The 16th century saw the first developments in publishing in Latvia, but the industry was dominated by German publishers until the mid-19th century. Publishing books in the Latvian language in Latvia became widespread only in the last decades of the 19th century, and many publishing houses were established at the beginning of the 20th century. A variety of books was published during the first period of Latvian independence, between the two world wars. The peak came in 1936, when a total of four million copies of 1,601 titles were published (with an average print run of 2,500 copies per title).
In 1940, just before the Soviet occupation of Latvia, there were nearly 500 publishing houses in the country. During the Soviet years, publishing was controlled, financed, politically censored, and carefully planned by the Soviet government. The industry was concentrated in five state-run publishing houses, and everything had to be approved by myriad Soviet institutions.
A Financially Sound Industry
Despite this, publishing was considered the largest creative industry in Latvia, based on income and number of employees. After Latvia regained independence in the early 1990s, the publishing sector was the first to be privatized. New publishing houses were founded, and the number of new titles published each year now exceeds that of the first period of independence.
Today, there are some 70 trade publishers, which combined release an estimated 2,150 titles per year; the total number of titles in print in the Latvian language is around 11,500. Of these, nearly 2,000 are available as e-books. Some 150 bookstores dot the Latvian landscape. With no law about fixed book prices, the bookselling market remains competitive, and the average price for a book is pegged at around €12. Overall revenue for the industry is between €25 million and €30 million, and a single publisher, Apgāds Zvaigzne ABC, accounts for nearly half of that.
The Love of Poetry
Annual competitions for the best fiction, poetry, children's books, and book design show a great variety and high quality of artistic work, design, and creative thinking. Tradition and innovation go hand in hand here; readers eagerly anticipate new books by well-established authors as well as literary debuts. Two well-established literary festivals add flair to the offerings: September's annual Poetry Days tradition dates back to 1960, and annual prose readings have grown from a small literary event, in the mid-1990s, to a full week of various activities and visiting foreign authors. The Children's Jury, a program that promotes reading, and the International Baltic Sea Region Jānis Baltvilks Prize help boost interest in books among children and increase YA readership. This year, Liels un Mazs, arguably Latvia's top children's publisher and winner of the two previous prizes, was shortlisted for the prize of Best Children's Publisher of the Year in Europe by the Bologna Children's Book Fair.
In Soviet times, the lack of popular culture led people to poetry, and poetry remains at the center of Latvian literary culture. In 2016, there were almost as many poetry books (186) as fiction titles (208) written and published in Latvian. Then, in 2017, the top-selling book was 365 / Part 1, a book of poetry published by Guntars Račs, a Latvian pop star. It sold 9,000 copies, an impressive number. Latvian readers follow global trends as well: the second-bestselling title was Torn Lace by Karīna Račko, an erotic novel in the vein of Fifty Shades of Grey, and the fourth-bestselling title was Origin, by global bestseller Dan Brown.
The basis of this article was provided and written by Latvian Literature, with additional reporting by Ed Nawotka.