Russian Book Chamber Parses Reading Patterns, Sales

In News by Dennis Abrams

‘By all accounts, popular literature is in the lead’ among Russian readers, according to new results from a survey reported by Russia Behind the Headlines.
Newly published titles on offer at a town-square book fair in Voronezh.

Newly published titles on offer at a town-square book fair in Voronezh. Image – iStockphoto: Kul20

By Dennis Abrams | @DennisAbrams2

‘Recognizable Brands’
Writing for Russia Behind the Headlines, Marina Obrazkova reports, “At the end of August, the Russian Book Chamber released its rating of the most popular authors, while Rospechat, the federal agency for press and mass communications, published its annual report on the state of the Russian publishing market.

“By all accounts, popular literature is in the lead.”

The report reveals that while Russian bestseller lists have been led by detective stories in recent years, both highbrow literature and nonfiction have also been making their presence known.

Adult Books

Obrazkova writes that according to the Russian Book Chamber, Darya Donstova is Russia’s most-published author. Her books are published as paperback originals and have been described by literary critics as disposable. She’s reported to have sold close to 2 million copies in 2015, and, as of 2016, she is again Russia’s most prolific writer as well, said to have 74 titles on the market.

The No. 2 and  No. 3 authors on Russia’s most-published authors list are also crime fiction writers. They are Tatyana Ustinova with 41 books and Tatyana Polkykova with 40.

But, as Obrazkova notes, the list of 2015’s bestselling titles was slightly different. According to the Rospechat report, the best-selling titles then were “historical detective stories” by Boris Akunin, Tatyana Ustinova, and another crime fiction novelist, Alexandra Marinina.

Children’s Books 

According to the Rospechat report, Nadezhda Zhukova’s Alphabet led in children’s book sales, followed closely by JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

And as a point of interest, according to the report, the most published children’s author is the poet Korney Chuvosky in the first half of 2016. Coming in No. 2 and No. 3 were poet Agnia Barto and—still charting—Hans Christian Anderson.

Commenting on the rating, author and literary critic for the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily Alisa Ganieva wrote that she welcomes “the presence of Korney Chukovsky, whose popularity has withstood Soviet-era directives, perestroika, and even new, exciting offerings from trendy contemporary authors.”

Ganieva says she was not surprised at readers’ choices overall: “Naturally, mass-circulation popular literature and female crime fiction authors are in the lead. First, [because] they’re already recognizable brands in Russia and, second, they’re very prolific,”

Obrazkova also cites Oxana Gruchenko, a research associate at the Vinogradov Institute of Russian Language, who says that it’s important to differentiate between “tastes and sales figures,” if only because many of the bestselling titles are “cheap books” that are easy to throw away after they’ve been read. “The choice of a book may depend on the publisher’s clever marketing policy,” she says, “rather than on the artistic merits of the text itself.”

It’s also predictable, she points out, that the bestseller lists are topped by crime and romance fiction, which “doesn’t require intellectual effort on the reader’s part…Besides, Pushkin, Chekhov, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky can be read and reread again and again, but there’s no need to buy them again and again. That’s why I am not at all surprised that Russian classical authors are missing from the relevant section of the ratings.”

Obrazkova concludes by quoting Boris Kupriyanov, publisher and owner of the Falanster “intellectual” bookstore:

“Interest in reading is growing. Moreover, it’s growing not in the popular but in the serious segment.

“Far from destroying the market, the [economic] crisis has in fact helped it. Books are one of the few things that add joy to our everyday life without costing that much. People now read more than they did three years ago. People have started going to libraries again, which is a completely new thing. They also borrow books from their friends.”

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.