Ukraine Publishing’s Bad Year: Closures Amid a Ban on Russian Books

In Feature Articles by Eugene Gerden5 Comments

The Ukrainian ban on Russian book imports is seen as contributing to closures and consolidations of more than 130 smaller publishing companies. Surviving players are reported struggling.

A warm-weather weekend shot in Kiev’s Independence Square. Image – iStockphoto: Sonatali

Earlier this month, accounts from Kiev reported that more than 136 book publishers in Ukraine have closed in the last year. As we reported, publishers and booksellers were alarmed during the winter when the government banned imports of Russian literature. It’s clear now that their concern was well grounded. —Porter Anderson


By Eugene Gerden

Russian Language Sales Drop 9.8 to 4.3 Million
The Ukrainian book publishing industry’s crisis has deepened this summer, as figures from the publishers’ association indicate that at least 136 publishing companies, as reported by Strana.ua, have closed amid financial uncertainty and a perceived decline in reader/consumer demand.

A spokesman for the Ukrainian Association of Publishers and Book Distributors (UAPBD) has said that complete statistics for the current year aren’t available but that the association sees leading publishers struggling.

A statement released by UAPBD describes the Ukrainian industry’s challenge as being complicated by consolidations, which factor in to the apparent shuttering of so many modest publishing outfits.

The most severe impact of the ban is felt by the smallest houses, which annually produce five to ten titles. It’s expected, some observers say, that more of these will declare bankruptcy before year’s end.

The ban on Russian book imports was implemented less than a year ago, on December 1 by an act of the Ukrainian parliament. Once books imported from Russia were no longer available, consumer demand plunged.

As Publishing Perspectives reported, the ban on Russian books was sharply criticized by industry players last autumn before it had been enacted. And as we then reported in February, Ivan Stepurin, head of Summit Book, one of Ukraine’s leading publishing houses, said that Ukrainian publishers “don’t have sufficient resources to replace banned books from Russia.

“The average cost of translation is in the range of US$3,000 to $5,000 per book,” Stepurin said. “This is too expensive for Ukrainian publishers, taking into account that most books will sell no more than 2,000 copies.

“With translation and rights costs so high, the ban will result in a shortage of books in various sectors of the market—especially in educational literature, world classics, where the local publishers’ impact has always been slight.”

And market conditions have remained treacherous. When the Russian-book ban was instituted shortly before the start of this year, Ukrainian book importers and retailers were forced to terminate their contracts with Russian partners.

Recently published data from the Book Chamber of Ukraine suggests that the turnover of Russian books in Ukraine fell from 9.8 million copies in the first half of 2016 to 4.3 million in the first half of this year.

More book industry figures from the chamber are interesting here. By August 22 of 2016, the Ukrainian industry reportedly had produced some 6,972 titles in Ukrainian and some 2,056 in Russian. In the same period this year, from January 1 to August 22, the industry is said to have produced about 7,015 in Ukrainian titles—a bit of an increase–but only 1,939 titles in Russian.

Historically, a significant trade imbalance in books has been in evidence between Russia and Ukraine. The book chamber reports that until 2015, while as much as 70 percent of all print titles sold in Ukraine were imported from Russia, only five to 10 percent of books published in Ukraine were exported to Russia.

And a Razmukov Center report released in June 2016 indicated that 40 percent or more Ukrainian respondents say they call Russian their first language.

A more upbeat note comes from Tatiana Teren, who directs the Ukrainian Institute of Books. She says that Kiev has ambitious plans to promote Ukrainian books in the world arena, by leveraging their visibility at international book fairs.

She specifically has mentioned envisioning a more active presence of Ukrainian books at Frankfurt Book Fair next year when Georgia is the Guest of Honor.

About the Author

Eugene Gerden

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

Comments

  1. I had a book published in Ukraine in Ukrainian some years ago so this topic interests me. Because of this I talked to many publishers and book store owners in Ukraine. A big complaint was that Russia was flooding Ukraine with cheap government-supported books , as a political strategy. This made it difficult for Ukrainian publishers to compete. Another problem was that Ukrainian readers were used to buying Russian books because during the Soviet era Russian language books in Ukraine were plentiful while Ukrainian language books were scarce. This was part of the Russification efforts that went on in all the Soviet republics. Books then were also heavily subsidized by the government and were cheap. In today’s economy Ukrainian language books are expensive. I noticed that in today’s post-Soviet economy book distribution is primitive and there are few outlets dedicated to book promotion and advertising. But the annual book fair in Lviv, starting in two weeks, gets tremendous crowds and visitors from all over Western Ukraine. Sadly, most Ukrainians are poor and a $6 book to them is like a $50 book to us.

  2. Bohdan Hodiak,
    A.Pushkin and Leo Tolstoi and many others were not written during the Soviet Era, and you call them cheap government supported books? These are classics and thank god books by A.Pushkin and Leo Tolstoi were cheap and Ukranian people had access to them

    1. Hi, Alex,

      While thanking you for engaging in discussion with Bohdan. I’ve edited you slightly to take out your rather rude opener. You’re most welcome to comment and we’re glad to have you as a reader. You won’t be disparaging other readers on our pages, however.

      Thanks,
      -p.

      On Twitter: @Porter_Anderson

    2. Pushkin and Tolstoi can be published in Ukraine by Ukrainian publishers and in Ukrainian language. But I suppose there still won`t be much reader`s interest anyway. Living in Ukraine all of my life I`ve seen tons of those “classics” on bookshelves and never seen a single person reading this stuff.

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