• Table of contents

    • [+]Preliminaries (3)
    • [+]Introduction (4)
    • [+]Latin America (13)
    • [+]Sub-Saharan Africa (9)
    • [+]Arab World (11)
    • [—]Russia (11)
    • [+]India (11)
    • [+]China (9)
    • [+]Conclusions (6)
    • [+]Appendix (1)


Publishers in the face of the digital revolution

So, given the profusion of software, hardware and digital business models, what is happening in the case of Russian publishers? According to Prohorenkov, the relative scarcity of content for new mediums is a bad sign:

We are not having much success with digital content. Publishers are afraid of illegal copies and don’t target the market for electronic books. As a result, we barely have a total of around 300,000 digitized works, which represents a lot less than the content available in the US. A normal store sells about 30,000 or 40,000 items at most. In contrast to the US, in Russia device manufacturers and content aggregators tend to work separately.[1]

Piracy is a problem that is often mentioned in the debates within the sector. The tone of these discussions is usually one of resignation, and the fact that sites for unauthorized downloads of books in Russian continue to proliferate, even in countries as far away as Ecuador[2], is proof of the difficulties faced by publishers in their attempts to deal with this challenge – in spite of the efforts of Litres and other platforms. In this sense, the apprehension felt by traditional publishers in the face of the digital age is understandable.

Artem Stepanov, an editor at Mann, Ivanov and Ferber, says there is vicious circle in operation within the Russian market: users are not used to paying for an intangible product, and even when they are willing to pay, they have trouble finding legal download sites, since these portals tend to sell very little and the big publishing houses are not enthusiastic about giving them their best content. According to Stepanov, sales of e-readers increased considerably in 2010 and you can see people using these devices on the subway or bus every day. Nevertheless, sales of e-books are not going up, partly for economic reasons: users buy a 200 or 300 hundred dollar e-reader knowing that all they have to do then is enter pirated sites to download their favourite texts for free. The conclusion reached by Stepanov is categorical:

It seems to me that a major shift in behaviour will happen when Apple or Amazon enters the Russian market. I already see that people buy apps for iPhone and iPad just because it’s very easy and fast. When buying e-books is this simple then we’ll see big changes. Unfortunately now it’s easier to find a pirate book (you just google the title and get several working links) than to buy a legal file.[3]

The creators of Bookmate also join the debate and suggest an alternative explanation. They agree with the vicious circle hypothesis, but they attribute it to the publishers rather than the readers:

The paper book market gives the impression of being very important, but nobody has the rights for digital. The public interest in e-books is enormous and is growing day by day; however, the publishers don’t show any interest, perhaps because there is no market yet. And there is no market because the publishers don’t show any interest… this situation is not going to be easily changed. Things are even worse for translated works, because Western authors don’t target this market at all – Russia scares them.[4]

Confirming this view, Mikhail Ivanov, also from the publishing house Mann, Ivanov and Ferber, comments:

We have allocated money to the publication of e-books, but this sector represents just 1% of our earnings, and we don’t have much time to devote to the topic. In fact the digital sector involves additional complications, for example, the need to sign an ad hoc contract, relating to electronic rights.[5]

  1. January 2011, cited supra.
  2. As is the case of the site Librusek.
  3. Personal interview, January 2011.
  4. Cf. supra.
  5. Cf. nº 8 (300), 9th August, 2010.

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