What's with the book industry?

The recent 21st Moscow International Book Fair showed that the domestic book industry failed to come up with any new trends or strategies in the past year.

The Moscow International Book Fair (MIBF), which takes place every September, is considered the biggest event in the domestic publishing area, and a benchmark for conclusions about developments in the industry and its current state.

What has changed in the year that has passed since the last MIBF? Have there been any major new trends? How have the publishers adapted to the changing environment and new challenges? Those are normal questions that are asked at a time of any new Moscow book fair. And, answering to those questions this year, many would just shrug.

What was this year's book fair's biggest theme? It's hard to say, if we don't talk about those officially imposed. What was the main event? Again, it is hard to tell. True, there were some events to commemorate the late write Alexander Solzhenitsyn, but his death just happened to almost coincide with this year's MIBF.

Have there been any new trends that the recent book fair helped to single out? Probably not. As some observers note, the hottest books remain those written by people other than professional writers - that is politicians, pop stars and so on. But that trend began a few years ago, and publishers are continuing to capitalize on it just for the lack of anything better. Even people who have a very limited understanding of how the book business works know that books by people whose faces you see often on television and on the covers of glossy magazines are set to sell well - regardless of their creative value and the input of those people in writing them. One of the most publicized books of this year's MIBF was one based on interviews with president Dmitry Medvedev, which, again, should be viewed in the political and social context rather than a literary one.

Meanwhile, for an average reader, the book fair is just an opportunity to buy some books cheaper that in the stores, as most publishers bring their books to the fair to sell them directly to customers, which allows them to set lower prices. So, hundreds of ardent readers are moving around the fair, looking for bargains.

And here we come to one major issue for the book industry: books in Russia are just too expensive for an average reader. Their retail prices are almost like in Western Europe while incomes of most population groups are nowhere near those in, say, Germany or Great Britain. Meanwhile, publishers are complaining that their overhead costs are too high and so are the retailers' margins. The retailers, in turn, are complaining about skyrocketing rent.

Book prices in Russia may have really reached the point at which raising them wouldn't make any sense: they are already too high, and if they go any higher, people will be less and less willing to buy them. For years, publishers have been trying to find ways to sell more books, but some of them seem to be so disappointed that they are turning to more profitable areas, such as publishing magazines or running online portals. Two big payers in the Russian book market, Eksmo and Olma Media Group, recently announced plans in that area.

At the same time, the arrival of new technology in the publishing area is slow and far from smooth. Prospects of electronic versions of books are unclear because people here are unwilling to pay for, say, reading books online or downloading them to their portable devices. The e-book division of the web portal KM.ru, which provided subscribers with access to hundreds of books in an electronic format recently closed down due to losses.

In this situation, when the future looks not exactly rosy for the domestic book industry, new ideas and strategies are vital, but there seem to be none or too few of them.


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