19 October 09 | Chad W. Post

This post originally appeared on the Frankfurt Book Fair blog. I highly recommend visiting the official blog for interesting posts from Richard Nash, Alex Hippisley-Cox, and Arun Wolf

The long term impact of being the Guest of Honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair has been demonstrated time and again. Not only does this honor result in the translation of a country’s books into a languages around the world, but it also bolsters the book industry within the country itself.

The latter half of this statement was what Vladimir Grigoriev, the Deputy Head for the Federal Agency of Press and Mass Communication (and organizer of Russia’s 2003 Guest of Honor program), focused on in his presentation this morning on “Market Trends in Russia and Digital Publishing.” Grigoriev’s figures were pretty impressive. Since 2003, the overall production of titles in Russia has more than doubled from 47,700 to over 123,000 last year, and overall book sales have followed a similar trajectory, shooting up from $1.6 billion USD in 2003 to over $3 billion last year.

It’s not all good news though. The economic collapse of 2008 hit Russia pretty hard, including the book market. Although things could change over the next couple months, experts are projecting a 20% decrease in sales (to $2.4 billion USD) for 2009. According to Grigoriev, a recent study pointed to a decrease in reading among young people, and a startling statistic that “almost 40% of the population is not buying any books.”

When asked to name a few contemporary Russian authors worth reading, Grigoriev hedged, claiming that he could name a dozen or two, but that they weren’t on the level of Chekhov, Tolstoy, or other Russian Masters. He also pointed to the nonexistence of a “promotional infrastructure” (like the German Book Office or other similar, government funded agencies around the world) as one of the main reasons for the lack of translations of Russian works into other languages.

(As a U.S. publisher specializing in literature in translation, this is a huge pet peeve of mine. Granted, I love data. Numbers. Statistics. The Book Industry as Industry. Business and Growth. But damn it, I also love literature and reading. And finding new voices. Which is what the Frankfurt Book Fair is best at. Providing interested and curious editors with lists upon lists. With more recommendations than you can ever process. This is the second year in a row I’ve attended the Russian Book Presentation, and here’s to hoping that in 2010 the event will include a booklet featuring a dozen contemporary Russian writers whose last names aren’t Sorokin or Pelevin. . . . I will make my way over the official Russian stand at some point, so hopefully I’ll be posting a cool update to this sometime soon . . .)

On the eBook side of things, Alexander Roife, the CEO of LitRes.ru, highlighted the rapid sales growth Russian eBooks are experiencing. As he admitted, Russia is probably best known for its e-piracy and distribution of free books, music, and videos, but nevertheless, best-sellers on LitRes.ru—a legal eBook retailer founded in 2007—are selling between 3,000 and 6,000 copies. Which seems almost too good to be true . . . But if it is, Russia’s book market is definitely primed for a strong recovery from last year’s economic slump.


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