Publishing in Russia
Dr. Yakov Shraiberg, President, ILIAC; First Deputy Director, Russian National Public Library for Science & Technology, Moscow Russia.

The development of publishing in Russia started, in fact, not in word, after 1991, when the following prerequisites appeared:

1. Conditions for private publishing and book trade.

2. Avalanche of computers and the Internet provided grounds for mastering new publishing technologies.

3. Abolishment of censorship and various censorial bodies lifted barriers for many publications and drastically shortened a book route from the author to the reader.

It would be wrong to say that the Soviet system hindered the development of publishing. Having monopolized it, the system often created favorable conditions for those publishing houses that were authorized to work. Large printing enterprises and paper-mills; wholesale storehouses; subordinate book trade; strict repertory and subject planning, and other means were used by the ruling administrative system in order to control and monitor publishing and book distribution in the interests of this system. At the same time, after 1991, the above publishing houses, storehouses, and bookstores remained in their places, and, thus, new publishing could start not from scratch, though the capacity of many printing enterprises was almost or totally exhausted, equipment worn out, technologies outdated. Nevertheless, thanks to that outdated equipment and technologies, publishing went on and workplaces were preserved.

From 1992, publishing and book trade suffered through a peculiar time. On the one hand, there were the euphoria of freedom from censorship and an opportunity to launch private business unbound by the economy of planned distribution. Both factors served as a basis for the establishment of numerous publishing and book trading firms, which, in spite of the paper, paint, and equipment deficiencies, started to engulf the newly-born market by their products. On the counters people were amazed to see books by the authors whose only mention could have led to big trouble not long before. Competition appeared. In pursuit of profit, publishers ignored not only the laws and norms inherent of standard publishing, i.e., mandatory copy, acquisition and printing of ISBN, ISSN, etc., but copyright itself, which had never enjoyed respect. On the other hand, drastic impoverishment of the population resulted in lower consumer's demand. Publishing houses began to fold up, and many were adjudged bankrupt. This tendency became apparent in the following years and remained till 1996—1997, when the first signs of stabilization in publishing appeared, and the advantages of the market economy gave their first results. Some characteristics of this transient period are shown on Slide 1.

Reforms in publishing were accompanied by the "on-the-go" mastering of new types of activity typical of all book-market actors, from the author to the reader. Thus, many publishing houses set up their own distribution service, knowing very little of the details of this job. Lack of the required entrepreneurship was typical of many newcomers, though old, long-existing bookstores were not efficient either in transforming their routine techniques. The former universal mediator who had always stood between a publishing house and a bookstore, Knigotorg, went over the Divide. To add to the troubles, computer technologies came on, and libraries, the most reliable and, at the same time, the most picky reader, ceased acquiring publications at a word of command and started to decide themselves what and where to buy.

In late 1996 and early 1997, people began to realize the importance of a universal information and technological connection for the author—publisher—printer—distributor—user (librarian) chain. Moreover, the first electronic publications appeared. A need in new reforms became apparent, but in 1996-1997 it was too early for them. The time became ripe three years later.

For you to better understand and estimate the state of publishing/book trade in Russia, here are more interesting facts and statistics.


Well, the years of 1996 and 1997 were critical, and publishing started to show signs of stability. The 1998 economic crisis evened the achievements again, and though not all publishing houses could pass a new barrier zone, many of them survived and preserved their positions.

Sociology notes that, in the structure of the population's leisure, book reading stands second after television watching (42.4% polled), newspaper reading (27.8%), and magazine reading (20.4%). In 1996, less than 300 books and pamphlets were published per 100 people (compare it with 321 in 1995, 1096 in 1991, and 320 in 1940). That same year, the number of books and pamphlets published by state-owned publishing houses was 37.2% less compared to those published by private ones and 12.1% less compared to those published by other publishing bodies; the number of copies printed by state-owned publishing houses reduced twice, and increased by 28.8% in private publishing houses.

In 1996, the Federal Program of Book Publishing Support gradually came into effect and provided many publishing houses with donations for socially significant literature, i.e., manuals, scientific publications, and encyclopedias (by no means thrillers or love stories that flooded the book market and took the place of political literature).

For the first time in late 1996 the number of national titles prevailed over foreign ones. State-owned publishing houses stopped claiming to donations and started competing with private houses, sometimes at the expense of their subject-scope responsibilities. Private publishing houses preferred to produce commercially profitable publications, and very soon saturated the market with them. Unable to withstand competition or having failed to adapt to a new situation, many publishing houses either folded their activity or closed. It is noteworthy that, in 1998, over 12000 publishing houses and various publishers obtained licenses, but only 5435 of them produced publications, and the latest reference book Publishing Houses of Russia printed in late 1999 mentions only 1600 publishing houses (though it is stressed that only publishing houses actively involved in publishing business have been included). The fact is that only 15% of opened publishing houses really function! However, we can say for sure that they satisfy the market demand, or, maybe, almost satisfy.

So since the end of 1996 the growth of publishing output has begun, which means unambiguously that the period of crisis connected with 1990-91 events and subsequent break-up of national economy is over. Slides 2, 3, 6 demonstrate sample statistical data of publishing output in Russia. (Let me emphasize that these statistical data relate only to obligatory copies supplied by publishers to the Russian Book Chamber in accordance with the Law on obligatory copy. This fact imposes certain limitations on the analyzed information because, according to different estimates, only 60-70% of publishing output is registered with the obligatory copy procedure. In spite of measures taken by the Ministry of Publishing, many enterprises and especially small private publishing houses do not observe this Law. Therefore we need to extrapolate all estimates by 30-40%, which is actually performed by many experts willing to evaluate the true scope of publishing market in Russia.)

Table 1 demonstrates the growth of books and brochures publishing in comparison with 1991 by three categories of publishing houses: state; private or joint-stock publishing houses; publishing organizations (ministries, institutes, libraries, etc.). We can see from Table 1 that in spite of general growth of published books and brochures the volume of literature published by state organizations is decreasing. However, if we analyze data in Table 2 (Slide 3) with account of literature subject scope we'll see that the share of state publishers has reduced in the subject of fiction (2,8 times), economic literature (2 times), political literature (2,6 times). For other subjects the position of state publishing houses is yet solid.

Economic literature publishing experienced a strong growth in output volume in 1991-96 due to increased interest to emerging new economic conditions. The demand for literature has increased dramatically in such areas as banking and finance, advertising, marketing, market relations, law, entrepreneurship, business management, tax system, address and reference information as well as commercial information on goods and state of the market. Many publishing houses have considerably improved their solidity and position in the market by publishing literature of economic profile (SLIDE 4).

Among these we can mention old publishing houses well recognized in the world such as Finance, Finance and Statistics, Science, Economics and also new publishing houses born after 1991 and specializing on economic and business literature: ASMD-Press, BEK, EKMOS, FBK-Press and others.

In 1998 the RF Ministry of Publishing performed a regular rating analysis of publishing houses activities including evaluation of their main indicators. It is important that publishing houses specializing on educational literature and fiction retained the first positions in the rating list, the share of publishers of literature for children having increased. Total numbers and the list of 20 winners are given in Table 3 (Slide 5) where total numbers of titles, copies and pages show that the state of the art in book publishing has become stable, that pre-crisis situation has been overcome and positive trends dominate. More than 47 700 titles with the total number of 409 mln. copies were published in 1999, which exceeds the 1998 level by 3 mln. copies. It is interesting that 78% of total number of copies was provided by 53 non-state publishing houses. It means that today non-state publishing houses publish literature that is in greatest demand. Publishing houses have become financially stable and this is one of the main results of publishing business in Russia today.

Publishing of serials and periodicals is growing (Table 4, Slide 6) and the growth is seen not only in total numbers but also is especially evident in such subjects as politics, natural science, technology, medicine. Unlike books, the publishing of fiction periodicals hasn't had any significant changes.

Some conclusions based on the performed analysis are given in Slide 7.

State support to publishing is performed through the Federal Program of Book Publishing Support. In 1999 about 700 publications were printed by 193 publishers in the framework of the Program. Printing industry has also regained its pre-crisis level and even increased its facilities performance in natural indicators in comparison with 1990. However, there is still a strong dependence of printing enterprises on imported equipment and materials. For instance, in 1999 Russia imported printing equipment in the total amount of 145 mln USD and materials for printing industry in the total amount of 190 mln USD. Along with these facts, mass media publications and analytical reviews of publishing industry leaders and experts allow us to make a conclusion that publishing industry and book trade in total have become stable and are even turning into a profitable business.

However, there is a number of critical points in the industry, the main of them are as follows.

  1. Insufficient use of data on sales which are the basis of market criteria.
  2. Absence of general coordinating unit on standards and classification of common interaction elements of book market actors, first of all publishing houses, book sellers and libraries.
  3. Lack of attention at the government level to the emerging industry of electronic publications.
  4. Absence of monitoring of publishing and book-selling business in the scope of the whole country with modern tools and information technology.
  5. Problems of depository storing electronic copies of printed editions and independent electronic publications as well as organizational and technological links with the printed publications depository haven't been solved yet.
  6. No lucid economic and organizational mechanism for increasing the interest of non-state publishing houses in cooperating and following to formal rules by all book market actors.

To solve these and other still existing problems in the unification of publishing and related technologies it has been decided to create an expert group. Such group was created in late 2000 at the RF Ministry of Publishing, TV Broadcasting and Mass Media Communications (Ministry of Publishing), and in a very short time it developed the new Federal Target Program "Printing in the 21st century" and outlined the ways of its implementation.

The "Printing in the 21st century" Program should become an important component of the state system of target and Sci-Tech programs in the field of information and information technologies in libraries and book publishing (Fig. Slide 8), should accomplish most important at present tasks of unification and technological optimization of the processes of creation, distribution and use of printed and electronic publications with account of new trends as the country enters the information society.

The Program objective is to define and develop a unified system of regulatory and technological documents aimed at unification and technological optimization of the processes of creation, distribution and use of printed and electronic publications to the benefit of users and the society as a whole. Another important part of the Program's general objective is to create and maintain the model electronic depository of all publications in the framework of the whole country. This objective can be achieved by implementing the suggested set of interrelated tasks, which define the Program's main sections.

The Program's main tasks consist in the solution of the following problems:

  1. Standardization and registration of printed books, journals, magazines and electronic publications:
  2. SIBID, ISO, ISBN, ISSN, DOIS, "Books-in-Print" systems and numbers;

  3. Automatic identification on the basis of bar coding as relates to the adoption of a common standard;
  4. Classification and indexing of publications. On the first stage – single UDC for publishers, booksellers and libraries;
  5. Bibliography: standards and formats. On the first stage – to bring together bibliographic standards used by publishers and libraries and accept a single version;
  6. Classification and division of activities dealing with publishing business, printing production and book trade;
  7. Statistics of publications, book trade and monitoring surveys;
  8. Demand, its evaluation and forecast;
  9. Electronic publications and design of National Depository of electronic copies of printed documents and independent electronic publications;
  10. Education and book publishing. Special attention should be given to coordination of educational literature publication and distribution.

Other problem issues of the Program:

It is also necessary to include into the Program following problems and objectives, which form together with other ones discussed earlier the full conceptual list of directions of the new Program activities, firstly:

  • Legal issues, licensing and fighting counter-fact and pirate publications;
  • New ways to the development of market information systems for book publishing and book trade including systems of subject planning, "Books in Print", Internet-catalogs and Internet-reference systems, databases on publishing houses (a register) and book trade companies – books exporters and importers, on oriented user groups and requests, others;
  • Unification of approaches to book fairs and exhibitions organization, their subject scope, contacts with adjacent institutions: libraries, computer companies, producers of printing and book trade technique, others;
  • Detailed development of the list of measures to take off any duplications of technological operations within the through system: "author – user";
  • Creation of new approaches, new economic orientations and subject priorities for the state policy in book publishing and book trade considering growth of the role of information technologies and society's information awareness;
  • Exact definition of the place and clarification of professional links with other federal, interdepartmental and international programs.

The system approach and linkage of all ideological and technological decisions into a single system from author and publisher to librarian and reader should be the pivot of the new Program. Taking off duplications and incorrect decisions and effective cooperation of publishing, printing production, book trade and library processes will not just help to save state and attracted means, but to create a really working technology of 21-st Century. This technology should be reasonably planned and calculated. It should contain single bibliographic and classification standards and rules, assist in effective use of information, taking off duplications and routine operations. It should be oriented towards development of book business for the benefit of all parts of our society.

The publishing community of Russia believes in the Program and hopes to have the successful results soon.

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