Retail Pressures: Ukraine’s Open-Air Bookselling Marketplaces Appear Headed for Closure

In Feature Articles by Eugene Gerden

As Ukraine’s bookselling prospects improve, the loss of the country’s open-air market book stalls may mean more challenges for the book business.

At Odessa’s fish market Pryvoz–like the city’s open-air Knizhka bookselling market–a mix of popular and eclectic stalls. Image – iStockphoto: Vlad Karavaev

By Eugene Gerden

Urban Retail Outlets Under Pressure
One of Ukraine’s oldest open-air bookselling sites, Knizhka—located in Odessa’s marketplace—soon may be closed by local authorities, as confirmed to Publishing Perspectives by Sergei Dubenko, a deputy head of the department of trade in Odessa’s regional government offices.

The decision to close the market, Dubenko says, has been made because of urban-planning regulations violated by the Knizhka management. This, despite a contract for operating the venture in the busy locale until 2025.

In speaking to Publishing Perspectives about the expected closure, publishing players say that losing the market location may negatively affect the Ukrainian book trade because Knizhka has come to function as a symbol of reading and book culture in the country and a hub for sales of print books in the region.

In recent years, Knizhka has become a popular attraction for international tourists in Odessa. Shoppers have come to depend on the location for a specialization in rare books, and it has functioned as a reliable local source for textbooks, reference books, small-circulation illustrated catalogs and expensive gift editions of various titles.

But booksellers who operate stalls in the Knizhka marketplace say they’re concerned that the plan to close the site may signal more such moves by the authorities who see open-air marketplaces as attractive city settings for more valuable for commercial property development.

According to them, the loss of open-air book stall markets could mean the end of these location’s generally lower pricing that can be found in traditional bookstores.

A summertime day at Kiev’s Volksana marketplace. Image – iStockphoto: Deniz Bayram

Low Prices, New and Used Books

Nikolay Ivanov, the owner of a book stall in Kiev’s Petrovka book market, tells Publishing Perspectives that prices for books at these popular markets usually fall in the range of 40 to 60 Ukrainian hryvnia per book (US$1.50 to $2.25)–generally an affordable sum for the majority of local citizens.

Losing market centers of this kind, publishing observers say, can create another burden on the Ukrainian industry, which has only recently begun to show signs of recovery from years of financial crises.

By contrast, in Russia, the majority of books are sold in specialized bookstores, while in Ukraine, the proportion of sales made at marketplace book stalls is significant. Many if not most of the stalls’ inventories combine both new and used books.

The used-book trade is especially important in Ukraine, where the demand has substantially increased in recent years mainly because of a sharp drop in local consumers’ purchasing power.  Since 2014, many Ukrainians have seen a new book as a discretionary item, even a luxury buy.

However, another element of the pressure on Ukraine’s open-air book markets reflects new consolidation in the country’s book retail patterns.

To date, Ukraine has had few chain-bookstore companies in operation, and only a fragmented, non-aligned network of independent stores, instead, for most traditional sales in the field—a picture that industry observers say is going to be changing in coming years.

Some publishing players say they anticipate the arrival of Ukrainian and even international business interests that might see an attractive potential in developing large, coordinated retail efforts along the lines of chain bookstores to gradually replace the patchwork of marketplace and independent bookselling outlets..

Media reports indicate that at the halfway point this year, sales of books in Ukraine appear to be growing quite steadily, which may, in fact, attract just such retail developments around the industry.

This will be heartening to some in the country’s book business, which a year ago was facing the loss of at least 136 publishing companies, as reported by Strana.ua, closed amid financial uncertainty and a perceived decline in reader/consumer demand. Much of the upheaval in the industry was centered around Kiev’s ban on Russian book imports, originally put into effect at the beginning of 2017. Once books imported from Russia were no longer available, consumer demand plunged.


More from Publishing Perspectives on Ukraine’s publishing industry is here.

About the Author

Eugene Gerden

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