Sunday, September 5, 2010

Notes from the Moscow Book Fair

I was not sure what to expect in coming to the Moscow Book Fair. I have to admit to being wary based on stories from a fellow Reed employee that had traveled there several times. The one thing that was off putting was that unless you are fluent in the language - it is impossibly tough to get around. There is no system for taxis so you would have to flag down private drivers and negotiate. They will charge you $50 or even $100 to drive you 3 blocks if you can't communicate with them. Fortunately Svetlana Adjoubei who represents BEA in Russia in addition to running the Russian literary press Academia Rossica was a wonderful host. I can go on about what a force she is in Russian publishing, but that would take up this entire post. Suffice to say she and her staff were generous, thoughtful hosts and dynamic in their jobs. It is an amazing city. Describing sites like Red Square and the Kremlin - that would take 2 more posts - so I will move along.

What I want to share is that Russia is a surprisingly developed market considering it is only 20 years old. Roughly 40-50% of the books published are translated works - the majority coming from English language which sell particularly well. Talking with Irina Shishova, Foreign Rights Director from Eksmo - Russia's largest publisher with annual revenue of over $215mm was very informative. Eksmo is a general trade publisher and they publish about 1,000 titles a month! She bought rights to 1,350+ titles in the last year. There are bigger challenges because distribution network has not kept pace with the growth in publishing. There are 11 times zones in Russia which adds significant shipping costs that can make books very expensive and have huge pricing disparity based on location. That also forces larger print runs so book orders can be fulfilled without having to reprint. We chatted with Arkady Vitrouk, CEO of Azbooka-Atticus Publishing Group, with $50mm in turnover they are Russia's 3rd largest publisher. They are doing 500 titles annually with 70% coming from acquired rights. They do have success in selling some fiction rights in the US. We also met with the PR Director from - the easiest description is saying they are the Amazon of Russia. They posted 21% growth in 2009 - unheard of considering that was the height of the global financial crisis. They invested without any bank financing in a $20mm new distribution center. In 2009 Ozon processed 1,460,204 orders that were shipped to 105 countries. Their turnover (if I coverted correctly) is around $105mm. They carry 370,000 titles, 200,000 in foreign language. They sell more than 9,000 books a day and sold 3.7 million in 2009. They will be launching their own e-reading device as well. The demo reader was due to be delivered the day after we met with them. There are a number of e-book devices available in Russia, but piracy is a big issue. More than one of the publishers we talked with would be surprised if more than 10% were legitimate and not pirated copies that are being downloaded.

There are also challenges in breaking Russian writers and titles outside of Russia. Once they have some success, they tend to rush subsequent titles to press sacrificing the curation and editing process that enabled the original success, killing long term success for short term gains.

Russian publishing is a market that is growing - which can't be said about larger markets like the US or the UK. They have a vision and support from the Dept. of Press and Mass Communications. We spent a lot of time with their Deputy Director, Vladimir Gregoriev. He intends for Russia's publishing industry to be a player on the global stage. If I had to bet any money on the outcome, I would put it all on Mr. Gregoriev.
Steven Rosato
Event Director-BookExpo America
Sent from my BlackBerry

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