Russia Predicting 20% Drop in Book Sales in 2009

In Feature Articles by Chad W. Post

By Chad Post

“Market Trends in Russia and Digital Publishing” was the topic of Wednesday’s Business Breakfast, kicking off a hectic few days of Professional Programs at the Fair with an introduction to the contemporary publishing scene in Russia.

Vladimir Grigoriev, the Deputy Head for the Federal Agency of Press and Mass Communication, presented a lot of summary data, using 2003—the year Russia was the Guest of Honor at the Book Fair—as the starting point to demonstrate the steady growth of the Russian book market over the past six years. In 2003, the total number of titles published in Russia was approximately 47,700, a figure that had more than doubled by 2008 when more than 123,000 titles were produced. Sales followed a similar trajectory, shooting up from $1.6 billion USD in 2003 to over $3 billion in 2008.

It’s not all good news though. The economic collapse of 2008 hit Russia hard, including the book market. Although things could change over the next couple months, experts are projecting a 20% decrease in sales (to $2.4 billion USD) for 2009. According to Grigoriev, a recent study pointed to a decrease in reading among young people, and a startling statistic that “almost 40% of the population is not buying any books.”

When asked to name contemporary Russian authors worth reading, Grigoriev hedged, claiming that he could name a dozen or two, but that they weren’t on the level of Chekhov, Tolstoy, or other Russian masters. He also pointed to the nonexistence of a “promotional infrastructure” (like the German Book Office or other similar, government funded agencies around the world) as one of the main reasons for the lack of translations of Russian works into other languages.

Addressing the topic of Ebooks, Alexander Roife, the CEO of LitRes.ru, highlighted the rapid sales growth Russian e-books are experiencing. As he admitted, Russia is probably best known for its e-piracy and distribution of free ebooks, music, and videos, but nevertheless, bestsellers on LitRes.ru—a legal ebook retailer founded in 2007—are selling between 3,000 and 6,000 copies a piece.

About the Author

Chad W. Post

Chad W. Post is the director of Open Letter Books, a press at the University of Rochester dedicated to publishing contemporary literature from around the world. In addition, he is the managing editor of Three Percent, a blog and review site that promotes literature in translation and is home to both the Translation Database and the Best Translated Book Awards. His articles and book reviews have appeared in a range of publications including The Believer, Publishing Perspectives, the Wall Street Journal culture blog, and Quarterly Conversation.