Publishing History: Russia Is To Privatize the Soviet-Born ‘Detskaya Literatura’

In News by Eugene Gerden

Once awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labor ‘for fruitful work in the communist education of children and youth,’ the state-owned publisher Detskaya Literatura is to be sold at auction.

Cover images from the many series in Detskaya Literatura’s rich catalog include, clockwise from upper left: ‘Alexander Nevsky’; a book on the Battle of Stalingrad, 1942-1943; ‘The Magic Box: Old Russian Proverbs, Sayings, and Riddles’; a contemporary work, ‘Funny Game at the Edge of the World’; ‘The Feat of Leningrad, 1941-1944’; Eugene Onegin; stories by Jack London; and Anna Pecherskaya’s ‘Young Heroes of the Great Patriotic War.’

The name of this iconic publisher in Russia, Detskaya Literatura, translates directly to ‘Children’s Literature.’ Established in 1933 by the Soviet Union’s Central Committee, its mandate was to familiarize young readers with ‘treasures of Russian and foreign classics, the folklore and literary heritage of the fraternal peoples of the Soviet country, and the best works of contemporary authors,’ according to historical information on the publisher’s site. The stated intent was to ‘broaden the spiritual horizons’ of ‘young citizens of a socialist society.’ — Porter Anderson

By Eugene Gerden

Annual Output Averages 170 Titles

Russia’s oldest publishing house of books for young readers, Detskaya Literatura, is to be privatized this year, according to statements from the ministry of culture and science.

The plan is to sell the house at auction just after it reaches its 84th year, on September 11, when bidders are expected to include key Russian and Western publishers, the names of which have not been disclosed.

Moscow is attaching a number of stipulations to the deal. Under the terms of the offering, a successful bidder for the publishing house will be obliged to maintain its status in the industry, and to keep its volume of publishing at the average level recorded in the past five years, maintaining at least 11 full-time employees engaged in the preparation and publication of boosk

Volume 4 of a Detskaya Literatura edition of Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’

According to the Russian book chamber—the country’s publishers’ association—Detskaya Literatura produces an average of 170 titles per year, with a total circulation of about 750,000 copies. Of these, some 30 percent must be new editions.

Any future owner of the publishing house will also have to agree to maintain the proportion of children’s books at a level of at least 75 percent of such output between 2014 and 2016. What’s more, In addition, an owner won’t be allowed to sell any of the company’s real estate to third parties.

Non-compliance with any of these conditions will allow the federal property management agency to return Detskaya Literatura to state ownership, canceling the deal.

While the asking price hasn’t been made public, some sources close to the ministry say the publishing house may be sold for US$30-35 million. There’s also a possibility that the value of the deal could be greater, in light of perceived prospects for growth in the children’s sector of the book industry and an anticipated recovery from the country’s financial challenges.

A contemporary competition winner, Inna Manahova’s ‘Twelve Spectators’

Children’s books account for roughly 25 percent of the Russian book market, placing it second only to general fiction in category valuations.

Still, Alexander Preobrazhensky, co-chairman of the Association of Children’s and Youths’ Writers of Russia, says that the situation for the children’s sector is complicated by a significant decline in the number of children’s authors in recent years–the result of dwindling payments from leading publishers.

Preobrazhensky says he thinks the privatization of Detskaya Literatura may result in the improvement of this scenario, although it will depend on the new owner(s).

In 2015 Detskaya Literature’s reported revenue was 70.9 million rubles (US$1.2 million), while net profit came in at 2.6 million rubles (US$44,000).

About the Author

Eugene Gerden

Eugene Gerden is an international freelance writer who specializes in covering global book publishing and bookselling industry.