Italy and Switzerland: incentives to culture


Bookcity Milan #BCM17 was the occasion for a comparison between two different European experiences: the Italian experience of the cultural incentive (“Bonus cultura”), introduced with the 2018 Budget Law and now in its second edition, and the experience of the Swiss Federation with the financial supports of the group to support the publishing industry (“Sostegno all’editoria”). Both experiences pursue the same goal, i.e. to incentivate culture, stimulate reading and the sale of books. With clear effects also for the graphics-paper supply chain.

Culture is a right for all citizens – supporting culture is a duty for a civil country. Over the years, in Italy several forms of support to the cultural sector have been attempted. One of them is the 500 Euro bonus for children who have just become of full age, which can be spent for the purchase of cultural goods and services; in Switzerland, conversely, a cultural policy was adopted that sees the publishing world at the very forefront. This was the topic discussed at an event that was held last November within the framework of Bookcity Milan #BCM17, under the title «Investire in titoli: impegno economico delle istituzioni nel mondo del libro» (Investing in titles: the economic commitment of publishing institutions), which also saw the participation of the Italian Federation for the Paper and Graphic Industry Federazione carta e grafica.

Paper is preferred for books

As confirmed by Federation president Pietro Lironi, the so–called “Bonus cultura” (cultural incentive) is a first step in the right direction. In the first year since its introduction, a large part of the incentive was spent exactly on books. These accounted for a significant share of more than 80% of the over 163 million Euros spent by about 600 thousand children from 3rd November 2016 to 30th November 2017.

According to the President of the Cultural Commission of the Italian Chamber of Deputies Flavia Piccoli Nardelli,, «books were the most purchased, which means new life for bookstores». Positive effects were registered not only for books, alone, but concern all sectors linked to the world of publishing, starting from the graphic and paper sectors. This is even more true, if one considers the latest figures published by the Italian Ministry for Cultural Activities, Heritage and Tourism (Mibact), which indicate that 98% of spending on books concerned paper books, while the remaining 2% related to e-books.

Everything gives, therefore, reason for hope in new significant results also during the new edition of the cultural incentive edition, which is targeted to children born in 1999 who will have the chance of registering on the 18app platform by 30th June 2018 to obtain the electronic card of 500 Euros. Within the framework of the Italian 2018 Budget Law (Law no. 205 of 27th December 2017, published in the Italian Official Journal no. 302 of 29th December 2017), an annual amount of 290 million Euros was allocated to extend the 18app card to 2018 and 2019.

According to Lironi, this refinancing has been positively welcomed by the Italian Federation for the Paper and Graphic Industry, yet alone it is not enough, as it «should be extended to subscriptions to newspapers, papers and magazines and supported by structural measures aimed at promoting reading». A far-reached example, which, though not implemented yet, is very much wished for by the Federation, consists in a tax deduction for all citizens, which is specifically related to the purchase of books and subscriptions to newspapers, papers and magazines. The measures approved in the end-of-year budget law include the allocation of 3 million Euros for the setting up of a Fund for books and reading managed by Italian Centre for books and reading Cepel (Centro per il libro e la lettura) with the aim of promoting reading.

A structured action

As Lironi pointed out, in any case «a structured offer would enable to obtain better results. Further efforts are therefore needed». There are, as a matter of fact, some critical issues linked to the functioning of the 18app platform, which can be improved to optimize the use of the tool.

«The cultural incentive (“Bonus cultura”) is a major measure, but it requires capacity and method to continue using it». It is crucial that at the beginning it is managed with a direct communication targeted to young people, to then be continued in other forms». The Federation President namely believes that it is also necessary to look beyond, as «I don’t believe that young people, especially children in schooling age, do not read. It is adults who do not do it, and these account for a large share of potential readers. We therefore need to come out with ideas to bring adults closer to reading». The tax deduction proposal on the purchase of books, magazines and cultural products goes directly in this direction. «Much still has to be done, I believe».

So far, the Italian Federation for the Paper and Graphic Industry has worked hard to promote reading and brought together all players active in the supply chain around these topics. «We exchanged views and the work carried out in recent months has led us to draft a series of proposals». This supply chain today needs to expand and adopt cross-cutting actions to involve a whole set of organizations and realities represented by publishers and bookstores, so that they can start a discussion and an exchange of views and opinions, exactly as is being done now, although with some difficulties.

The introduction of the cultural incentive has surely represented a major step forward, as «for the first time we put in place an incentive capable of boosting the demand for culture, and not supply», said Piccoli Nardelli. «So far, only actions focussed on supply had been put in place. Attempts had been made to finance supply, but we need a different approach, we need to stimulate the desire for culture, and this is exactly what the app does. Furthermore, as the app is targeted to eighteen-year-old children (and not only less well-off people), it acknowledges that culture is a right for all citizens, with everybody having the possibility to enjoy it».

Swiss tools

Italy is not the only country, where measures were adopted to help promote reading. A virtuous example comes from the Swiss Confederation. On the occasion of the event in Milan, this example was well illustrated by Yari Bernasconi, who is a scientific collaborator at the Federal Office for Culture in Bern. He described the Message on Culture, which is a sort of handbook of the Swiss Confederation cultural policy, within which the measures adopted for the promotion of the publishing sector were envisaged pursuing mainly cultural objectives, as pointed out by Bernasconi. In particular, the a workgroup for the support of the publishing sector was set up. The group is composed by representatives of the national associations of publishers and authors; after a year of work, the group produced two financial tools to support Swiss publishing houses: «the main tool is a multiannual structural support ranging from 6,400 to 68.,000 Euros per year, while the second one, which was conceived to involve also small publishers, foresees multiannual incentives ranging from 4,200 to 6,400 Euros per year». The publishing houses concerned a non professional publishers and must be based in Switzerland and have already established good relationships with the authors as fundamental pre-requisites. «Multiannual cultural supports are calculated on the basis of a mathematical model, which is based on the weighted annual turnover, based on the cultural production of the handbook and the cultural area of origin. Publishing houses submit a candidature before the start of the financing period and a group of experts then evaluates these candidatures and recommends that the Federal Office for Culture selects certain publishing houses, with the Federal Office eventually making a its decision».

Unlike the Italian system, this mechanism therefore focuses on the reading supply and has proven to be useful for the several publishers active in the varied Swiss world of publishing. Bernasconi admits that «the contribution given is not extremely high, yet this is an important sign of acknowledging the role of publishers as cultural promoters. Finally, this is a structural help that does not cover a precise project, that however publishers may use at their own will», each of them based on their specific needs. These measures, which were adopted in 2016, have made it possible to support sixty-seven publishing houses.

The bonus in figures

The latest data provided by the Italian Ministry for Cultural Activities, Heritage and Tourism (Mibact) show that thanks to the Bonus cultura and the 18app platform, about 600 thousand children have spent over 163 million Euros to buy books, music and tickets for concerts, cinema, theatre, cultural events and museums. This data refers to thirteen months, from the beginning of November 2016 to end November of the following year, and to the purchases made by young people born in the years 1998 (for whom the initiative was closed at the end of 2017) and 1999. Online purchases registered the largest share and were preferred to purchases made directly in the store (54% compared to 46%).

In the new edition of Bonus cultura a number of different items to choose from were introduced. The programme namely foresees to sped the 500 Euro Bonus not only for cinema, concerts, cultural events, books, museums, monuments, natural parks and archaeological sites, theatre and dance, but also for music, music courses, theatre courses or language courses. Reading ranks first among young people’s choices with 80.6% of overall expenditure and almost exclusively concerned paper books (i.e. 98%). Concerts and cinema rank second and third respectively with 8.9% and 7.2% of the total expenditure, and are then followed by other items.

After a slightly uncertain start, also marked by technical problems concerning the 18app programme registration procedures, the tool now seems to be easy to use both for young buyers and for traders – as a matter of fact, accredited retail stores in the period concerned were about 4 thousand.