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Nearly 40% of Russia's book sales in 2009 came from independent bookstores. Bookshop chains contributed around 20%, and only 8% were transacted online. The dependence on bricks-and-mortar outlets remains unassailable even though bookstores outside of Moscow, St. Petersburg, and some other major cities (such as Ekaterinburg and Novosibirsk) are poorly stocked.

That is due in part to high restocking costs when great distances and large transportation bills are involved. And that translates into different prices for the same book: cheaper in Moscow but dearer in the outer regions (where wages and disposable income are much lower). Books are still priced quite low by global standards. But just like anywhere (and everything) else, book prices have risen in recent times, from an average of 110 rubles ($3.80) in 2005 to 190 rubles ($6.60) in 2010.

Currently, the total number of retail outlets is barely 30% of those existing during Soviet times. The collapse of the centralized distribution system had much to do with the dwindling number of stores. Nowadays, big publishing houses that also have their fingers in the retail pie often have a sophisticated logistics division to transport titles to retail outlets near and far. For smaller publishers, tagging along with their big counterparts' logistics services and bookstores makes perfect sense in cost-conscious times.

As a rule, bookstores do not import directly from overseas publishers, relying instead on distributors to get the books they want so as to avoid dealing with shipping, customs clearance, and taxation. Presently, a value-added tax of 18% is imposed on imports of trade books, CDs, and DVDs, and 10% on "educational" titles (the loose definition often works to the advantage of importers).

In general, Russians are serious (and rather conservative) readers. Parents traditionally build their own libraries and hand them down the generations. TV, the Internet, and games have considerably less impact than in the U.S. or U.K. Schools continue to emphasize literature, and parents buy lots of classics, original or translated. On average, every Russian buys around five books per year. Still, publishers bemoan the decline in reading.

As to where to buy books, residents and visitors alike have plenty of choices—from the "book supermarkets" to "mobile book vans" that offer cheaply priced (but an extremely limited range of) current bestsellers. Just 10 minutes' walk from Red Square, for instance, one finds Biblio-Globus, one of the biggest players in the Russian retail sector. Founded in 1957, it is one of Europe's biggest bookstores. The huge three-level building offers books, CDs, DVDs, stationery items, and even an antique section for first or limited editions, stamps, coins, postcards. It hosts a variety of book clubs, including Klio (for history lovers), Young Philosophers, and Foreign Language Lovers.

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