German art schools. "Youth Art School" as a concept

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‘Youth Art school’ as a concept

Historical background

Form of Organization

Pedagogic methods

The consumer

Youth art school in context: cultural education



What is the significance of art schools within the context of education and culture? What different types of art schools have been developed in the Federal Republic of Germany? What content, educational path and educational situation is typical for German art schools? My research in Germany dealt with these questions.

In comparison to the currently available scientific research of the topic in Germany, my research included time-consuming qualitative methods: the research was focused on exemplary case studies: the data from video recordings and expert interviews were merged. The article at hand includes in part my own research results and its goal is to provide an overview of organizational forms, work methods, consumers and problem areas of German youth art schools (Mirzaeva, 2009).

Key words

Art school, aesthetic practice, informal institutes, cultural education in Germany


The problem of cultural education is highly discussed in today’s cultural policy in Germany. The state assumes a large responsibility for the support and development of cultural education and will therefore draw attention to the children and youth. They are to receive a worthy cultural education within the scope of the school as well as within the scope of informal organizations, among them music and art schools: to be intensively connected to art and culture. In this spirit, the art schools of today’s German society fulfill an important function. They work together with schools and fulfill an important part for general education. Art schools therefore complement the education mandate of public schools: besides art classes in general-education schools – with its rather limited opportunities – a plethora of unrestricted works of art are on display in free oriented art schools. The range of offers provided by art schools includes multifaceted categories, e. g. theater, painting, dance, literature, photography, film, video, digital media, etc. and allows art schools to present themselves as an alternative to the school – based art education. They also help in counteracting the impending aesthetic educational deficit of children and adolescents. When I bring up a question for discussion: ‘What is a youth art school in Germany?’, then the results of my research would provide the answer: ‘A place of aesthetic practice’.

‘Youth Art school’ as a concept

Art schools in Germany are a multi – media pedagogic concept across categories, in particular for children and adolescents, and therefore always accompanied by the word ‘youth’: ‘Youth art school’. But it also requires the explanation that the terms ‘Art school’ and ‘Youth art school’ are understood to be almost identical in Germany. The term may also define informal, so – called cultural institutes e. g. ‘Cultural center for children’ or ‘ Kunstwerkstatt ’ or ‘ Offene Werkstatt ’ as youth art school, since the concept and structure is the same. The head of the art school ‘ Kunstwerkstatt ’ Ms. Mayr, city of Königstein, stated: ‘Officially, our institute is a youth art school – but it is now called ‘ Kunstwerkstatt ’ (Mayr, 2008: p.11). From a conceptual aspect, the term ‘youth art school’ is generally a generic term for institutionalized forms of informal, cultural-pedagogic work, where a conceptual connection is being created between aesthetic and social education (Peez, 2008: p.136). A space is created for children, without evaluation and specific purpose, in order for them to be able to develop freely. Children’s fantasy, creativity and skill of playing are not only supported through aesthetic practice but also enhanced. The youth art school also sees itself as a forum for the opinions of children that can be expressed and publicized through art. Children are to experience the significance of art through their artistic work and learn to utilize it for the development of their own personality. Youth art schools in Germany pursue similar goals, but often differ from each other based on a variety of focal points in regards to content and methods or also based on different legal framework conditions.

Historical background

The idea of youth art schools in Germany came into being at the end of the 1960s, as an answer to ‘the misery of aesthetic education’ (Raske, 1988: p.154). It countered school stress and purely cognitive learning and was also intended to balance the lack of art classes at general – education schools in Germany. Many art and music teachers left schools at the end of the 1960 and in the early 1970s and attempted to realize the informal aesthetic education of children and adolescents with a critical attitude toward school. The Academy of Remscheid in North Rhine – Westphalia formed a work group for the cultural education of youth based on this criterion. The idea of youth art schools as a pedagogic concept was developed and introduced there. What must be noted here is that the ideas from Czech public art schools (at that time), Dutch creativity centers and Belgian youth art studios slipped into the conceptual considerations. This concept encompassed two new principles: all artistic media were to be included in contrast to music schools that already existed at that time, based on the motto ‘All Arts under one roof’. The second innovation was that such institutions were to be open to all levels of society. The first youth art school based on these two principles – ‘all Arts’ and ‘all social levels’ was founded in 1969 in Wuppertal and Wesen, Germany (Pyka, 1993: p.14). An imposing quantitative development of youth art schools occurred at a later time, with the beginning of the 1990s. Statistics show that the number of art schools in Germany reached 254 by 1993 (Pyka, 1993: p.14). 10 years later, in 2003, it reached 400 (Eickhoff, 2003: p.12). This is a good development over 10 years, but this number is still very low when compared to other European countries. Denmark, for example, has a population of approximately 5 million, with approximately 120 art schools (Demuth, 2005: p.48). Latvia, with a population of approximately 2 million, has approximately 70 art schools (Luse, 2005: p.48). In my opinion that the overall number of art schools in Germany – with a population of 82 million – leaves a lot to be desired. But the development of art schools in Germany has a special trend. Actually, this has something to do with German federalism. In the 6 federal states that are independent from each other on a cultural, political and economic level, where the number of youth art schools differs widely, local politics or municipal politics of each federal state remain an important motor for the development and maintenance of art schools. State-sponsored assistance characterizes chiefly economic, legal and organizational conditions. A so-called ‘political main concept’ does not exist, in which content youth art schools are to be constructed and developed. Here dominate own ideas – own concepts.

Form of Organization

Youth art schools in Germany are usually independent institutions with free and municipal sponsorship. Another part of youth art schools, however, are affiliated with music schools, public education centers or social-cultural centers and are not independent but rather integrated into the municipal administration from a legal, managerial, and economic aspect (e. g. cultural department or youth department of the city). They have a public – law status and work within the frame of by-laws issued by the city. Accounting, tax, legal and insurance matters are regulated centrally via the municipal administration. But even in free sponsorship, a youth art school can exist for the long-term only with the support of municipal funds. In two German municipal youth art schools in Unna and Leipzig, where among other things I reviewed organizational matters, only 4 staff members are permanently employed per youth art school. Other staff is paid hourly but provides most of the actual pedagogic. In comparison with municipal youth art schools, free youth art schools depend on hourly employees: the rate of permanent employment of the course leaders is extremely low and professionals leave oftentimes youth art schools for economic reasons. This means that teams in free youth art schools are very ‘mobile’, which limits the possibilities for adolescents to find a long-term personal connection to specific teachers. Free art schools are also privately organized and do not focus on the continuity of their offers. This means, that the continued education and enhancement of gifted children and adolescents and the preparation for studying an art-related program at a university or college are missing. This question is closely related to the market conditions in Germany and is not necessarily concept-based for free institutions. Informal education however, among it the activities of youth art schools (free and municipal) in Germany are protected by the state. Youth art schools develop their offers based on the Children and Youth Welfare Act – according to par.11 (’Jugendarbeit’), sub-par. 3, ’ kulturelle Bildung ’ :

'(3) Zu den Schwerpunkten der Jugendarbeit gehören:

1. außerschulische Jugendbildung mit allgemeiner, politischer, sozialer, gesundheitlicher, kultureller, naturkundlicher und technischer Bildung ' (Das Kinder- und Jugendhilfegesetz, 2007: p.74).

Pedagogic methods

The programs offered in German youth art schools are very varied. It can be grouped into the following segments: fine arts, music, theater, dance, literary offers and technical media. But not every youth art school offers all of the above-mentioned segments, but only three or four specialties. In the ‘ Stötteritzer Spielkiste ’ (in Leipzig), for example, the following three specialties are offered: ‘fine and applied arts’, ‘performing arts’ and ‘media’ (Eidson, 2008:p.1). Each specialty has its goals and objectives, specific technical, material or pedagogic content, methodical form and each specialty is strongly oriented on the pedagogic goal and concept of the youth art school. Whether it’s dance or fine arts or technical media – the cultural work in German youth art schools has its traditional pedagogic methods (also defined as ‘form of impartment’), which are very established in practice. While my goal here is not a detailed description of aesthetic practice in German youth art schools, I would however like to describe important factors for aesthetic practice prior to describing the concise methods, since I have discovered them during my research at German youth art schools and because these factors affect every practical work with children in any educational offer.

In my imagination, a youth art school is always a place of aesthetic practice, and the atmosphere, the solid social structure where cooperation is practiced instead of conflict, is always a surprise. Where a free space for the individual expression and creative desires of children is being created, without competition and hierarchy, without evaluation and moralization. Secondly, different materials and different rooms are available. The multitude of offers corresponds to the varied expressions of children and is selected for their needs and formulated interests. It allows and grants to the participants the free space to utilize their fantasy and to develop creativity. Thirdly, employees impart special skills, have high expectations of the children and confront them with challenging topics or issues. This requires professional competency in the respective offer on the part of the employees. They communicate with the children – primarily as ‘artists’ but also as ‘pedagogue’. These factors create the framework in which the pedagogues impart specific skills and knowledge.

A particularly open method of pedagogic work was developed by ‘ Werkstatt’ (workshop). They can be utilized by the children without obligations. ‘Without obligations’ means that they are not obligated to participate in the offered programs, but can sign up for these programs spontaneously and based on their interests. Rooms, materials and professionals are provided to them and they are able to make reasonable use of their spare time, get to know the material and experiment with it. An explanation might be fitting here: the term ‘ Werkstatt ’ (workshop) has two meanings: the workshop as a space and location for artistic activity, and the workshop as didactic principle. Both meanings of ‘workshop’ place an emphasis on the self-guidance in artistic-aesthetic activity (Peez, 2008: p.146). Children and youth, however, nowadays only rarely have access to this form of cultural work.

Another form of this work is the ‘ course’ and ‘group work’. The courses take place over a specific time period, at a fixed location and time. They offer a good frame in which children and youth are able to develop and enhance their artistic or handicraft skills in one or several areas. The advantage of this form of work is that the participants are interested in one topic and intensive group work can develop from this. They target continuity. The range of offers of such courses includes fine arts, theater, work with new media, dance and movement and so on. The difference between individual institutions is that a group may include children as well as adolescents. A group must not be made up of a school class; participants of different ages might interact in one group and might be split into very different groups after the course ends. The group constitutes a social learning environment, where participants can communicate, work and learn together, discuss topics and encourage each other or exchange information regarding the production process. This form of work is therefore a basic principle among youth art schools.

‘Project work’ must be mentioned as a significant method. Different areas of play and practice are available to the children and adolescents under one overall topic. They are connected by one overall topic; they interlock and are not separable. This is the difference to workshops, where project work can be classified in phases: goals, planning, realization, evaluation and consequences (Peez, 2008: p.149). This form of work that connects the different areas of experience for the children finds more and more popularity in practice. In general, project work is more flexible and variable than courses, since it is not focused on one specific topic or one specific material, but all materials and techniques may be implemented to try to realize an idea and participants of different ages, needs, interests and abilities work together. Even the temporal introduction of projects is flexible and depends on the progress of the work and the participant’s wishes.

The numerous cultural events for children and adolescents form another important part of the youth art school. The children’s own experiences can be enhanced and they can create insight into the broad palette of artistic and cultural possibilities. A passive reception of the event should be avoided, however, and activating forms of participation should be initiated. Events, e. g. exhibits, theater performances, readings, offer children the opportunity to present the results of their work resulting from projects and courses to the public.

The consumer

The consumer in German youth art schools is very varied: children, adolescents, even adults. There are youth art schools that have focused their offer and method of operation to one specific target group, e. g. children and adolescents of max. 4-5 years, up to 24 or 28 years of age. But youth art schools will usually offer all kinds of courses in the area of creativity and target their offer to apply to everyone. The youth art school in Königstein, for example, within the scope of early development: children from the age of one half with an adult accompanying can attend courses (music/rhythm/movement). Children from the age of two half can visit the workshops and continuing courses (color/form/material) accompanied by adult; children age three and up may attend the workshops with or without an adult accompanying them (music/rhythm/movement). The workshops also offer different work groups, e. g. workshops especially for children age 4 to 7 or 6 to 12, or workshops for adolescents only. Adults age 50 to 60 can also be found in workshops for adults (Kursprogramm der Kunstschule 'Kunstwerkstatt', 2008).

In general, youth art schools must ask themselves how to draw the attention of potential participants. Traditionally, each youth art school prints an annual brochure listing the offered programs and course description in detail. According to Ms. Eidson, the art school has regular evolutionary work. “So we have regular team consultations, situations in which the course leaders look ahead and look back” (Eidson, 2008: p.1).

According to a poll of the participants of the ‘ Stötteritzer Spielkiste’ in Leipzig, 39% of participants found the school through friends, 14% through media, 5% through summer school programs, 6% through projects, 12% based on placards and 24% through ‘other’. Approximately 20% of participants come from kindergartens, 39% from elementary schools, and all other participants are students in middle and high schools (Datensammlung, ‘ Stötteritzer Spielkiste’, 2008).This shows that the target group of youth art schools consists of children and adolescents. The gender-difference of the participants at the ‘Stötteritzer Spielkiste ’ in 2007 consisted of 68% male and 31% female. The age ratio of the participants of a youth art school is also very varied: the following has been evidenced in 2007 in ‘ Stötteritzer Spielkiste’ ( Datensammlung, ’Stötteritzer Spielkiste’, 2008):

Age in percent

4 3%

5 6%

6 12%

7 10%

8 17%

9 6%

10 10%

11 6%

12 9%

13 11%

16 6%

17 1%

18 3%

But the poll among participants of the folk art school in Oederan shows the motivation of the participants in even more detail: the answer to the question ‘What is your reason for being involved in the youth art school?’ was: 78% of participants stated their ‘interest’ as the reason for their involvement in the youth art school; 54% explained their participation in extracurricular activities with a lack of opportunities in regular school classes. But 52% of the participants listed ‘reasonable use of spare time’ as the most important reason (Lippmann, 1998: p.132):

Love of the topic 37.7%

Interest 78.7%

Deepening knowledge and developing skills 29.5%

Career aspirations (artistic) 34.4%

Motivation by other persons 14.7%

(classmates, teachers)

Reasonable use of spare time 52.4%

Pursuit of the development of specific

personality traits 1.6%

Performance improvement (in school) 9.8%

Forced by parents 1.6%

Lack of opportunities in regular school classes

(for artistic work) 54.1%

Youth art schools are surely not able to replace the education and training which are provided in general – education schools. Rather, by accommodating the interests and needs of children and adolescents in the cultural area of education, their pedagogic activities have a compensatory and emancipatory function. Forms of impartment are being realized via a specific pedagogic contact with children and adolescents and this contact places a lot of attention on the participants’ wishes. The reverse side of the registration card of youth art schools lists questions by the administration, which the participants should answer and return – so that wishes regarding the offered programs can be considered. A valuation of the offer from the participant’s aspect is also important, since teaching staff can orient themselves toward these motives for valuation and to assess the quality of the offer.

Still, only one half million participants attend youth art schools in Germany. In my opinion, this is a very low number. Besides – polls have shown that the number of participants in youth art schools fluctuates constantly. In my opinion that the reasons can be outlined roughly by the following motifs:

a) participation fees (are rather high)

b)large competition on the art/education market and change of ‘generational interests’

I would like to present more facts based on research material for item a): participation fees in German youth art schools differ widely. Course fees in municipal youth art schools are lower than in free youth art schools. But the course fees in the eastern states (former GDR) differ significantly from course fees in western states. In the municipal youth art school Unna (West Germany), for example, a painting course for children costs approximately 14 Euros per month. In the youth art school Leipzig (East Germany), such a painting course costs 7 Euros per month. In each case, the course takes place once a week for 90 minutes. Such a painting course for children,

e. g. 1st to 4th grade, in the free youth art school in Königstein (West Germany) costs 29 Euro per month plus 6 Euro for material, total 35 Euros. The course takes place one per week, also for 90 minutes, same as in municipal youth art schools. A 90 minute workshop for children age 5-7 (‘ Tonwerkstatt’ – ceramic art) costs 55 Euro plus 10 Euro for material, to include costs for the kiln. It takes place on 4 Saturdays, each course lasting 120 minutes (Mirzaeva, 2009). This clarifies that the fees differ widely between institutes. But the amount of participant fees cannot be based solely on economic aspects, since the youth art school is an educational institute. The higher the fee, the more limited the target group. It is my opinion that the fluctuation of the number of participants of a youth art school is based on the fact that most courses are short-term courses (usually in free youth art schools). Based on the annual brochure of the youth art school Königstein, participants attend the ‘ Tonwerkstatt ’, for example, on 4 Saturdays, and then the course ends since this offer is scheduled only once per term. The same situation can be observed in all youth art schools that were selected for this research (Mirzaeva, 2009). It shows that a lack of continuity in the educational offer is often a reason why many children and adolescents leave the youth art school for some time or seek a new offer in other institutes. In this case, so-called ‘ Volkshochschule ’ (public education centers) and museums are an important provider of artistic practice in the informal segment. There are also other providers of education, for example in the segment of artistic activity: artists’ associations, art clubs, artists and artisans, which should mandatorily be seen as competition for youth art schools in the art market (b). But facts show that the change in generational interests is also a imminent danger to the already critical number of participants and that the traditional offers provided by youth art schools do not correspond to the demands of the majority of the consumers: in 2002, 16.5% of the participants of the ‘Stötteritzer Spielkiste’ were 16 years of age and 11.5% of participants were 17 years of age. In 2007, the number of 16 year old participants amounted to 6% and the number of 17 year old participants to 1 % (Datensammlung, “Stötteritzer Spielkiste”, 2008). This means that the participation of adolescents in youth art schools has decreased significantly by 2007 – a difference of 10.5%. It is my opinion that this critical situation arose from the influence of the current educational market, where adolescents age 16-17 are seeking more flexible, more effective and more interactive forms of learning through media. It must be noted here that youth art schools need strong financing to ‘modernize’ and offer new ‘marketable’ offers to adolescents, but a financial deficit is the main problem of all youth art schools, just like for all other informal cultural institutes.

Youth art school in context: cultural education

The question regarding the significance of today’s art schools and the change of goals in the modern development of such schools is the focus of art and cultural-pedagogic, educational and cultural-political discussions. A short digression to the concept of ‘cultural education’ in German cultural politics is required: what is it and what does it have to do with youth art schools?

‘Cultural education is to enable children and adolescents to deal with art, culture and daily life in a visionary way. It is to enhance the artistic-aesthetic activity in the segments of fine art, film, photography, literature, electronic media, music, rhythm, play, dance, theater, video and others. Cultural education is to develop the ability to perceive complex social connections, strengthen the judgment of young people and motivate them to actively and responsibly participate in society.’ (Bundesminiserium des Innern, 1994: p.43)

The topic ‘cultural education’ began in 1988, which was the year that the German Cultural Council publicized its first concept (Konzeption Kulturelle Bildung III: 2005, p.1-3). The question of the significance of youth art schools as a new, non-traditional location for the development of cultural competence of children and adolescents was observed for the first time within the scope of this concept. It provided new impulses for impressive quantitative development of art schools in Germany. A second concept was published in 1994, which accentuated the problem of cultural education in relation to the unification of Germany. (Konzeption Kulturelle Bildung III: 2005, p.1-3). Based on this concept, numerous projects – in particular extracurricular models of enhancement of aesthetic education in the different ‘languages’ of art (fine art, music, theater, literature, dance) were tested and developed within the scope of the program ‘aesthetic-cultural education’ by the federal – state committee (Bund- Länder-Kommission für Bildungsplanung und Forschungsförderung (BLK)). The third concept ‘cultural education’ was introduced to the public by the German Cultural Council in 2005, jointly with the Minister of Education and Research (Konzeption Kulturelle Bildung III: 2005, p.1-3). Numerous integration projects are supported in connection with the question of the internationalization of cultural education, and the main task is the cooperation of general-education schools with extracurricular organizations – among them music and art schools. Each new concept also entails new tasks, but the main goal is the support of the intensive contact of children and adolescents with art and culture. Today, after a 30 year period of developing the concept ‘cultural education’, a number of literature has been published regarding the matter of art schools, which explain questions regarding the concepts, structure and organization and offer a general definition of art schools as a central element of the cultural education of adolescents. This definition is based on the fact that youth art schools should be researched within the context of cultural education. It is important to note that youth art school practice in Germany has interlinked very heavily from a structural aspect within the scope of cultural education. This means that different cultural organizations cooperate with youth art schools, and that different projects are being realized on a regional and transregional level in inclusion of numerous artistic segments. Ideas always compete with each other, but are very flexible in practice. German youth art schools are also structured in a network system. The Federal Association of Youth Art Schools and cultural-pedagogic Institutes (‘Bundesverband der Jugendkunstschulen und kulturpädagogischen Einrichtungen’ (BJKE)) is head- organization leading this network system and it supports the formation and development of a living landscape of art schools and works with the goal of strengthening art school activities. It has local associations (members) in the 16 federal states, which are in close contact with each other. BJKE is the professional representative of youth art schools, not only in the Federal Republic of Germany but also on a European level: it is the initiator of the project ‘Art 4 All - Youth Art Schools in Europe’, in which 29 youth art schools and national associations from 13 European countries in 2005 participated and BJKE has been the project leader in this network (Schmidt- Apel, 2005: p.12). The goal of the project is to support the exchange and future cooperation between art schools on an European level. With this concept, the project has initiated a new phase in the history of the development of art schools in Europe. And this project will surely cause a wide response in imparting art in the European area.


Assman, J. (2003): Organisationsformen und kunstpädagogische Konzepte für

Angebote bildnerischer Praxis in Institutionen kultureller Bildung.

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Pyka, B. (1993): Jugendkunstschulen in BDR/ Statistische Daten – Grafiken – Kommentare. Bundesverband der Jugendkunstschulen und kulturpädagogischen Einrichtungen e.V. (ed.), Unna: LKD, p.14.

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Schmidt-Apel, S.(2005): A start has been made! In: Infodienst/Kulturpädagogische Nachrichten: no.78, December 05/Jan.06, Unna: LKD, p.12.


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German art schools. "Youth Art School" as a concept
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Art school, aesthetic practice, informal institutes, cultural education in Germany
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