By Eugene Gerden
‘Reading Interest’ in ArmeniaIn comments from publishing players this summer in Armenia and Romania, we hear two outlooks, one upbeat and the other less so.
In Armenia, Mkrtich Karapetyan—the founding president in Yerevan’s Edit Print Publishing House—says that an elevated interest in reading has contributed to some growth in book sales.
“Taking into account the fact that the interest in reading has been growing over the last two or three years in Armenia,” Karapetyan says, “we expect that it will keep growing, and sales with it. In the case of our publishing house, we systematically undertake different projects, including reading competitions and excursions in the publishing and printing houses for schoolchildren,” to help boost the attraction of reading.
This year Edit Print is publishing new fiction, he says, although much of what he’s calling new seems to be the two previous centuries’ translated Western work. He talks of releasing “titles by Agatha Christie, Erich Maria Remarque, Jules Verne, and others,” as well as what he says is “international bestselling international nonfiction.
The Armenian writer Hovhannes Tumanyan’s (1869-1923) children’s poems and ballads, now have been published by his group in English and Russian, Karapetyan says. Tumanyan’s birthdate, February 19, is recognized in Armenia as a “book giving day,” he says, something gaining in popularity with consumers. In addition, the company has released 24 new textbooks and manuals for schools’ use, and in the trade is focusing on series dedicated to classical Armenian writings, contemporary work, an “identity series,” and more.
Serious structural problems are in place, though, for Armenian publishers, Karapetyan says, the fundamental issue being that it’s a small-language market with slim chance for growth. A lack of government support, he says, compounds the issue, as a lagging rate of library purchases of books and a VAT (value-added tax) rate of 20 percent on books.
The ARI Foundation’s Arevik Ashkharoyan echoes much of what Karapetyan says, adding that the economic and political conditions in Armenia have remained unstable in the past year because of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis. “The current educational reforms sound promising,” Ashkharoyan says. “New subject standards were developed, and a pilot implementation has been placed in a number of schools throughout the country. The government has also developed reading promotion programs and reading standards for schoolchildren, while some schools on their own initiative are doing a lot to promote reading.”
The intent of these programs, she says, are to instill a “habit of reading” in youngsters with reforms scheduled to begin in September. The hope, she says, is that the children’s book market may show signs of progress as a result.
A ‘Reading Pact’ in Romania
Mihai Mitrică, who leads the Romanian Publishers’ Federation says he has high hopes for a “reading pact” that’s new to his market this year, an initiative that calls on authorities to observe publishing-supportive laws in place since the early years of this century.
Some of the laws he references require the government to:
- Buy books for public libraries
- Support postal deliveries of books
- Create a nationwide campaign for promoting reading
- Reinstate a grant to teachers of €100 annually to buy books
“We had a very successful edition of our ‘BookFest’ book fair in Bucharest in May,” Mitrică says, when several events focused on those expectations of government support were organized for discussion.
According to Mitrică, despite some modest growth, Romania’s book publishing market remains the smallest in the European Union, estimated at just €100 million overall (US109.8 million).
Counter to Mkrtich Karapetyan’s talk of a growing interest in reading in Armenia, Mitrică says Romania remains faced with a significant decline of interest in reading. He cites a survey from May, the results of which indicated that 51 percent of surveyed young people aged 18 to 24 in the biggest cities of Romania simply aren’t readers. This is gauged by their having reported reading no books at all in the past year.
The publishers’ federation counts some 300 bookstores in the country, with distribution almost exclusively in urban areas–which means that small cities have a shortage of bookstores, and sales.
At least 50 percent of the Romanian book market’s revenue comes from Bucharest, according to the federation’s observations. Mitrică says the current estimate is that some 6,000 presses may be operating to some degree in Romania, about 200 of them relatively sizeable.