21 October 08 | Chad W. Post

This post originally appeared on the Frankfurt Book Fair blog, and drew a comment . . .

At the urging of the Frankfurt Book Fair and the German Book Office in Moscow, Russian representatives put on a special “Look at Russia” seminar earlier today. Vladimir Grigoriev, the deputy head of the Federal Agency for Press and Mass Communication, gave a short presentation filled with statistics about the Russian publishing scene, including:

  • Approx. 110,000 titles are published each year, from 100 different publishers;
  • 80 per cent of these publishers are based in Moscow (Grigoriev said that he’d rather see the scene spread out throughout the country);
  • More than 80 per cent of the titles published each year are from Russian authors;
  • Translation is a growing field, with approx. 6,000 English works translated into Russia each year, 1,000 from Germany and France, 300+ from Spanish–all numbers that exceed the number of translations published in the U.S. each year;
  • Over the next couple of years, Grigoriev believes one or two chains will come to dominate the bookselling market. At the moment there isn’t any one company with a presence throughout Russia.

Always interesting to get these facts, and to compare them with other countries, but I wish he (or another presenter) would’ve talked about some contemporary writers, particular publishing houses, etc. Unlike a number of other countries (Netherlands, Estonia, France, Germany, and many more), Russia does not have a “book office” or any other organization designed to promote Russia literature abroad, which is one reason that only a few contemporary writers are being translated.

Surprisingly (to me at least), the question and answer session got a bit tense when someone questioned the motive of the Russian booth, claiming that instead of sending Russia authors to represent the culture, they only sent the government . . . Grigoriev dodged the question gracefully, claiming that the private publishing scene has only existed for seventeen years, so publishers were still learning how to promote authors abroad. He did follow this up by pointing out that the only state-run publishers are the ones that produce medical books, the official encylopedia, and textbooks . . . You know, fact-based publications. Hmm.

Note: One of things I didn’t mention in this piece was how the event ended. After the initial round of speeches, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s old (literally) friend and biographer gave a brief talk. Honestly, I’m not sure if this woman had ever used a microphone in her life. Instead of speaking into it, she kept dropping it, hitting various objects, causing eardrum-exploding feedback loops.

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