I believe that Yogi Berra once said that in New York City, everybody drives but nobody owns a car. Well, according to some recent Publishing Perspectives posts, in Russia almost everybody who still reads anymore reads e-books, but almost nobody buys them.
The number of readers in Russia has been declining, and the Russian book market is declining too. The market contracts annually by 5 to 7%. 20% of Russia’s bookstores have closed since 2010. And paper book circulation has declined by 33% since the year 2000. This may be in part due to a switchover to e-books.
According to a recent infographic, only 56% of Russians have read 1 or more books in the last year. Of those who do read, 70% read e-books. But of those who read e-books, only 15% actually buy them! (92% admit to downloading them from pirate sites, and 36% copy them from friends…who probably also downloaded them from pirate sites.) And Western authors think they have piracy problems!
Russia’s e-book market looks a lot like the US market did pre-Amazon. Out of a RUB 60 billion (USD $2 billion) book market, e-books make up only 250 million rubles (USD $8 million). Even though e-books are significantly cheaper in Russia than in the West (the typical Russian e-book costs the equivalent of USD $3), the commercial selection of legitimate e-books is considerably poorer. The stores have 60,000 titles, while pirates boast 100,000 to 110,000 or more.
“The current situation with pirated content in the Russian e-book market could be explained by the lack of legal alternatives in terms of service, product range and prices,” says [Russian publishing-industry analyst Andrei] Yurchenko. ”Once such alternatives will be available, it should go a long way toward solving the problem.”
Russia’s state media agency has launched an anti-piracy campaign, urging readers to buy legally and not “steal” from authors (complete with an advertisement featuring shadowy hands reaching out to steal things from authors as they make their case to the public), but it’s unclear how effective this will be if the titles that people want to read aren’t even available legally.
This seems to jibe with a story I wrote a couple of years ago, looking at Russian bookstore Litres.ru and Valve Software as two e-media companies who were trying to fight piracy in Russia. Of the two, Valve seemed to be the more successful—Russia was Valve’s second-biggest European market, behind Germany—which Gabe Newell put down to providing better service and availability:
But the point was, the people who are telling you that Russians pirate everything are the people who wait six months to localize their product into Russia. … So that, as far as we’re concerned, is asked and answered. It doesn’t take much in terms of providing a better service to make pirates a non-issue.
It looks as though Litres is still lagging behind the pirates in providing that type of service. Perhaps once more books are available legally, more Russians will buy them? We can only hope.