In Tbilisi: Bookseller Tamara Megrelishvili on Sales Trends

In Feature Articles by Eugene Gerden

The founding chief of a key Georgian bookstore, Tamara Megrelishvili, talks about lagging tourism, wartime flux, and political unease.

Inside Tbilisi’s bookstore Prospero’s Books and Coffeehouse. Image: Prospero’s Books

By Eugene Gerden

‘We Need More International Tourism Development’
Tamara Megrelishvili is the founding managing director of Prospero’s Books and Coffeehouse on Tbilisi’s Rustaveli Avenue, a central avenue named for the 11th-century Georgian poet. Megrelishvili says that book sales at the moment are going better than they were during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that consumers’ visits to the physical store are picking up again after having been driven online during the coronavirus’ onslaught.

Nevertheless, she says, the kind of government impositions on freedom of expression are causing her to hold off on making some international book orders in a market that traditionally reads quite readily beyond its own borders.

The buzz that Prospero’s Books puts out about itself is that it has the largest international selection in bookselling in the Caucasus region—one of those public-relations that’s always hard to disprove or prove.

Tamara Megrelishvili

But Megrelishvili’s store is certainly prominent among Georgia’s book retailers, which are logically concentrated in urban areas and particularly the capital. Frankfurter Buchmesse‘s 2018 guest of honor market of some 3.7 million people focused five years ago at the trade show on its unique alphabet and its literature’s function as a cultural bond both before and after Soviet rule. In bookstores today, this is reflected in shelves of well-known Georgian writers such as Aleko Shugladze and Giorgi Kekelidze, alongside  many titles from the international market.

In terms of tastes, she says that Georgian readers are interested in both nonfiction and fiction. She says she sees growth in both sectors.

By comparison to trends in some markets, she points to the many books she stocks in their original languages rather than in translation. Japanese texts have proved, at times, to be an exception, selling better in translation than in Japanese, she says. But for the most part there’s an interest among her customers for reading an author in his or her own language.

The Russian Influx

Outside Prospero’s Books and Coffeehouse in Tbilisi. Image: Prospero’s Books

In a conversation with Publishing Perspectives, Megrelishvili says that despite generally good growth rates in Georgian book publishing and what she describes as a rising interest in reading, she doesn’t expect to see significant market growth in the new year.

One of the reasons she anticipates a flat market is a slowdown in tourism to Georgia.

After the announcement of the Russian mobilization for Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine, as many as 100,000 Russians entered Georgia, according to published figures attributed to the Georgian ministry of internal affairs, with some 222,250 or more in September 2022 alone. This has led, Megrelishvili says, to a growth in book sales and also to an increased share, of course, of imported Russian-language books in her market.

Following the initial rush, however, many of these displaced consumers have moved to other parts of Europe and elsewhere, creating, she says, a need for a new impetus for growth in sales of books in Georgia.

“We need more international tourism development in our country,” she says, to help bolster the consumer activity of the local consumer base.

As Publishing Perspectives readers know from coverage of the political pressures many Georgians say they feel in their cultural life—something reflected in the Georgian stand’s programming at Frankfurt in October. Megrelishvili says that one effect of this has been limitations on what books can be imported for sale in Georgia.

She was, for example, she says, surprised to find that some religious books are prohibited as imports into the country. “Our demand for religious books,” she says, “had never been big but still I’m very confused about whether we have the right to order several copies or not.

Will our large shipments run into setbacks at imposed by customs regulations? I don’t know. So this is one area in which we’re refraining from ordering new titles.”

Our coverage of the Russian war’s impact on Ukraine’s publishing industry is here, along with international reactions. More from Publishing Perspectives on bookselling is here, more on the Georgian market is here, and more on Europe is here.

About the Author

Eugene Gerden

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