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Ukrainian readers boosting book sales

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April 10, 2008, 4:01 a.m. |
Growing salaries, a higher Ukrainian-speaking customer base, a thirst for fiction and more modern retail outlets have Ukrainian publishers optimistic. quality are making Ukraine’s publishing houses optimistic about future business prospects.

A key trend emerging during the last three years is the increasing share of customers who don’t care which language – Ukrainian or Russian – they buy, said Oleksandr Krasovitskiy, director of Kharkiv-based Folio. Customers today choose books by judging prices and overall quality (translation and design). The main reason for this is the increasing number of high school and college graduates who studied in the Ukrainian language and are comfortable reading Ukrainian books, he said. Demand is highest for modern Ukrainian fiction, said industry insiders.

“The trend that started in 2005 and continues today is a retail book boom, the debut of new chains and the renovation and expansion of old ones, fueled by foreign capital entering the market,” said Ksenia Sladkevych, managing partner at MSBrand Corporation, which provides public relations for the Calvaria publishing house.

The foreign capital is fronted mainly by Austrian, Polish and Russian retailers who have established chains in Ukraine. Russia’s Top Kniga and Litera, Austria’s Ye and Polish Bukva chains have all opened stores, she said.

The growing interest is partly due to the increasing number of higher quality books delivered to readers by domestic publishers.

“The quality of Ukrainian books completely meets world standards in terms of publishing, book design and especially texts,” said Leonid Finkelshtein, chief editor of Kyiv-based Fact. “I think that Ukraine now has between 10 and 20 publishing houses that produce world-class books.”

Along with improved quality comes increased quantity. More titles are available, while the average circulation remains the same, Krasovitskiy said.

The number of titles increased from 15,720 in 2005 to 17,987 in 2007, while the average circulation increased from about 54 million in 2005 to 56 million in 2007, according to the Book Chamber of Ukraine, the state­owned, non­profit organization subordinate to the State Television and Radio Committee.

The growing volume has increased the number of bookstores selling Ukrainian titles, especially in the niche market, which "hardly existed ten years ago and currently increases at about 40 percent per year,” Krasovitskiy said. Books on self­improvement, such as yoga and feng shui, and books on marketing and management, are quite popular, he said.

“Many Ukrainian publishing houses put themselves into the niche of training literature, where Russians are not represented, because training literature is in the Ukrainian language and in accordance with the training programs of Ukraine’s Ministry of Education, and it's the same with literature on legal issues,” Krasovitskiy said. A­BA­BA­HA­LA­MA­HA publishing house created its own niche of expensive, high­ quality and in fact, exclusive children’s books,” he said.

Despite the Ukrainian publishing growth, the Russian publishing business is currently dominating the market, industry insiders said.

Ukrainian publishers consider it to be a question of time before the tide turns.

They find ways to compete with the Russian publishing businesses, but the question of domestic market protection remains.

“If the state wants to have a healthy national publishing industry, it has to either support national producers, or tax imported publications,” said Rostyslav Semkiv, director of Smoloskyp Publishers.

At the same time, first signs of broader competition in the Ukrainian and Russian publishing markets are emerging, Sladkevych said. The competition is for internationally well­known authors (outbidding and attracting them by various methods), but there is an interest in newcomers too, she said.

While world­renowned authors are popular, Western publications are not, as their share of the market is less than half of one percent, Krasovitskiy said.

Despite good prospects for growth, Ukrainian publishing houses face a number of challenges, among them the level of retail trade development and the lack of bookstores, experts said.

Another difficulty is publishing translated and international books, as publishers often don’t have the capital to pay for copyright and translation fees. “For example, in my publishing house, translated literature accounts for 10 percent of all books and even this was made possible by grants from foreign embassies,” Finkelshtein said.

Intellectual property rights violations are a continuing problem in the market. Ukrainian publishers are competing against a large number of pirated books, Semkiv said.

This problem is especially important for translated books, as many publishing houses do not conclude agreements with authors or foreign publishers, he said.

At the same time, the situation on the Ukrainian copyright market is slowly changing. “Several years ago, it was difficult to imagine Ukrainian publishing houses buying one another’s licenses for modern Ukrainian authors’ texts,” Sladkevych said. Yet over the last few years, the publishing house Calvaria sold more than 30 such licenses, she said.

The lack of government support also is a hindrance, industry insiders said.

“The state should give money not for books but for development, so that publishing houses are able to pay salaries to employees, buy modern equipment and organize trade in various cities of Ukraine,” he said.

The other problem is a lack of high­ skilled book critics, mass media editors and journalists writing on literature, Sladkevych said.

Nevertheless, industry insiders expect further market development.

“We have a normal situation with book sale volumes and I think that the redistribution of the market will take place in the near future, in terms of books published in Ukraine in Ukrainian,” Krasovitskiy said. “Russian publishers will follow suit and open offices in Ukraine to publish in Ukrainian.”
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