And When the Last Scholar Has Died: The cultural industry is on life support
We’re great. No, we’re fantastic! Journalism has an important social and political purpose, our magazines and newspapers are necessary household accessories. Yes, we are truly great.
We are smart, too. Our universities are among the world’s best. For centuries, German was a prerequisite for scholarly inquiry. One had to speak the language to be able to penetrate the depths of philosophy, theology, or literature. Yes, we are truly smart.
Wrong! We used to be great, maybe. But any private or public body that is connected to the humanities now finds itself on the brink of collapse. Newspapers, magazines, universities, theaters, and even cities and communities require big corporate money to evade bankruptcy: Ad money, sponsorship deals, partnerships with global enterprises. That’s not intrinsically bad, but the (fortunate) fact that we can still finance the fruits of our labor through ad sales must not blind us to dire future prospects: We are not able to raise enough money from readers (or theater patrons) to satisfy one of the fundamental rules of sustainable business models: The ability to grow from within. Journalists or artists or scientists rarely generate enough revenue from the sale of their products to finance the growth of their operations. We lack a proper foundation for our business model.
You might respond that culture has always been dependent on subsidies and charitable inclinations. Universities are public bodies because education is considered a societal good and the responsibility of the state. By contrast, newspapers and magazines are private enterprises, and you might say that it is their private nature that somehow sets them apart. But universities, theaters and publishing houses are linked together as one oikos, one habitat. The ideas of the humanities have brought it into existence while media, culture, and science are the vehicles through which we search for answers, provide analyses, offer interpretational models and yield concrete applications for politics or in the economy. The different cogs of the cultural eco-system are inextricably linked, and all of them face the problem of insufficient financial resources.