By Lina Shatilova, Senior Rights Manager, VIVAT Publishing (with reporting by Hannah Johnson)
Over the course of 2015, 25 publishers from the Ukraine, Georgia and Armenia participated in a three-part, professional publishing training course called “Spotlight on Modern Book Publishing,” which took place in Tbilisi, Georgia and highlighted the eagerness of publishers from these countries to play a larger role in the international publishing industry.
Organized by the Frankfurt Book Fair in partnership with the National Georgian Book Center and the Goethe-Institut, attendees participated in seminars and hands-on workshops that addressed the latest developments in book publishing, including book production and design, digital innovation, marketing in publishing, new distribution concepts, and innovative program strategies in publishing.
The course instructors, all from German publishing houses, included Andrea Luck (Carlsen Verlag), Sabine Schubert (Kirchner+Robrecht), Elke Fuhrmann (S. Fischer Verlag), Jan Kermes (Hoffmann und Campe Publishers).
Tobias Voss, Vice President of International Markets for the Frankfurt Book Fair, said that after the training course was over, he received seven letters from Ukrainian publishers and the publishers’ association asking Frankfurt to organize a similar workshop in their country.
This course is part of the strategic run-up to Georgia’s Guest of Honor appearance at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2018. The goals of the course — to offer professional publishing training and to help publishers from the region network with each other — highlight Georgia’s interest in building it’s book industry, which sets a good example for ex-Soviet countries looking to achieve similar results.
In the last two years, the Ukraine has also become a more visible participant in the international publishing industry. Most of the Ukrainian publishers have only recently started to delve into the global arena, especially regarding rights-related matters. Both the Ukrainian collective stand at the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair and our participation at this training course were important steps towards working more with the European and international book markets.
The book markets of former Soviet countries differ from German and other European book markets, and it was a pleasure to see this awareness from the German course instructors who offered new ideas, particularly for book development in the region. For example, ebook penetration and environmental problems are far from being priorities in Georgia, Ukraine, and Armenia; yet, social media strategies could be a crucial part of an overall marketing plan.
One of the highlights of the course was the so-called “Upgrade Letter.” On the last day of the course, the instructors asked us to write a letter to ourselves listing steps and ideas we would like to implement in our publishing companies after completing the training program. Here is what I wrote in my letter to VIVAT:
- Pay more attention to the content and quality of our books. Don’t be afraid to cooperate with unknown authors and creative illustrators. Trust your feelings and follow your emotions.
- Ebook development: Piracy is a big obstacle, but this part of the market exists and continues to grow. There’s no way to avoid it.
- Ask for advice from international publishers and consultants. Invite specialists to the Ukraine to work out individual strategies for our publishing company. Or look for a one-month publishing exchange.
- Traditional book sales don’t work any longer! Follow your readers (McDonalds, pharmacies, petrol stations, café, parks, etc.)
- Work with social networks: one sentence a day on Twitter can work magic; build Facebook communities (like Bittersweet in Carlsen Verlag); Instagram (people love pictures); Tumblr – still a question
- Never stop thinking! Plenty of new ideas have the potential to be successful!
It was also very beneficial to talk to colleagues from Georgia and Armenia. I visited a few publishing offices (all of which are located in Tbilisi) and was astonished to learn that Georgia, with a population of less than 5 million people, sells the same print runs as the Ukraine with its population of about 40 million. Their distribution channels don’t have limits. Like the German publishers, the Georgian publishers are trying “to catch” a reader wherever he or she is. For example, the pharmacies work well for book sales, while in Ukraine this kind of distribution is still perceived as slightly weird.
After the course, I headed back to VIVAT Publishing with a renewed enthusiasm for what I do and with many ideas on how to best tackle the various facets of my daily rights and licensing work. I’m quite certain that the knowledge, tips and hints I learned at this course will really help make VIVAT Publishing the biggest publisher in Ukraine and increase reading levels in the Eastern region of the country.
Below, the other Ukrainian attendees share their thoughts and feedback about the course:
Viktor Kruglov, CEO, RANOK Publishing:
“The formidable expertise and creativity as well as 57 new ideas fixed in my notebook through the workshop program will shape my contributions to publishing for years to come … I am very pleased to have the opportunity to learn and share this experience with other publishers from Georgia and Armenia. These markets have a lot in common with the Ukrainian book market, so it was very useful to learn from their work. I even managed to visit a few Georgian publishing offices from the smallest to the biggest.”
Oksana Schur, Editor-in-chief, OSNOVY Publishing:
“The professional speakers from progressive German publishing companies were very friendly, open, devoted to their work. They taught us how to become internationally competitive; we discussed the tendencies of European book publishing, lots of information on book design, marketing, and distribution … It was useful to gather publishers from the ex-Soviet countries together. We still have similar mentalities, and this helps to understand each other almost immediately. It was good to learn from the fast-growing Western European market and from everyone I met during the workshop.”
Oleg Rybalka, Managing Director, Fountain of Fairy Tales Publishing:
“Being a “newcomer” in the international publishing scene, I learned an enormous amount during the training … [about] book design, the processes in publishing, marketing, electronic books, etc. In my opinion, the training course helps to support and encourage small and big publishers to make books a bigger part of people’s lives.”