Russia’s Year of Literature Fighting “Toughest Test in Decades”

In News by Dennis Abrams

Though 2015 is designated the “Year of Literature” to stimulate reading in Russia, the country’s book industry is facing its toughest test in decades.

By Dennis Abrams

At Russia Beyond the Headlines, Kira Latukhina, Pavel Basinsky and Rossiyskaya Gazeta declared that the Russian book industry is at a crossroads.

Russian FlagNoting that “the 2015 Year of Literature is designed to stimulate reading in Russia, but the country’s book industry is facing its toughest test for decades.” Case in point? Even though during the Soviet era every part of society gained access to literature, now there are entire cities without a single bookstore.

And the bottom line is that the publishing industry is stagnating.

Literary critic Konstantin Milchin, who writes for Russian Reporter magazine told the paper that he believes that “each year is worse than the previous one,” and suggested that there are “objective reasons” for this and that the ongoing financial crisis will only speed up the process.

One factor is the high price of books in Russia, caused, at least in part, by the high cost of renting space for bookstores. Writer Alexei Varlamov told RBTH that “The writer Vasily Rosanov said that ‘books should be expensive,’ but in my opinion, books cost too much in Russia. Their price in bookstores is two or three times higher than the publishing houses are setting.”

Boris Kupriyanov, co-founder of the Falanster bookstore chain described the situation as “catastrophic.” Case in point: there are now only 400-500 bookstores in Moscow, 11 times fewer than in London, even though Moscow’s population is larger by at least several million people.

He also observed that books should be seen as cultural products and not as commodities, and worries about the future of reading in Russia if the problem is not solved: “A huge amount of our country’s classic bookstores have been closed forever. There are cities without a single bookstore,” he told the paper. “My forecast is not comforting: we risk having a youth that does not read at all.”

One possible solution comes from the president of Biblio-Blobus, one of Russia’s largest bookstores. Boris Yesenkin acknowledges that to keep pace with the times, the industry has to adapt. “The traditional bookstore needs modernizing. It has to be a multifunctional cultural center, perhaps even combined with school libraries. If you can’t afford a book, you should be able to borrow it to read – libraries can mediate this process.”

Alexei Yarlamov added to that, telling the paper that “Book distribution networks have been ruined in recent years. The situation is even worse in the regions, where publishing a book is the same as publishing it for yourself. As a result, almost all literary engagement is restricted to our two main urban centers: Moscow and St. Petersburg.”

The authors acknowledge that the problem is complex, and that “money must be invested into maintaining and reviving regional as well as central bookstores.”

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.