Dr Ildikó Török of Mozaik Education

What is the market situation in educational publishing today in Hungary? How is the market split?

At its current state, we can no longer speak of a Hungarian market for textbooks in the traditional sense of the word. In the 5 years following the legislative changes of 2014, save for a few special cases, private publishers’ general education subject textbook licenses have expired, and nearly all books ordered by elementary and secondary schools are now state-published. The only exceptions to this are foreign language books (i.e. for language learning), where there are a couple of hundred books with valid permits, most of which are publications from companies based outside the country.

The state introduced free textbook supplies in 2013; in 2019, grades 1-9 receive their books free of charge (in reality, loaned from the school library), and the Government has recently announced that this will be extended to all 12 grades, starting from the upcoming academic year. Schools are only allowed to order the publications listed in the official textbook register from the state. Books can only be added to the register if they have been approved by the state; however, getting accredited is only possible for state-owned publishers.

Therefore, the textbook market has ceased to exist for private publishers. General education books can only be marketed in substantial quantities if parents or the school’s foundation pays for them instead of/in addition to the free, state-issued ones. This means parents are faced with a dilemma: either purchase a book out of their own pockets or accept the free publications provided by the state. This choice is hardly fair, to say the least.

The previous second and third largest textbook publishers were acquired by the state in 2014. A number of smaller publishers sold their more significant publications to the state in 2019 after their licenses expired in 2018. In terms of larger textbook publishers, only the former market leader, Mozaik Education has remained a major player, although the revenue stemming from the schools’ centralized orders has decreased notably following the expiration of book permits. Some persistent institutions have joined forces with parents or allocated foundation funds in order to purchase Mozaik textbooks directly from the publisher. Mozaik has managed to prevail thanks to two advantageous factors: first, it has the best reputation and the most professional recognition; and second, schools are both insistent and reliant on Mozaik’s digital educational materials, i.e. the mozaBook software and the mozaWeb platform, and order the print publications to be able to further work with the digital components.

Other educational publications (e.g. university textbooks, Baccalaureate preparatory publications, along with various generative and activity books) are a much more limited market and are not subject to such restrictions at the moment.

How is content financed?

The state-owned publisher has bankrolled the development of textbooks and digital educational materials almost entirely from EU funds, with the state allocating public budget resources to acquire the two previously privately owned publishers as well as purchasing the rights to their books. Private publishers have no access to EU funding for conventional textbooks and teaching/learning tools, although there is the occasional EU tender in aid of developing digital educational materials.

Schools receive the digital materials developed by the state free of charge, but according to teachers, the portal set up for the public education sector — also subsidized by EU money — is utterly useless. Resources for purchasing private publishers’ educational materials (meaning mainly Mozaik Education’s system and digital solutions) are alloted by the maintaining organization, which varies across the board depending on the governing body (state, church, foundation), but essentially means a minimal amount to be spent by schools. The centrally distributed textbook grant can only be used to order printed publications.

What is the view of the teacher concerning state publishing?

Numerous articles have been published in connection with the errors in state-published textbooks and how most educators find the quality of state textbooks unsatisfactory. This spring, a grassroots movement was started by parents to collect donations and purchase quality textbooks from private publishers that cannot be ordered by schools. The initiative has received significant media attention, which led the Ministry to address all schools in an official letter at the beginning of the 2019 pre-order period, pointing out that they were only permitted to purchase textbooks from within the centralized system, and attempted to intimidate schools into rejecting money from parents with the intent to order other publications, since the state provides textbooks for free. They also threatened to audit the textbook orders. As a result of these scare tactics, supervisory boards and principals were intimidated into expressly prohibiting teachers from ordering anything other than state-published textbooks. The majority of educators were forced to resign themselves to the fact that they are obligated to use the state-issued books from now on.

Less affluent parents are reluctant to purchase other publications instead of the free books, and if there are even 2-3 less well-to-do parents in one class, teachers are only inviting more trouble by ordering the non-state-published publications. Wealthier parents of students living in more developed parts of the country can easily afford buying quality books from private publishers; therefore, paradoxically, the free textbook only increases social inequality.

Is private spending from parents for non-state published content growing (in Poland we have seen a lack of quality from state published content leading to a shift in parents buying high-quality content from private publishers)?

Parents who are well-off or school foundations in more prosperous or more financially stable areas of the country have the option to purchase publications from privately owned companies. The number and value of orders coming in from outside of the centralized system has constantly been growing these past 5 years since schools cannot purchase books that lack a valid license, so the parents or the school foundations need to step in and buy them. The amount and value of individual parent orders is also increasing, as parents are seeking useful alternatives to the free textbooks based on teacher guidelines. However, the number and value of these is still a far cry from the sums submitted by schools through the centralized order system.

What is the current copyright law situation in Hungary?

Copyright laws regarding educational materials in Hungary are a bit irregular. Schools lacking sufficient funding often photocopy parts of, or even entire publications, especially if they are unable to order them due to certain restrictions or a shortage of financial resources. Mozaik Education is also constantly battling the issue of foreign document sharing websites posting pages of their photocopied books online. There are those who still find it difficult to accept that compensation is necessary not only for print publications or services provided but for content available in digital format as well. This rings particularly true in education, where the previous (non-EU) legislation states everything used in education is to be free of charge.

How would you describe the relationship between the government and publishers? Is there any collaboration?

The current Hungarian Government is not big on partnerships and cooperation. If something involves any other player apart from one of their own, they quickly resort to brute force or create a legal environment that limits the wiggle-room of others and benefits their own interests. One of the best examples is the methodical liquidation of the textbook market by creating the free supply system: the speedy introduction of the new legislation on January 1, 2014 (taking effect in just 10 days) laid the groundwork for the success of the state publisher; making it impossible for private publishers to function within the confines of the law; subsequently allowing the immediate acquisition of two large publishers in 2014; while bleeding out smaller publishers; then securing the rights to their most valuable books after they were unable to market them following the expiration of permits. The state also showed no collaboration regarding the distribution of EU funds, as the only publisher able to apply for textbook development resources was the state-owned company.