• 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)


The advantages of digital, in spite of everything

Technology and the Web are advancing at such a speed in Russia that they appear to exceed the possibilities of traditional publishers. However, it is clear that digital could represent a significant qualitative leap in this country with regard to the distribution of written content.

Russian publishing has always faced an obvious obstacle: the problem of distributing paper books across the length and breadth of its vast geography. The writer Andrei Guelassimov describes the phenomenon based on his own experience:

When I wrote my novel Thirst, I happened to be living in Siberia. At that time, I had no means of publishing it. The nearest publishing company was thousands of kilometres away! So I uploaded the document to the Web free of charge. Then, when my novel was published on paper, the publishers wanted to take it off the Internet. But I received countless letters from readers living in remote regions who begged me not to withdraw the book from the Web, as that was the only access available to them. Our country is gigantic; it is difficult and expensive to transport goods. In Vladivostok or in Magadan, you can’t get hold of my book.[1]

In this sense, options like online stores, virtual libraries and even print on demand constitute an almost obligatory step. Such technologies represent the only way to ensure that an inhabitant of Siberia can access reasonably similar backlists to those available to a fellow citizen from Moscow and – above all – that there is a degree of equality with regard to the price each one pays.

In addition, a fair number of publishers and authors have been persecuted and censored for having published texts on sensitive topics. For example, Ad Marginem Press came under direct pressure over a novel by Bajan Shiryanov about drugs and a satirical work by Vladimir Sorokin that caricatured the figures of Stalin and Khrushchev. In the first case, the whole publication was seized; in the second, Alexander Ivanov – the director of the publishing house – was sentenced to two years in prison.[2] Just as we suggested in the study on publishing in the Arab world, digital could prove to be a freer means of publication in Russia too. Of course, censorship also inhabits the Web, but it tends to be much less effective – at least for the moment. This is another reason, therefore, for Russian publishers to explore electronic channels.

In any case, it will be essential for local publishers to accelerate their exploration of the digital field, since it is no longer just an option but an irreversible evolution. The more established publishers will probably find it harder to adapt, due to the very structure of the business they have been conducting in recent decades. However, newer and smaller ventures may succeed in getting fruitful experiments under way, insofar as they can network with the players that have emerged in recent years – virtual stores, digital distributors, online libraries, hardware companies and on-demand printers. Without such networking, it will be difficult for platforms and devices to find enough local texts, in which case the only possibilities left open will be piracy or else the uncontrollable arrival of closed systems from the US – with their own e-readers and their own content. The fastest way to speed up the formation of a local digital “ecosystem” will be to link up those new players with content producers – authors and publishers –, through a range of possible activities like conferences, training seminars and workshops. In this sense, the Knigabait 2010 exhibition, which brought together numerous digital entrepreneurs during the Moscow Book Fair, was a step in the right direction. In contrast to the other countries studied so far, Russia does not lack either infrastructure or capital. Thus, the elements required for a great electronic leap appear to be in place: all that is needed is the spark that can get them to make contact and ignite their immense potential.

  1. Cf. Cano, Amélie: “Le boom de l’édition numérique en Russie”, TV5Monde, 27th May, 2010.
  2. Cf. Kalder, Daniel: “Notes from the Underground: Indie Publishing in Putin’s Russia”, Publishing Perspectives, 16th March, 2010.


  1. thierry quinqueton

     /  27/08/2011

    Passionnant le témoignage d’Andrei Guelassimov :
    “Lorsque j’ai écrit mon roman La Soif, je vivais en Sibérie. À cette époque, je n’avais aucun moyen de le publier. La maison d’édition la plus proche se trouvait à des milliers de kilomètres ! J’ai donc mis le manuscrit en accès libre sur Internet. Ensuite, lorsque le roman a été publié sur papier, les éditeurs ont voulu le retirer du web. Mais j’ai reçu d’innombrables lettres de lecteurs qui vivaient dans des régions éloignées et me suppliaient de ne pas retirer le livre du web, parce que c’était l’unique accès dont ils disposaient. Notre pays est gigantesque ; il est difficile et onéreux de transporter les marchandises. À Vladivostok ou à Magadan, on ne peut pas trouver mon livre.”

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