisure for those who work and less money available to spend on books, because of income cuts and over taxation.

saixpirikon-detail705x435

  1. Cultural policy: from State to charities (i.e. public libraries)

It has always been interesting to explain why public policies fail exactly at the point where they could have a chance to help recover a certain field of social or economic activity. In Greece, the government decisions to close-down the National Book Centre, with no other alternative institution as such in the field of policymaking, as well as to raise the taxes in all the intermediate phases of book publishing (including paper purchasing, book design and printing), raising their VAT from 6.5% to 23%, bears witness to the lack of depth, inconsistency and ‘panic’ of Greek policymaking within the context of austerity, in the place of the reforms needed. The negative developments, together with the poorly justified quitting of Retail Price Maintenance -based on only 7 pages of a larger OECD report- came to add on the lack of a sustainable policy for textbooks and for public libraries. The latter part has left charities, such as the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and its NGO subsidiary, “Future Library”, to appear as the most important players in the field of library modernisation. The Foundation is delivering to the state, in 2016, the brand-new building of the National Library it has constructed on its own expenses, designed by the famous Italian Renzo Piano, while “Future Library” coordinates computer and book purchases and a reading promotion campaign in municipal libraries, every year.

  1. Rights sales and international literary perception (towards a ‘stereotyping of compassion’?)

Rights sales is a healthy vehicle for Greek publishing, because of the small size of the domestic consumption. To achieve them, though, the language barrier has to be beaten. During the recent years, this hasn’t been easy, in spite of Greece being invited in a number of book fairs, such as Frankfurt Book Fair in 2001, Bologna and Torino in 2004, Madrid in 2005, Beijing in 2008 and Belgrade in 2009. This is also partially due to the erratic application of the country’s translations subsidy scheme (called ‘Frasis’ in the phase of 2012-2013, under the NBC). The effort is recently mediated by professional literary agents who cooperate and act in the major international markets. In 2001, 54 Greek book titles were translated into German, in view of the Frankfurt Book Fair. Less than one fourth followed in the next decade, disencouraged by the commercial ‘failure’ of the initial ones – with the notable exception of Petros Markaris’ crime novels. After 2010, however, the road to international reception has been easier for a certain literature dealing with the ones particularly affected by the economic crisis (i.e. Christos Iconomou, Something will Happen, You’ll See –translations in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Croatia, US-, All Good Things Will Come from the Sea –translation rights sold in France, Italy and US; Christos Chrissopoulos, La Destruction du Parthenon/The Parthenon Bomber, 2012, Une lampe entre les dents/The Lens Between the Teeth, 2013 -translations and Laure-Batallion Prize in France; Makis Tsitas, God is My Witness, European Union Prize for Literature, 2014, translation rights sold in Italy and in seven other languages; et. al.); a literature radical in form and content (i.e. the poetry anthologies mentioned); and a literature of critical reflection (i.e. Nikos Dimou, On the Unhappiness of Being Greek – translations in eight languages, over 35,000 copies sold in Germany; Yanis Varoufakis, Talking to My Daughter About the Economy, 2015, rights sold in Spain, Germany, Italy, France, Serbia and Brazil; et. al.).

  1. eFuture: ebooks and mobile apps

Greek eBooks were launched in the trade market in 2010, following their rising success in the English-speaking countries. Their degree of penetration, though, six years later, is less than 1% of the value of the market. This is due to the lack of a low-cost, ‘everyday’ reader (such as Kindle, with no large Greek language ebooks’ inventory, such as Amazon’s), and the relatively high price of tablets such as Galaxy or the iPad in the frame of a consumption crisis. Greek language ebooks amount to appr. 7,000 titles, today, and include mostly ePub versions of the new titles that come out in printed form. Most of them are available through iTunes and through dedicated e-bookstores such as myebooks.gr and cosmotebooks.gr (powered by the larger Greek mobile service provider, Cosmote). Copy-free literature has been promoted by initiatives such as openbook.gr. An acclaimed medium-size publisher (Periklis Douvitsas, from Nefeli Books) has recently launched a ‘fair trade’ ebook platform (fairead.net), aiming at services offered to authors and publishers (and ‘fairer’ terms offered to e-retailers and readers). His focus is mainly mobile distribution, through a reading app. Mobile distribution (‘a book in every pocket’) seems to be closer to ebook perspectives compared to audiovisual and trans-media digital publishing, following the effort to overcome the global stagnation in ebook sales.

 

References

[ Book Production, Book publishing, Bookselling ]

[ Book Reading ]

[ Cultural Policy ]

[ Rights Sales ]

* Socrates Kabouropoulos worked as a senior officer at the National Book Centre of Greece, in charge of its Book Monitoring Unit, between 1996-2014. He also launched and run the Greek books-in-print database, Biblionet [ www.biblionet.gr ].

Call for papers: Renegotiating History in light of the ‘Greek Crisis’

Photo of Athens graffiti

University of Oxford, Wednesday 16 March 2016

Abstract submission deadline: Sunday 10 January 2016

Contact: mgworkshop2016@gmail.com

Society of Modern Greek Studies and University of Oxford Sub-Faculty of Modern Greek

How has the ‘Greek crisis’ mediated the ways in which Greeks conceive of, negotiate and perform their history- however ancient or recent?

The ‘outbreak’ of the financial and socio-political crisis in Greece in 2008 has been interpreted as the end of the Metapolitefsi period that began with the collapse of the military dictatorship in July 1974. The rise of the neo-Nazi organisation Golden Dawn has been accompanied by an upswing in discourses and politics of racial eugenics, and a revived use (and, most ominously, the exploitation) of the national traumas of the Civil War to articulate political polarizations and civil strife in Greece. Meanwhile, as the death toll of the humanitarian refugee crisis in the Aegean mounts every day, memories of Greek expatriation and of the Asia Minor population exchange are invoked under the slogan “We are all Refugees”. In light of the growth and increased visibility of Muslim communities in Greece, the SYRIZA government promises to build the first mosque in Athens any day now (despite the protestations of the heads of the Greek Orthodox Church). In the meantime, Athens remains the only EU capital without an official place of worship for followers of the Islamic faith.

Following the success of the student-led workshop on diversity in Greek popular culture(s) and media held in Oxford in March 2015, this workshop aims to provide a forum for graduate students from a range of disciplinary backgrounds to participate in and contribute to academic discourses on the Greek crisis. The workshop will take place under the auspices of the UK Society for Modern Greek Studies and the sub-faculty of Modern Greek at the University of Oxford, and is organised by a committee of graduate students, for students.

We invite abstracts for papers that will engage with the ways in which the effects of and discourses surrounding the crisis have led Greek politicians, communities, writers, artists, directors (both theatre and film) and bloggers to revisit and refigure notions of what constitutes “Greek history”. Beyond the more sinister examples (like that of Golden Dawn), we are particularly looking to open up a discussion on how the crisis informs Greek identity/ies, history and collective memory in constructive and perhaps, even positive ways. In addition, however, we will also be very happy to receive abstracts for papers that will contest the periodization of the crisis as a “rupture” in recent Greek history, and that will rather opt to problematize how corresponding assumptions are projected onto the past.

Potential subjects include (but are not limited to):

  • The invention(s) of the crisis in Greek collective memory as a new era in Greek history
  • Potential disavowals of Greek history in literature, theatrical productions, films and other forms of popular culture informed by the crisis
  • Re-readings of periods, and re-writings (including translations) of texts and plays in light of the socio-political effects and discourses of the crisis in Greece
  • The emergence of new productions, performances and performance art since 2008 that subvert canonical texts, narratives and staging traditions as part of a certain “crisis project”
  • How LGBTQ history and politics become a pressing issue of are revisited in the context of crisis
  • How traditionally disenfranchised communities and individuals have used the crisis as an opportunity to write themselves into and participate in re-imaginings of the the Greek past
  • The creation of new virtual communities through online and social media platforms, based around historical periods and identities related to the past
  • The contestation of any of the above, to show how renegotiations of the past associated with the crisis might precede and/or transcend crisis narratives

The student committee invites abstract submissions of up to 350 words sent as email attachments to mgworkshop2016@gmail.com by Sunday 10 January 2016. Please indicate your name, degree title, university, and email address and contact number in the email, and only the paper title in the attachment with the abstract.

Members of the organising committee will assess abstracts by a process of blind peer review, and paper selections will be based on relevance to the workshop theme and possible topics, and the intrinsic interest of proposals. Participants will be notified of the selection of their abstracts by no later than Friday, 22 January  2016.

The workshop will take place at the University of Oxford on Wednesday 16 March 16 2016 (precise location TBC), from 10:00 until (provisionally) 18:00. Panels will run throughout the day, which will conclude with a roundtable session where all participants will come together to discuss the workshop themes and new avenues for research regarding the intersections between Modern Greek Studies, history and the crisis. Please bear in mind that paper presentations should not exceed 20 minutes.

Graduate students from all backgrounds and disciplines are encouraged to submit an abstract. We hope that like last year, this workshop will bring together students from a range of backgrounds and disciplines and will provide a basis to broaden a network of young researchers working on subjects related to modern Greece. Abstracts from visiting graduate students and undergraduates in the final stages of their degrees will also be considered and submitted to the same blind peer review process.

Participants will also be invited to attend the third workshop of an AHRC-funded project series entitled Greece in crisis: cultural politics, identity and othernessthat will take place in Oxford the day after the student-led workshop (Thursday, March 17th 2016). Further details TBC.

The Greek publishers in times of crisis and capital controls: issues, trends and prospects

Photo of Greek book shop or library

As part of the Greek participation in the 67th International Frankfurt Book Fair (Hall5.1, Stand E 131), we present a brief survey entitled “The Greek publishers in times of crisis and capital controls: issues, trends and prospects” prepared by the Association of Book Publishers (S.EK.B). under the auspices and with the support of Hellenic Foundation for Culture (HFC).

This survey is a first impression of the current state of the book publishing sector in Greece, as it has developed over the last two years (abolition of the Law 2557/1997 on fixed book prices, the VAT increase from 6.5% to 23 % on production, capital controls, etc.). In a fluid economic, institutional and political environment Greeks publishers are trying to tackle the consequences of the crisis, to find solid footing and new development strategies. The purpose of the study is to highlight issues related inter alia with the transition of the industry to the digital age. Finally, this research aims to become the beginning of a fruitful dialogue, which will contribute to the normalization of the existing situation and the diffusion of the Greek book in the domestic and international environment.

This study (quantitative using a structured questionnaire) is divided into two main parts: a) Economic environment, publishing production and market and b) Editorial policy and new development strategies

REDUCED SALES VOLUME

The first part of the research, concerning the economic environment, publishing production and the market reflected a significant drop in sales volume and book production. It is characteristic that the sales volume in 2014 compared to 2013 was reduced for 71% of the publishers, unchanged for 11% and increased for 18%. Additionally, in the same timeframe, the publishers reduced production of new titles by 40 %. The situation appears to be worse in the first half of 2015, with 73% of the publishers finding their sales volume reduced, while the drop in sales volume after the introduction of capital controls (July 2015) for most of the publishers is between 20% and 50%.

Consequently, the shrinkage of the sales volume in 2015 also led to a reduction in book production. Accordingly, 64% of publishers plan to reduce the production of new titles until the end of 2015. Furthermore, publishers have adopted various practices, in order to cope with the difficult economic circumstances. Apart from the reduction of production (64%), publishers have also implemented: offers and sales (55%), a more careful selection of new titles (47%), cutting of permanent personnel’s salaries (26%), as well as reduction of the permanent personnel itself (24%). The main source of income for the Greek publishing field is derived from translated works of foreign writers (58%), while the main volume of book sales is effected through bookshops, both chain (38%) and independent bookshops (38%) – including brick and mortar as well as e-shops.

greek-book-trade-2-705x435

EDITORIAL POLICY – NEW STRATEGIES

The second part of the research is related to editorial policy and the new strategies of development in this field. The Greek publishers have ranked the problems they are facing, ranked most important of all by 78% is the VAT rise from 6.5% to 23% on all stages of book production. Ranked second (76%) is the lack of the market liquidity, readers’ reduction of purchasing power (69%), and the absence of a single-price policy for books (49%). Consequently, as the most important policies for the normalization of the existing situation, the publishers have ranked the following: the existence of a friendly tax environment for the publishing industry (67%), and the reinstatement of Law 2557/1997 for the fixed price on books (51%).

The research concerning new development strategies and the transition to a digital environment shows that 71% of the publishers intends to adopt strategies that line up with the technological changes and the digital environment, while another 66% believes that the digital transition is mainly related to the digitalization of content and the production of eBooks. 36% of publishers is looking to new digital channels for promotion and sales of printed books, and a similar number lists digital communication and networking with readers. It is noteworthy that, although the economic crisis suspended the plans for the digital transition of 58% of publishers, at the same time, the economic crisis is a factor in the acceleration of the digital transition for 27% of the publishers. Furthermore, the Greek publishers believe that the digital changes occurring worldwide in the field are a challenge (36%) as well as a necessity (29%). With regard to eBooks in the Greek market, the 62% of publishers has not started producing eBooks. However, 59% intends to include eBook sin the publishing production within the next two years. Finally, when ranking the relevance of causes for the low market penetration of eBooks, the publishers’ replies appear to be extremely divided. Indicatively, 24% believes the price and the high VAT are an inhibitory factor, while roughly the same percentage (22%) of publishers considers the economic crisis, the lack of investment as well as their reservations about eBooks as a product, extremely important causes that prevent the penetration of eBooks in the Greek market.

In conclusion, the research puts into relief the difficult situation, in which the Greek publishers find themselves, in a time of economic crisis. On the other hand, they have every intention, if a more conducive economic and institutional environment should emerge, to move forward and develop new strategies that will boost the Greek publishing field. A more detailed analysis will be presented at the next Thessaloniki Book Fair (12-15 May 2016).

(research editor: Panagiotis Kapos – Philologist / Ph.D candidate in Communication, Media and Culture, Panteion University)

 

PUBLISHING ISSUES AND NORMALISATION POLICIES

The most important issues that concern the Greek book publishing field today are the following:

  • The rise of the VAT from 6.5% to 23% on all
  • stages of book production (78%)
  • Lack of market liquidity (76%)
  • Reduction of the readers’ purchasing power (69%)
  • Absence of a fixed-price policy for books (49%)
  • Absence of a national publishing policy (47%)

The normalisation policies that could provide solutions to the field’s problems rank as follows:

  • Friendly environment for the publishing industry (67%)
  • Reinstatement of Law 2557/1997 for the fixed price on books (51%)
  • Strengthening of programs that encourage reading, at the local and national level (47%)
  • Existence of a state organisation, exclusively concerned with books and reading (44%)
  • Strengthening and modernisation of the libraries (45%)

E-BOOKS AND THE GREEK MARKET

The ranking of the causes for the almost nonexistent penetration of eBooks in the Greek publishing market:

  • Price of the eBooks and high VAT (24%)
  • Economic crisis and lack of investment(22%)
  • Readers not being ready to accept eBooks (22%)
  • Publishers’ reservations about eBooks as a product(22%)
  • Distribution, promotion and sales issues (20%)

(the data is presented in ranking order, according to the rankings of the publishers on the Likert scale – these are the 5 most popular replies)

The politics of Greek television fiction: Crisis, comedy and Greekness

The following piece is based on a preliminary engagement with a number of cultural products of Greek television fiction during the years of the Greek debt crisis. My main interest lies in the ways that fictional programmes address the recent multifaceted financial crisis, documenting in a way the cultural experience of a nation in crisis, while at the same time constituting a valuable platform for the evaluation of ideological processes taking place within the media in times of tension. I argue that, just like all other forms of media, fiction too has been experiencing the effects of the economic crisis, both as an industry but also in terms of its content. In the following lines, I present some initial observations arising from a study of television texts which deal with the Greek crisis as their subject matter (in subtle or more explicit manners), focusing on their comedic character and the type of humorous tactics that they are employing. The concept of national identity appears to be a recurring theme in all these comedic texts, partly because of television fiction’s particular association with national thematics, but also because of the recent crisis’ invigorating effects on national discourses. This blog post is particularly concerned with the ways that the crisis has been portrayed in programmes of Greek television fiction with an emphasis on comedy, and could be described as part of larger doctoral project taking place at the Department of Journalism, Media and Communication in University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

If we were, therefore, to connect this short piece with the research questions of “The Cultural Politics of the Greek Crisis” project and broaden its scope by including the issue of how Greek popular culture and television fiction are responding to the Greek economic crisis, the following examples could provide an indicative spectrum of the ways that crisis discourses have infiltrated Greek television fiction. Piso sto Spiti (Πίσω στο Σπίτι), a family comedy originally broadcast between 2011 and 2013 by Mega Channel, tells the story of a Greek family who becomes indebted to a German woman named Angela. The programme, which aired between 2011-2013, bases its comedic character on the extensive use of national and cultural stereotypes, depicting the Greek characters as cunning, lazy, prone to doing things “under the table”, while Angela (unsubtly connected by name to the German Chancellor Merkel) embodies the German stereotype of the rigid supporter of order and discipline. The programme’s numerous references to people, events, economic terms and processes that the Greek people became familiar with during the years of the crisis reinforces the comedic tone of a programme where the crisis enters the domestic sphere and becomes a (rather unsolvable) problem for an average Greek family.

A different comedic framing is observed in the surrealist black comedy (according to Greek TV critics) To Kato Partali (Το Κάτω Παρτάλι), which reveals another way that fiction registers the cultural experience of a period of transition and tension. The story in this programme also broadcast by Mega Channel since 2014 is about the adventures of a former “golden boy”, his snooty sister and her (gay) best friend in a strange village of the Greek periphery whose residents make them feel anything but welcome. Through a series of mysterious events and funny behaviors, the main characters become familiar with life outside the city walls. The programme’s comedic character is founded on the uncanny atmosphere of the village and its residents, as well as the difficulty of the three main characters to adjust to rural life after being used to a lifestyle characterized by luxury and over-spending. As a result, the genre of comedy is used to build a metaphor for the crisis-hit Greece negotiating the tension between urban and rural life, but also illustrating the absurdity of the years of the crisis.

As a final stop in this short report of the functions of comedy in fictional representation of the Greek crisis, the more recent Ethniki Ellados (Εθνική Ελλάδος) written by Giorgos Kapoutzidis provides Greek television with a programme full of references to a society in deep existential crisis, touching upon many social issues in a mature and thought-provoking way. Xenophobia, the rise of the extreme right wing party of The Golden Dawn, homophobia, the question of child adoption, and corruption are only some of the issues that Ethniki Ellados introduces. By basically using comedy as a bait, Kapoutzidis, who is the creator of some of the most recent successful comedies of Greek television, manages to incorporate themes that are not easy to talk about. In addition to that, Ethniki Ellados embraces a discourse of empowerment, supporting a fight against social injustice by giving voice to –otherwise invisible- social groups and promoting a discourse of unity, as the title of the programme suggests.

All in all, it appears that comedy could be addressed as a generic frame which initially legitimizes the crisis as an entertaining and laughable matter, while at the same time reflecting on several aspects of contemporary Greek society. In other words, fiction too has been responding to the crisis by producing versions of the social reality resulting in texts with significant yet understudied ideological value. Crisis has indeed inspired popular culture and television fiction in a number of different ways; a closer study of the above examples and other programmes of Greek television could provide us with a more concrete image of how different aspects of the national media culture negotiate times of tension and issues of (national) identity.

Georgia Aitaki
PhD candidate
University of Gothenburg

New Diaspora: time to tell our own part of the story

Amidst an unprecedented refugee crisis that dominates international headlines, sparks public demonstrations of both solidarity and discrimination, and even shakes the foundations of the European project, a more quiet and far less tragic migration flow continues to grow. Media and scholars often refer to it as ‘the Greek brain drain’, even though it has already become something much broader than that.

What started as an increasing number of educated and multilingual young Greek professionals leaving their country has evolved into a massive wave of ‘neomigrants’ with diverse backgrounds and skills. Everyone seems to associate this wave with the ongoing economic crisis, but its causes are more complicated than just a combination of high unemployment and low salaries. Surveys have shown that many Greeks move abroad believing there is no future in their country; not just for themselves, but for everyone else too. This is a moral, cultural and deeply political crisis. In a sense, it can be also seen as an existential one.

Officially, the new Greek diaspora is not even recognised as a ‘proper’ migration phenomenon, since it is mainly confined within the boundaries of the EU, which allows the unobstructed mobility of workforce originating in any of its member states.

There is no reliable estimate regarding the exact number of Greek people who have abandoned their country over the last 5-6 years. Adding up figures from different sources, I think it is safe to estimate that at least 350-400,000 Greeks have moved abroad since 2009, with a high probability of their number reaching or surpassing the 500,000 mark by the end of 2015. In a country of 11 million, this figure corresponds to over 10% of its economically active population. When it comes to university graduates in the 20-35 age group, I don’t even dare to try and calculate a percentage.

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Having personally experienced the excitement and frustration of the expat adventure during a time of crisis, at some point I realised this is a historical phenomenon that needs to be recorded. Being a documentary filmmaker, I started filming stories of Greeks who had recently moved to the Netherlands, where I also used to live until only a few months ago. In March 2013, together with an international team of friends and volunteers, we launched the New Diaspora project; an online platform aiming at hosting mini documentaries and all kinds of user generated content that revolve around the multiple aspects of this issue.

Instead of adopting the traditional content provider-consumer model, we chose to formulate a digital storytelling community, where Greek ‘neomigrants’ from all over the world could submit their own ‘open letters’, photos and videos. Our initiative received Greek and international media attention, our social media reach grew, and our partnerships flourished. We are now on the verge of securing the necessary grants and sponsorships that will enable New Diaspora to step up and become a global participatory media entity, that not only produces and hosts a variety of niche content, but also functions as a reference point for expatriate Greeks to network with each other, organise offline events and collectively pursue common goals. Such as the right to vote from abroad in the Greek parliamentary elections, a constitutional right that awaits to be implemented for decades.

There is a number of reasons why I think the New Diaspora initiative is so important:

  • It continues to be relevant, since thousands of Greeks keep moving abroad every year, with few of them deciding to return home anytime soon.
  • Many of those people represent the most dynamic and skilled part of Greece’s human recourses; without their experience and talent, the prospect of rebooting the Greek economy becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible.
  • Whether they are given incentives to relocate to Greece or not, the Greek expats’ entrepreneurial activities can provide know-how, inspiration and even jobs in their homeland.
  • Redefining an obsolete collective identity (that somehow seems to be stuck in the ‘Zorba’ cliché of the 60’s) is absolutely necessary in the attempt to rebrand Greece, and it can not be done solely by the ones who are left behind.
  • In an age where internet gives almost everyone a chance to communicate and network with others on a global scale, half a million people deserve to have a platform of their own, so that their voice can be heard.
  • Even though the Greek and international press occasionally publishes stories on the Greek ‘brain drain’, there is no other effort to record a migration wave in real time, apart from New Diaspora.

Over the last few years, we have seen some really ugly developments taking place in Greece: steep rise in unemployment and drop of GDP turning a recession into full-scale depression, loss of state sovereignty and devaluation of the democratic principles that once set the foundations of a United Europe, neonazi thugs entering the Greek Parliament and a political and social instability that is far from over yet.

I like to believe that the new Greek diaspora can eventually play the role of the ‘cavalry’, saving the day when everything else has failed to bring a much desired change. Storytelling lies at the core of this united effort, and we would be foolish not to use it as a tool that will empower not only a ‘borderless nation’ of Greeks living abroad, but also the lives and dreams of the ones who stayed behind.

Nikolaos Stampoulopoulos

Founder and Creative Director of New Diaspora

Literary Representations of a Society in Crisis: the Students’ Point of View

Graffiti on the building of the National Academy on Panepistimiou Avenue Photo: Julia Tulke/aestheticsofcrisis.org

Venetia Apostolidou, University of Thessaloniki

In winter semester 2013-14 I taught a seminar at the School of Elementary Education of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki entitled “Representations of society in Modern Greek fiction”. My aim was to introduce the students into the discussion which is being held for the last five years on whether contemporary Greek literature has depicted and scrutinized the crucial economical, social, political and cultural problems of Greek society or, on the contrary, it has focused mainly on individual, psychological and narrow family affairs. My assumption had been that a topic like this would be interesting for the students, the majority of whom face severe economical problems, would motivate them to read some good novels and therefore become familiar with contemporary Greek literature.

The organization of the course was the following: in the first three or four meetings we discussed theoretical issues such as the relation between fiction and society, author’s and reader’s ideology, realism and plausibility techniques. I suggested a list of about fifteen books, novels and collections of short stories, which were published from 1972 (Alexandros Kotzias, O Genaios Tilemachos) to 2013 (Makis Tsitas Martis mou o Theos). The books were supposed to be read by groups of students and presented to the class. The students suggested some more books and finally twenty four groups of students read twenty four different books. The total sum of students involved was eighty seven. In each class meeting two groups of students presented their books (there was time for only fourteen to be presented in class, the rest of them were turned in as written assignments) after, of course, close collaboration with me during office hours.

At some point I decided to keep a record of students’ opinions because I found interesting the fact that a bunch of young people were talking about literature, crisis and their interrelation. Therefore, at the end of each class, I handed out a questionnaire on the books presented in the particular day and asked them to fill it in anonymously. In our last meeting I handed out a final questionnaire which took under consideration the whole course. Not all students were present in all meetings (unfortunately presence is not obligatory in undergraduate classes) and not all present students were willing to fill in the questionnaire. I have gathered about 25 completed questionnaires on each book and 31 with the overall conclusions. Here I will present and discuss the students’ answers on the final questionnaire. It is a multiple choice questionnaire. I realize that the particular formation of the possible answers may not express accurately the views of each one of the students and, from a certain point of view, the proposed answers can be considered as imposing a particular interpretation. Yet, those are the limitations of this kind of questionnaire. The other choice I had was to pose open questions but then the danger would have been either lack of answers or dubious and vague answers. In any case, I tried to suggest views that have been repeatedly discussed in class.

Final Questionnaire

  1. Having read the book you chose and having participated to the discussions on the other books, what are your views as far as the relation between modern Greek fiction and society is concerned?
Modern Greek fiction has depicted all serious problems of Greek society and makes us think about them  39%
Only a few books help us to know Greek society. Most works give an abnormal image of society or they depict totally personal and extreme problems.  26%
I realize that literature had pointed out the social problems that are now considered symptoms of the crisis, long before the crisis burst out.  48%

A good percentage of the students realize that literature had pointed out the social problems that are now considered symptoms of the crisis long before the crisis burst out. Specifically, two older novels made a strong impression due to their deep analysis and the complex image of a corrupted society they create. Those were O Genaios Tilemachos (1972) of Alexandros Kotzias and Eis ton pato tis eikonas (1990) of Maro Douka. The students found out with surprise that all issues that are presently being discussed in the public sphere (see below) were not only evident to certain authors but they have been the object of literary elaboration in a quite sophisticated way. However, a considerable percentage of students think that literature talks mainly about personal and extreme situations and does not give any reliable image of society. I guess that those were the students who were keen on discussing thoroughly characters’ psychology and their motives but unwilling to see social and cultural structures; however, we have to admit that they represent a considerable part of the reading audience, perhaps not the most experienced, that looks for answers in personal matters. In any case, this is an existent stance in reading literature.

  1. Out of all social problems depicted in the novels and short stories, which one did impress you the most?
The corruption of the state administration 32%
The social discrimination and social exclusion 23%
The economical scandals 3%
The family problems and the decay of welfare institutions 32%
The lack of reliable political leadership and the confusion of values and ideologies 32%

It is impressive that students’ choices are distributed equally to most answers. Quite right they didn’t pay any attention to the economical scandals such as the Koskotas affair in 1989 since novels (for example Eis ton pato tis eikonas by Maro Douka) see the scandals as symptoms of greater problems. I think that this distribution of the answers shows that the readers are not preoccupied with the elaboration of certain social problems while reading literature. Moreover, they comprehend larger images of society or, to put it differently, literature makes them to conceive society itself as a problem.

  1. What do you think you gained from the course as far as your relation with literature is concerned?
I want to read more literary books 45%
I have learned to pose questions while reading and look for answers 65%
I realize that interesting literary works are being written today in Greece and I want to get to know them better. 26%

It is comforting that 45% of the students have been motivated to read more literary books since my colleagues and I have had many opportunities to notice that our students are not systematic readers of literature. The part of students (26%) which sees positively modern Greek literature in particular and wants to get to know it better is surely low. This is perhaps due to the ‘academic’ way in which the answer is formulated. We have to take into consideration that my students study to be elementary teachers, therefore they see literature not as literary experts but in the way that ordinary readers see it: as food for thought and resource of enjoyment. Last but not least, the high percentage (65%) of students who think that they have learned to pose questions while reading indicates perhaps that students, at the most, look for reading strategies that may lead them to answers on (no matter general or personal) hot and widely discussed issues.

I realize that this is a small scale research which took place under very specific circumstances determined by an academic course with its own aims and limitations. We should not jump to conclusions. If I may at this point add a few remarks from my experience I would say that I was happy to see that students with little experience in reading Greek literature found difficult books interesting and made sense of them. They discussed passionately about different social characters and images of society and they understood very well that literature has much to say to us in difficult times. Actually, the idea that dominated the whole course after all was that literature sees always, even in good times, society as a problematic structure and thus helps us to be prepared for bad times.


Image: Graffiti on the building of the National Academy on Panepistimiou Avenue, Julia Tulke/aestheticsofcrisis.org

Social Media and the Greek Crisis: Its Impact on the Greek Public Sphere

The movement of the "indignants" in Athens resulted in some of the largest protest gatherings in modern Greek history during the spring and summer of 2011, and was largely organized via Facebook and other social media tools. Photo credit: Michael Nevradakis (6 June 2011).

Michael Nevradakis

When Gil Scott-Heron coined the phrase “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” in 1970, could he have imagined the form such a non-televised “revolution” would take three decades later? Social networking have had a profound impact on the global flow of information, radically altering the nature of time and space, and “revolutionizing” the very idea of revolution. In recent years, social media tools have been credited with helping to inspire or organize political movements in countries and territories as varied as Iran, Thailand, Moldova, Hong Kong, the Ukraine, and Honduras, as well as the “Arab Spring” uprisings of 2011 and the Occupy Wall Street protests throughout the United States which followed. Continue reading

Three times an immigrant

Panayotis Sfalagakos, December 2014

When delving into the history of modern Greece, one fact that surely stands out in the mind of the student is the recurring theme of emigration and domestic depopulation. At what seem to be almost regular intervals, political, economic, social and other factors and considerations spur a new wave of Greeks to migrate, either internally (from rural to urban areas) or beyond the borders of the country, to foreign lands, both near and far.

Thus, the post-2008 ‘Greek crisis’ period may be viewed as simply constituting but the latest instalment in the history of Greek mass emigration.

Continue reading