More than Half of All Books Published in Russia Now Issued in Fewer than 1,000 Copies

July 9, 2015
Photo: Alexei Antonov / Profile

Staunton, July 8 – Fifty-three percent of all books published in Russia last year were issued in print runs of under 1,000 copies, with the average tirage of the 112,100 books published there now standing at 4,330 copies, continuing downward trends of the last six years and isolating many of these works from their audiences in Russia and abroad.

But this figure may simultaneously overstate and understate the problem, according to experts with whom three writers for spoke. Konstantin Sukhorukov of the Russian Book Chamber said he did not think that the number of books had been declining but rather the many issued in low tirages were not being registered with the authorities.

Except for last year, when there really was an overall decline in both the number of books published and their print runs, the number of books has been rising unregistered by officials: Indeed, he says, “several tens of thousands of titles of such [low tirage] book have not been recorded in the statistics.”

At the same time, Sukhorukov says, Russia at least formally is a more “reading” nation than was the Soviet people. “In the best years of the Soviet Union,” he says, “some 80,000 titles were published each year. But [even] in 2014, in Russia, 112,000 were put out,” despite the population being half as large and more sources of information available.

He suggests that the decline in the size of print runs is entirely “natural,” the product of the fact that the population is declining in size and aging. There are more pensioners, while the number of students and young people – “the most reading part of the population” – has fallen significantly.

Publishing is increasingly concentrated, officials say, with a few large houses based in Moscow issuing the vast majority of books in terms of both titles and tirages. The economic crisis has hit those outlets which issue only a few books a year hardest, driving many of them out of the market altogether.

The great problem publishers face, some of their leaders say, is distribution. There are few networks that convey books to potential purchasers, especially outside of Moscow and a few large cities. As a result, many Russians in the provinces do not have access to the latest publications.

Increasingly, publishers are relying on the Internet to find buyers, but one thing they have not done is move very far toward e-books. At present, statistics suggest, fewer than one percent of all copies of books issued in Russia are put out in an electronic format – even though those who do issue books in that format say their sector is growing ten to fifteen percent annually.