The current crop of Russian publishers is collectively on the young side, many of them born shortly before the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Then, teething problems were many and the growth path rocky at times. But today these publishers produce nearly 120,000 new titles per year, placing Russia firmly in the #4 slot in global ranking (after China, U.S., and U.K.) in terms of output.
No one sums up the industry today better than Natasha Perova, publisher and founder of GLAS: "Pulp fiction triumphs over literary fiction—in Russia and elsewhere. Tolstoy and Dostoyevski would have a tough time getting published today—they might not even win the Booker or other major prizes. While the current Russian publishing scene is a far cry from what it used to be during the Soviet era, it is nowhere as developed as in the West. The distribution system, for instance, collapsed with the demise of state-owned publishing, and it hasn't been restored to this day.
"Back in the early 1990s, after censorship was lifted, people rushed to catch up with world literature, resulting in a frenzy of translation and also publication of banned titles. Unfortunately, new writers had little chance of being noticed in this influx. But since the 2000s, Russians have started to take more interest in internal affairs, and the wild capitalism ride offers a lot of content for fiction. The time has finally come for new voices to be heard. Those writing in the early 1990s have managed to get their works published in the early 2000s and are gradually becoming known here and abroad."
Let's get a closer look at the industry through the operations of 14 publishers (in alphabetical order).
The third largest publisher in Russia with around 5% of the market, Azbooka-Atticus holds exclusive rights to such authors as Janus Leon Wisniewski, Milan Kundera, Richard Yates, Isabel Allende, Mario Vargas Llosa, Marc Levy, Cecelia Ahern, Ben Elton, Lemony Snicket, Tove Jansson, and many others. It publishes about 1,200 titles per year, and in 2010 translations accounted for nearly 44% of its catalogue.
The high percentage of translations, explains Maxim Kryutchenko, founder of Azbooka, is because "we are eager to provide Russian readers with a wide range of foreign titles. When this company was founded, the intention was to get Russian readers acquainted with world literature, both classic and contemporary. But through the years, we also have built up a strong Russian literature base—again both classic and contemporary. There are several contemporary Russian authors whom we are honored to represent and publish, and we use every opportunity to produce more originals. For instance, we have sold millions of copies of works by Sergey Dovlatov, Joseph Brodsky, and Vladimir Nabokov—authors who have been translated into English and are doing very well in other countries. But it is quite difficult to uncover new Russian authors with high overseas potential."
CEO Arkady Vitrouk shares Kryu-tchenko's opinion of contemporary originals: "Russians are only now beginning to review what happened during the perestroika period—a painful time for many—and the emotions and sentiments in books on this period may not carry easily across borders. Selling them, much as I would like to, will be difficult." Vitrouk is busy promoting several authors including Yevgeny Grishkovetz. "His titles invariably sell more than 100,000 copies each, and they have been translated into German, French, and Norwegian. Japanese and English are next, I hope." At the upcoming London Book Fair, he will present Leonid Parfenov, a television personality and author of a series of books on the Soviet Union, and Denis Osokin, who is famed for short stories. "One of Osokin's stories, ‘Silent Souls,' was made into a movie that was subsequently nominated for the Grand Prix at the 2010 Venice Film Festival. Academia Rossica is set to show the movie prior to the book fair."
In the children's segment, Azbooka-Atticus boasts names like writer Anton Soya (famed for Emo Boy), illustrator Anton Lomayev, and paper engineer Nikolai Nemzer. The present children's book segment in Russia, says Vitrouk, "can be summarized in one word: proliferation. Basically, every Russian publisher—and that includes us—produces some children's titles. Although the segment has not grown that much, the supply has certainly broadened a lot. Now one can find children's books for any taste, from Soviet classics to avant-garde European picture books, creative pop-ups and novelty titles. At the same time, consumers are becoming more picky, paying more attention to the content before making the purchase."
From its humble beginning as a bookshop in 1990, AST has produced nearly 33,000 titles within the span of 22 years. It often vies with Eksmo for top billing as Russia's biggest publisher. Around 30% of its list is translated, and it reads like a who's who of the fiction world: Stephen King, Stephenie Meyer, John Grisham, Sidney Sheldon, Nicholas Sparks, Paulo Coelho, and Wilbur Smith. Homegrown talents are not few either, and these include Boris Akunin, Pavel Basinsky, Edward Radzinsky, Sergei Lukyanenko, Dmitry Glukhovsky, and Polina Dashkova. On the children's side, various licenses have resulted in a range of merchandise from Disney, Sanrio, Fox, Warner Brothers, Hasbro, Mattel, DC Comics, and others.
According to president Oleg Bartenev, "There is an urgent need to work with our foreign publishing partners to obtain digital rights for titles licensed to us. This is one way to reduce piracy of e-titles. Given that around 30% of published titles will migrate to e-book format, it is critical to close loopholes that allow piracy to happen. For AST, the plan is to retain our market share—currently estimated at 20% of the industry—in the traditional format while using more sophisticated designs and printing methods to discourage illegal scanning of our titles."
Given that AST prints at least 60% of its titles at two wholly owned facilities, the plan is definitely achievable. "At the same time," Bartenev continues, "content and design for print books must go a notch—or a few notches—higher to compete with other media out there. Take fashion magazines as an example. They didn't die because of sophisticated televisions or the availability of fashion channels. They get more design based and content oriented to compete. For the book industry, I would cite Dorling Kindersley, one of our publishing partners, for setting the standards in merging content and creativity." For the foreseeable future, AST (derived from the first letter of three of the directors' names: Andrei, Sergei, Tatiana; Oleg and Igoz are the other directors) aims to cover every book segment. Its 800 editors, divided into 40 teams, also work with big magazine brands such as National Geographic and DeAgostini.
With more than 330 stores within its Bukva chain ("with plans to add 50 shops annually"), AST has also made huge injections (to the tune of $50 million) into ailing retail giant Top Kniga. "They account for 40% of our sales, and we simply cannot afford to see such a vast distribution network collapse. It would be catastrophic for the whole Russian book industry." Bartenev is also trying to read further into the nation's changing demographics. "The 1 to 10 age group is estimated to be thrice the size of the 17 to 25 group. There is going to be tremendous pressure on kindergartens and primary schools, and this represents a big opportunity for the children's book and merchandise segment. But instilling the reading habit in the young would require nationwide support and promotional effort—something the Russian Book Union and various governmental agencies are undertaking."
This has been the Russian home of Harlequin for the past 16 months. The popularity of such Harlequin authors as Nora Roberts, Tess Gerritsen, and Debbie Macomber is making Centrepolygraph's latest publishing program a runaway success. At least 172 Harlequin titles have been translated since the deal was sealed by v-p Alexandra Shipetina. "Laying the groundwork was tedious as we had to relook at our whole operation prior to signing the agreement," she says. "We expanded our sales channels, put in a new editorial team, created a special Web site to promote the line, and ramped up our marketing team for this." Recently, the contract was amended to cover digital rights, and her team are now busy working with LitRes, Russia's biggest digital bookstore and content aggregator, to have the titles converted into e-books and prepared for downloads.
"Names like Nora Roberts are highly recognizable and enthusiastically accepted by the market," says Shipetina, "but it needs more time to know new authors such as Macomber, for whom we have to make additional promotional effort and learn to be patient. We are translating one author at a time while planning a focused marketing campaign to promote each one." And to ensure the widest and most cost-effective distribution of Harlequin titles, the company has inked an exclusive deal with Russian Post to make use of its 39,000-odd sales offices and 80 regional hubs to reach readers in every corner of the nation.
Ranked #12 in the industry in terms of output in 2010, the company was founded by chairman Dmitry Shipetin in 1990. It remains until today a general trade publisher specializing in fiction, memoirs, history, popular medicine, and self-help, and it has not been tempted to enter the children's, educational, or business segments. With translations currently accounting for around 25% of its catalogue, Centrepolygraph is known in Russia for introducing such authors as Peter James, Ann Granger, James Hadley Chase, and Vicki Myron. "I'm proud to say that we started Russians reading translated thrillers and detective stories, and now romance. We were also the first to translate titles on famous politicians—local and foreign—such as Jung Chang's work on Mao Zedong. As for original titles, we developed two unique series of autobiographies—totaling 500 titles—of Russian and German soldiers of WWII," says Shipetin, whose company is also famous for another original series of more than 100 autobiographies in the history of Russia during the Communist revolution and the fall of the monarchy in the early 20th century.
Asked to recommend authors that may appeal to foreign publishers, Shipetin reels off several names, including nonfiction author Valery Sinelnikov, whose You Must Love Your Illness has six million copies in print, and fantasy authors Dmitry Khvan, Roman Haer, and Igor Chuzin, whose works are published in the series Our People Out There. "Contemporary Russian authors remain largely unknown to foreign publishers and readers, and we hope this situation will change soon."
Bookselling was how Oleg Novikov and Andrei Gredasov—currently CEO and editor-in-chief respectively—started Eksmo back in 1991. Since then, organic expansion and various acquisitions have turned it into one of the largest book publishing and retail companies in Russia. With 81 million copies printed per year and around 10,000 titles in its catalogue, Eksmo has major stakes in different sectors of the book industry, including retail (with nearly 200 stores through the chains Bookvoed, Bibliosphera, and Chitay-gorod) and an e-bookstore (LitRes). For a general trade publisher that started with only one title (on history) in 1993, it accounted for 20% of the total Russian book sales last year; it was 18% in 2009. "Acquisitions in the retail sector have allowed us to be the biggest retail operator in Russia, and this lays a strong foundation for our future expansion," says Novikov, whose company also owns publishing and retail concerns in Ukraine. The only Russian publishing company to run a mySAP ERP system to integrate the various divisions in its vast operation, Eksmo currently has eight regional distribution centers, both in Russia and outside—Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, Ekaterinburg, Rostov-on-Don, and Kiev, Ukraine, and Almaty, Kazakhstan—and is working on expanding the network further into the often neglected eastern regions of Russia.
Blockbuster authors abound among Eksmo's 8,000-odd names, with fiction emerging as its strongest (and best-known) segment. Foreign names in its catalogue (of which 25% are translations) include Stieg Larsson, Danielle Steele, Haruki Murakami, Arturo Pérez-Reverte, Agatha Christie (since 2008), and Eoin Colfer. As for Russian authors, this is the house of Darya Dontsova, Tatyana Tolstaya, Tatiana Ustinova, Ludmila Ulitskaya, Yuri Nikitin, and Viktor Pelevin. Dontsova, nicknamed the queen of detective stories, is the most published author in Russia, with a total print run of 122 million copies, while Ustinova takes third place with around 30 million. "Some Eksmo authors, such as Dontsova, Ulitskaya and Pelevin, have had their works successfully licensed to foreign publishers, mostly European. But rights sales are tough going," adds Novikov, currently vice chairman of the Russian Book Union and an expert considered by many as the spokesperson of the Russian book industry.
"The trends in the marketplace point to growing interest in children's books, hobbies and crafts, cooking and popular literature. And these are the areas that Eksmo will focus on for the next two to three years." Far-sighted Novikov, who started a culinary magazine, Bread & Salt, two years ago, has developed a related Internet portal, which boasts more than two million visitors per month. At the same time, he has launched a range of books, a dedicated Web site and newsletters on soccer and national players, well in advance of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Unlike many publishers, however, Novikov does not view the Internet and digital publishing as threats: "These are additional opportunities to distribute our publications and make them available to the masses outside major cities more affordably and conveniently." But a shrinking reading population, estimated at around 20% of the whole population for the past two years, is worrying, and Novikov, in a bid to reverse the trend, is one of the initiators and supporters of a nationwide program to promote reading.
Few publishing houses work harder than GLAS to promote works by contemporary Russian authors. Winner of the Rossica Prize for best translations in 2007 (for 7 Stories by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky) and again in 2009 (Iramifications by Maria Galina), GLAS has just partnered with Consortium Books to distribute its titles to non-British Commonwealth countries. "We publish the best of contemporary Russian fiction in English. In fact, many authors appeared in English for the first time with GLAS, and some were then picked up by overseas publishers," says founder/publisher Natasha Perova, who works with American and British translators. She has just reprinted Michele Berdy's The Russian Word's Worth: A Humorous and Informative Guide to the Russian Language, Culture, and Translation. "With nearly 10 million Russian émigrés in the U.S. and thousands of expatriates in Russia, this title is set to bridge cultural differences and bring people closer," Perova says. "Consortium has started distributing it in March, and we hope it will be a sleeper hit."
Her backlist of 50 titles (half of which are anthologies) includes Squaring the Circle, a collection of Debut Prize winners. "This unique award for writers under 25 is considered on par with the Booker. We collaborate with Olga Slavnikova—Debut Prize Foundation director and Russian Booker Prize winner—to provide glimpses of present-day Russia, its thoughts and its future direction. Aside from the English and Chinese editions out in 2010, we also launched the French edition last February. Others—in German by Suhrkamp, Italian by Marco Tropea Editore, and Spanish by La Otra Orilla—will be available within the next 12 months."
One surprise hit at GLAS is The Diary of a Soviet Schoolgirl, an Anne Frank–like diary that was accidentally discovered among KGB archives. "We published the abridged version, and it has since been translated into 20 languages. Another successful title is Arkady Babchenko's A Soldier's War in Chechnya. We published his firsthand account as part of our War & Peace collection, and now his book is available in 15 languages, including English by Portobello–Grove Atlantic. It is amazing how those books that you didn't pin much hope on unexpectedly do well." But successes from contemporary writers are far and few between. "Russian literature is still deeply entrenched in the classics. Language and cultural barriers are further obstacles to translation of Russian works. On the other hand, English-speaking countries are notoriously self-sufficient, and translated titles make up only 3% of their publications. It's time for English-speaking people to realize how much they are missing," says Perova, listing several Debut Prize winners, such as Alisa Ganieva (from Daghestan), Igor Savelyev (Bashkiria), Alexei Lukyanov (the Urals), and Irina Bogatyreva (Moscow), as the upcoming voices of modern Russian literature.
Wonderful things happened at Meshcheryakov: a former banking executive became its founder and publisher, and a biologist won the nation's best book award. For Vadim Meshcheryakov, children's books in Russia used to be little segments in big publishing houses: "Commoditylike, they were available in big quantities but low on quality. Bookstores, on the other hand, were very conservative in stocking them. As a former banker with good knowledge of how business is done, I set up this publishing house six years ago to provide both quantity and quality." The latter is certainly in abundance when one thumbs through Meshcheryakov's catalogue. A particularly striking title is The Insects' Letters by biologist Olga Kuvykina. The 2010 Book of the Year, announced at the Moscow International Book Fair, was also a finalist in the Enlightener contest alongside many noteworthy nonfiction books meant for adults.
Although translations take up only 10% of its list, Meshcheryakov offers many works by top European illustrators (Arthur Rackham, Jon Bauer, Charles Robinson, and Mabel Lucy Atwell) and was the first to introduce Finnish author Mauri Kunnas and Italian writer Silvana de Mari to Russian children. "This year, we are planning to release two titles by New Zealand author Margaret Mahy, whose works have been published only in magazines. The demand for foreign contemporary titles is stable but not high enough to generate bestsellers. Classics such as those by James M. Barry and Lewis Carroll remain popular." Meshcheryakov publishes about 150 new titles per year ("I won't be embarrassed by any of the front- or backlist titles; they are all good") and is focused on publishing for the Russian market instead of selling rights ("since we are truly a nonentity in the global publishing industry, and even more so when it comes to children's books").
The dream of gathering all children's publishers under one roof while providing a genre-specific distribution network prompted Meshcheryakov to set up Curiosity Shop for Children's Books last year. "We have four stores now—in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Rostov, and Nizhny Novgorod—representing around 40 publishers, and the plan is to set up shop in 10 other cities with populations in excess of one million this year. It's a three-pronged approach: creating new markets for small and medium-sized publishers, introducing regional booksellers to a varied range of children's titles, and making available such selections to children in every corner of Russia." Meanwhile, his seven-month-old online bookstore now offers 3,500 titles in the Russian language.
YA titles are next on his to-do list. "We want our readers to stay with us as they grow while we expand our publishing scope into new areas. For a start, as a general partner in Kniguru—a new award for YA and children's books that was launched last November—we will publish the winning YA authors and take it from there."
New Literary Observer (NLO)
NLO specializes in the study of Russian culture in a global context. Last year, editor and publisher Irina Prokhorova published 85 new books and 16 journals (six in NLO, six in NZ: Debates on Politics and Culture, and four in Fashion Theory: Dress, Body & Culture). This year, she plans to release 100 new books and is working on two special issues of the NLO journal devoted to one key question: how to write the other history of mankind: "It is about the transnational history of an individual."
Prokhorova's goals are to create new trends in Russian human studies and contemporary fiction as well as to develop NLO as a research center. "I'm launching a new long-term project, a New Anthropology of Culture, aimed at radically re-evaluating current approaches to national and world history. There will be a set of special NLO journals and a series of workshops and seminars on this topic, and these in turn will present us with content for a new series of books."
Last year, Prokhorova collaborated with Gallimard to translate works by five French authors on the emerging new concept of man based on recent discoveries in natural and human sciences. The special project was completed in time for the Non/Fiction Book Fair in Moscow. "French philosophy and literature exerted a tremendous influence on Russian thought and cultural identity when the country was opening up to the world in the past. This joint effort—together with a series of roundtables involving the authors—was most timely."
Overall, 20% of NLO publications are translations, including Robert Darnton's The Great Cat Massacre, Frances Yates's Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition and Donald Rayfield's Stalin and His Hangmen. Originals such as Gasparov's The Engaging Greece (70,000 copies sold), Olga Vainshtein's Dandy (15,000 copies), the two-volume collection Smells and Aromas in a Cultural Context (10,000 sets), prose by Bruskin and Prigov, as well as poetry by Rodionov are among its bestsellers. Some have been translated into English (Alexei Miller's The Romanov Empire and Nationalism and Marina Mogilner's Homo Imperii), Japanese (Boris Akunin's Writer and Suicide) and Korean (Mikhail Yamposky's Language-Body-Opportunity). Fiction, such as Yuri Bujda's The Prussian Bride and Vladimir Tuchkov's Death Comes over the Internet, is much more widely translated than nonfiction titles.
About 35% of NLO readership comes from overseas markets. "Our journals are subscribed by various foreign universities with Slavic departments," says Prokhorova. "We have Kubon & Sagner and East View Publications to distribute our journals in Europe and the U.S. We also have a big online readership because the journals are available on our Web site. This free access has not affected our print subscription; in fact, it has significantly increased the citation rate." Naturally, Prokhorova is very enthusiastic about e-books, especially for the academic and educational segments. "I'm looking for partners to turn our titles into e-books. I also hope that Amazon would be interested in distributing Russian e-books in the near future."
OLMA Media Group
Several major translations are set to boost OLMA's sales this year (and to beat the previous gross of $60 million). George W. Bush's Decision Points, Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and a bestselling European children's fantasy series Oksa Pollock are just some of the new titles. "We are also planning to publish more of P.C. Cast and Erin Hunter as well as series by Cate Tiernan, Martin Cruz Smith, Diane Mott Davidson, and Charlotte Link," says general director Dmitry Ivanov, who has bought many other titles, including an award-winning Spanish series, but is keeping the names under wraps, especially since many are still in manuscript stage. "Translations will represent at least 10% of our list this year, and we are constantly looking out for the best titles for our portfolio and our readers."
On the other hand, rights sales of works by Boris Akunin and Ernst Muldashev as well as various nonfiction and reference titles have been going on for some time. Most of these go to eastern European publishers. Back home, Alexander Bushkov, author of more than 80 titles in various genres, is an OLMA brand. "Bushkov's fantasy and detective titles are very popular with Russian readers, and we have sold more than five million copies of his books. We also sold 420,000 copies of Boris Akunin's Falcon and Swallow." Reference titles are another OLMA specialty, with more than half a million copies sold of its Great Painters series, along with classics like Omar Qayyum's Rubayat. "Culinary titles are becoming trendy, and one of our cookbooks, Fast Cooking Recipes, has sales in excess of 400,000 copies." Then there are special titles dedicated to Moscow's 860th anniversary, audiobooks (under the OLMA Bookster imprint), and originals by authors such as Anna Andrianova and Natalia Nechayeva. "We are best known for high-quality full-color illustrated encyclopedias such as The World People's Great Encyclopedia, The Slavic Encyclopedia, and Ten Centuries of Russian Literature."
OLMA (coined from the name of its two founders, Olessa and Maxim) has around 150 staff in Moscow and will release 1,450 titles this year covering all genres. To date, 20 years since its inception, OLMA has published more than 27,000 titles. Holding firm to its business principle of zero investment in bookstores, it has opted to set up regional offices—about 16 of them—to directly deliver products to retail shops and outlets instead of relying on wholesalers. "Last year, the Russian book market dropped by 20%—the same for the 2008–2009 period. For some, the rise of e-books is worrying. But for me, the worst thing would be if people stopped reading. So, whether it is e-books or print books, it does not matter to us. As a publisher, we just want to see people continue reading in whichever format they like."
Competitor and collaborator are sometimes one and the same at St. Petersburg–based academic publisher Piter. Last year, president Vadim Usmanov set up iBooks
.ru, a joint venture with BHV (his main competitor in the computer book segment) to sell e-books to universities. He also collaborates with other academic publishers, namely Infra-M, Yurait, and LAN, for the same purpose. "A year ago, our Education Ministry mandated e-libraries at every university, and that effectively changed our business stance with respect to e-books. While the online store—which will offer about 2,500 titles by the end of this year—has been successful, sales from this channel represent barely 3% of our total business. One major challenge is that our universities, like many others around the globe, suffer from a lack of government funding."
Usmanov believes that e-books and multimedia titles are the future of the publishing industry. But the online platform is complex, adds general director Elena Nikolskaya: "There is no proper legislation in place to prevent piracy of e-books or uploaded print books. Free downloading is rampant, especially among students who want material from books that are usually very expensive and are only available in hardcover." Still, there is no stopping Piter from venturing beyond conventional publishing. Several months ago, it signed an agreement to put titles in Apple's iBookstore and started participating in the Google Books project.
The past 20 years saw Piter, one of the top three academic publishers in Russia, releasing around 8,000 titles (totaling 92 million copies in print run), 20% of which are translations from mostly American publishers such as Pearson Education, Wiley & Sons, McGraw-Hill, Cengage Learning, and O'Reilly. It has offices in 11 cities, including in Ukraine and Belarus, and takes up nearly 60% of the Russian computer book market.
However, the segment's drastic drop—with nearly 50% contraction during the 2008–2009 period—has prompted Piter to find new businesses. (Today, however, professional computer titles, especially those by Alexander Levin, continue to sell very well.) "We branched out into nonfiction children's titles about two years ago, producing playbooks, educational CD/DVD/interactive titles, and parenting books. We also broadened our publishing program to offer economics and political journalism, besides strengthening our list in law, business, psychology, and medicine. These new categories have proven to be a good fit for us." Bestsellers in 2010 include Paul Ekman's Telling Lies (200,000 copies sold), Nikolay Starikov's Crisi$: How to Create It (rights sold to Nova Zora of Bulgaria, DPF of Slovenia, and Ukrainian entrepreneur Tsirul Pavel), and Levin's Computer: Teach Yourself (11th edition). Five million copies of Levin's titles have been sold to date. Adds Usmanov, "Two years ago, at the start of the economic crisis, the plan was to survive the downturn. Today, the mission is to expand our business in various segments, whether in e-book or print. We are highly adaptable and proactive in this respect."
At Ripol Classic, there is no bigger title in recent memory than Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love, which has sold more than 800,000 copies since its 2008 launch. Other translated bestsellers in 2010 include Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments trilogy and Bernard Werber's The Mirror of Cassandra. Werber, a French sci-fi novelist, is Ripol's top author in terms of sales, with two million copies of his works printed and distributed in Russia.
Originals make up nearly 60% of Ripol's catalogue, and big authors include Andrei Yasrebov with his books in the Watching series, which together sold more than 150,000 copies in 2010, and Victor Dragunsky with his Denis children's series (60,000 copies). The last four months also saw Ripol selling 30,000 copies of Olga Lucas's trilogy and 25,000 of Sophia Catenina's Will There Be Happiness. Rights sales have picked up, with titles going to the Baltic States, Bulgaria, France, and Japan. How I Love America and Paris, Moscow, Love by Misha Aznavour, for instance, were sold to France.
Ranked #9 in terms of output (979 titles in 2010), Ripol specializes in fiction, nonfiction, and children's titles. Its portfolio has broadened in recent years to include popular science and reference and dictionaries. After celebrating the sale of its 150,000,000th book last year, general director Sergei Makarenkov and his 250-strong team are ready to find new authors—local and foreign—to boost its 8,000-title catalogue and strengthen its 2,000-odd e-book list. "But when it comes to translations, we are often not given the digital rights for e-books. Or they are granted long after the print version has appeared. This does not help in terms of pushing e-book sales or countering piracy," says Makarenkov, who also points out that poor Internet connectivity in the outer regions is a barrier to wider e-book distribution. For print books, having nine bookshops in Moscow and two "book supermarts" in Voronezh and Kursk does help to bring titles to readers.
In the fiction market, Makarenkov has witnessed dramatic changes: "There is an emerging awareness of the importance of promotion and positioning. So now we have author tours, book signings, and more targeted campaigns to coincide with the book launch. And, increasingly, readers of fiction in Russia are women, which means we need well-designed covers and better packaging to make books more appealing. Today, fiction blockbusters that sell above two million copies are no longer just a dream. You can say that modern Russians are no longer so serious, with their nonfiction and literary tomes."
This is Russia's biggest children's book publisher, ranked #5 in the publishing industry in terms of title output, with an average of 1,300 titles per year. This is also home to the young Hogwarts wizard, with over 12 million copies of his adventures sold so far. "We printed 30,000 and 50,000 copies for the first and second books respectively, and success came only after the third book," says president Mikhail Markotkin. "No one believed that this series would be successful here, and we certainly took a big risk by leveraging our reputation to push a foreign—and totally untested—author." In the 1990s, the company depended on translations because of the lack of local contemporary children's titles. "Our translations were then as high as 90% of our entire list." Today, only about 25% of Rosman's catalogue is translations, mostly YA titles such as those by Pullman (whose Dark Materials trilogy has sold one million copies), Paolini, Funke, Shan, and Stine.
Originals are growing, especially picture books. Bestselling exports, however, come from original children's educational titles and fiction such as School for Preschoolers (12 million copies sold in Russia), Kid's Development (seven million), and the series Novels for Girls (four million). These titles have been sold to 28 European publishers including Svojtka (Slovenia), Zvaigzne (Latvia), Toper (Serbia), Group 62 (Spain), and Fortuna Libri (Czech Republic).
For Markotkin, the children's segment is one of the brightest spots in the current Russian book industry. "We grew significantly in recent years, not because of natural market expansion but because we took over the market shares of companies that collapsed during the economic crisis. Future growth, however, has to come from beyond book sales. We have to look into online games, TV programs, and merchandise, all of which have huge market potential in Russia."
As such, the group has ventured beyond publishing. It provides comprehensive marketing services for children's products, from localization/adaptation to complex nationwide multimedia promotional campaigns that involve content production for major TV channels. Rosman is now the official distributor for Hasbro, Mattel, and Giochi Preziosi. It has licenses from Hasbro for Littlest Pet Shop, Beyblade, and Tonka, and it works with Mattel, Disney Baby, and Cartoon Network on publishing and merchandise properties. It recently launched BellaSara in Russia. "Few Russian children are allowed to use the Internet on their own because parents are wary of undesirable online elements. So, we use BellaSara magazine as the main brand carrier and roll out an extensive marketing program to educate parents on the security of our online portal. This online/offline promotional campaign is essential for a successful product launch."
Adds Markotkin, "Aside from the huge Russian market, our proximity to neighboring countries such as Kazakhstan and Ukraine, and our understanding of them, allows us to develop comprehensive marketing plans that cover these regions for our overseas partners."
ROSSPEN (or Russian Political Encyclopedia Press) is the largest publisher of 20th-century archives of Russian and Soviet Union history. "We started with the political history of the Soviet Union and Russia, and since then we have moved on to other branches of social science," says general director Andrei Sorokin, whose 40 staff members released 250 titles last year. A historian by profession, Sorokin initially planned ROSSPEN as a research institute. "It was only after the total collapse of state-owned publishing in 1991 that I thought about establishing this company as a publishing entity."
One of Sorokin's biggest (and most ambitious) projects took place in 2007 when he collaborated with the Boris Yeltsin President Centre Fund, the Russian State Archive, and a few other organizations to produce a massive 100-volume series called the History of Stalinism. More than 80 volumes have been released, with around 50% translated from various languages including English, German, Italian, and even Swedish. Nick Baron's Soviet Karelia: Politics, Planning, and Terror in Stalin's Russia was translated and added to the series last month. So far, the History of Stalinism project has been shortlisted for the IPA Freedom to Publish Prize twice—in 2009 and 2010.
As to why a comprehensive and large-scale study of Stalin is crucial, he says, "It is a fact, garnered from various sociological surveys, that more than 50% of the population judge Stalin's role in Russian history to be positive, and the number has grown in recent years. This series is aimed at overcoming the ideological and political legacy of the Soviet period, and uncovering the truth and facts. We believe that the creation of a modern type of civilization in Russia is only possible after we put the previous era into perspective." The series will be distributed to 1,000 public and university libraries once it is completed.
Over the years, ROSSPEN has also won several UNESCO prizes, including for Russia Abroad: A Golden Book of Emigrants in 2007 and Essays in the History of Islamic Civilization in 2009. Last September, its 119-volume Library of Russia's Social Thought won the Book of the Year award. "Scientific and research titles such as those produced by ROSSPEN have limited readership. We are happy when a print run reaches 2,000 to 3,000 copies. On record, our bestseller is Egor Gaidar's The Downfall of the Empire, which has sold more than 20,000 copies and is available in English and French," adds Sorokin, who is planning to release several big titles, including an encyclopedic series on Russian Revolutionary Thought and the continuation of the Library of Russia's Social Thought to cover the whole 20th century. "Next year, on the 200th anniversary of the 1812 Patriotic War, we hope to release a three-volume encyclopedia with several partners, including the State Historical Museum and the State Hermitage, to commemorate the event."
This is a unique publishing company founded and chaired by Sergey Kondratov, a name known throughout Russian publishing and printing circles. Its core business is book clubs—but these are not your typical book clubs. Their names—Montplaisir and Marly, after the ancient royal villas located near St. Petersburg—provide obvious hints of exclusivity. Montplaisir, established 11 years ago, has around 300 members who hail from the upper echelon of Russian society, including politicians (presidents and ministers past and present) and billionaire businessmen.
"Titles produced for Montplaisir members are deluxe collectibles of vintage books," says Grigory Kozhevnikov, Terra's general director. Consider these: a gilt-edged two-volume Baltic Fairy Tales complete with gold and amber cover embellishments selling for $7,000 (and only 20 sets available) or a four-volume Emperor Alexander I with Swarovski crystals and semiprecious stones forming the shape of a czar's crown for $8,000. "Our bestsellers include the Legend of Sergius of Radonezh, the 62-volume Grand Encyclopedia, and the three-volume World of Roerich." In contrast, Marly Club, formed two years ago, serves a much wider membership with titles that are priced much lower. It publishes one catalogue per year, offering about 100 titles in total. Encyclopedia on Wines of the U.S.S.R., for instance, is one recent title from Marly.
These two book clubs account for nearly 60% of Terra's total sales. The profit is pumped back into its general publishing division, where multivolume encyclopedias and various reference titles are produced. Among the titles are Encyclopedia of the Russian Revolution and Civil War in Russia and Encyclopedia of Fascism and Anti-fascism—special titles that would appeal to international readers. "But we have not sold any rights to overseas publishers yet," says Kozhevnikov. "We also have not planned to issue e-books in the near future, though we are now seriously considering selling our content to e-book aggregators." Then there are thematic encyclopedias, such as the 15-volume Encyclopedia of Painting, which sells for around $350 and is among the bestsellers. Given all these publishing activities, it is not surprising to note that Terra printed its 10-billionth book with Bertelsmann-Arvato back in 1996.
For a publishing house considered small in the Russian context and ranked nowhere near the top 20 in terms of new titles or print run, Terra has a monopoly in the deluxe/collectible editions segment with its two book clubs, the most successful in the country. And now, its low-priced multivolume encyclopedias are setting the standards in the reference segment.
History is at the heart of Veche. Whether it is historical novels or military history, the publishing house has something to offer from its catalogue of well over 10,000 titles. Editor-in-chief Sergey Dmitriev, who recently bought Rory Clements's Martyr and Revenger, says, "Translations represent 15% of our 2010 list, and this figure is set to increase this year. Our major plans for the next 24 months are to produce more bestselling translations and e-books, and, as always, to offer readers an objective point of view on world history in various genres."
Veche's editorial team released a series commemorating the 60th anniversary of WWII with a total print run of one million copies a few months ago. It is set to become yet another bestseller. But for now the distinction of being Veche bestsellers belongs to three big series: 100 of the Greats (on world history, told through specific personalities, events, or cultural masterpieces), Military Adventures (fictitious accounts), and Actual History (in which historians, politicians, and journalists, both native and foreign, discuss contemporary Russian history). Among the many authors, novelist Valentin Pikul, whose war and naval historical novels have been adapted for the screen, emerges as its most popular. Meanwhile, rights sales have started in earnest. "We are in the midst of selling several titles, including Vladimir Shiguin's Kursk: 10 Years Later, Alexey Isayev's 1945: Triumph in the Offensive and Defensive and Vladimir Lebedev's Treasures and Relics of the Romanovs," adds Dmitriev, whose team is in negotiation with Bellona (Poland) and Helion (Great Britain).
About 800 new titles (with print runs averaging 5,000 copies each) are added each year. Interestingly, 90% of Veche titles are in hardcover. Says Dmitriev, "Our readers and distribution partners prefer that. In fact, it has become a tradition for us to release any title in hardcover." Currently, the number of e-books stands at around 500. "We collaborate with LitRes on e-books, and the agreement is that 50% of the revenue goes to them, 20% to the author and the rest to Veche." Each e-book currently retails at around 80 rubles ($2.80).
Recent years saw Veche adding trade titles to its portfolio, such as books on pets, hobbies, travel, medicine, and health. "While our passion is for anything historical, we are also mindful of what our readers would like to have on their bookshelf. And as a for-profit company, it makes perfect sense to widen our publishing program to cover different segments."
Other Players in the Market Place
It is impossible to cover all major players in this article, but there are several names that PW wants to mention briefly. In the textbook segment—one that is seeing increased cooperation with American and British publishers—there are Prosveshcheniye, Drofa, and BINOM, while Eksamen produces mostly study and test guides. In the college and academic segment, Infra-M has 50% share of the law market and 36% in business and economics. On the other hand, Vlados, largely regarded as a humanitarian publisher, produces titles for teachers and teacher trainers dealing with special needs children. Trade publisher Vremya focuses on 20th-century Russian authors, especially of prose and poetry, while no one does it better than Slovo when it comes to illustrated coffee-table books and art titles.
Many of the publishers named in this report will be attending the 2011 London Book Fair (April 11–13). Just head to the Russian Pavilion (Stand W555), and get to know them and their authors better.
The task of selecting a representative group from a pool of 20,000 registered publishers—6,000 of which are active—is daunting, and it was made possible through the help of many. PW would like to thank the following for making this report a reality: Vladimir Grigoriev, deputy head of the Federal Agency of Press and Mass Communications for supporting our efforts; Alexandra Shipetina, v-p of Centrepolygraph (as well as v-p of the Russian Book Union) for contacting major publishers and other industry players, fixing up appointments, and acting as our general minder; and Viktor Nemchinov (in Moscow) and Natalia Ivashova (in St Petersburg), interpreters par excellence.
Top 15 publishers in 2010
|Rank||Publisher||Title output||Rank||Publisher||Total no. of copies (in thousands)|
|7||OLMA Media Group||1,099||7||Rosman||12,317|
|8||Fenix||1,016||8||OLMA Media Group||10,632|
|9||Ripol Classic||979||9||Ripol Classic||8,194|
Top 10 authors in 2010 (adult titles)
|3||Arthur Conan Doyle|
Top 10 authors in 2010 (children's books)
|5||Hans Christian Andersen|