Literature: lucrative Russian export

I have good and bad news about the Russian book market, and I'll start with the bad. The market growth rate has fallen somewhat recently.

Now, the good news is that although the growth rate was 25% for several years, the book market still grows by an impressive 15 percent, standing at $3.7 billion. 120,000 book titles and brochures are expected to be published by the end of this year.

As in most large book markets, major publishers are far ahead of the rest. These are EXMO and AST, as well as Prosveshchenie and Drofa, who specialise in educational books. Three of the four leaders were established no more than 15 years ago. As for the publishers that played a key role in Russia's intellectual life throughout the second half of the 20th century, they now lie in ruins with the loss of government support after many years of all-pervading control.

The past 15 years have changed the book market beyond recognition. Traders started from scratch to get new chain bookshops going, and publishers had to adapt to the new tastes of the reading public. The nation of Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy has turned to other authors. Paulo Coelho leads with half a million copies sold in Russia in the first six months of the year, with Danielle Steel a close second with slightly over 400,000.

The situation is slowly changing, with a recently launched government program of reading promotion. Government support is essential to meet the challenge the whole world faces.

The reader has turned out to be the most changeable and uncontrollable link in the chain. This, too, is improving. I saw it with my own eyes while queuing for long hours on the 7th Harry Potter Night.

Book market development is only in part a national cause. The start of the 21st century found Russia retaining its interest in translated books from all over the world, despite desire for self-sufficiency. Public interest in contemporary literature is rising. The Big Book prize, a recently established non-government book award in Russia ($115,000+), is highly sought. All this comes at the dawn of a new and promising era in literature. As we know, literature has always been one of the most lucrative Russian exports, not second to oil and furs.

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