10:18 19.11.2021

Situation in book publishing critical, requires systemic measures from the state - industry representatives

6 min read

KYIV. Nov 19 (Interfax-Ukraine) – The lack of state support programs for book publishing, failure to implement the Strategy for the Development of Reading for 2021-2025, lack of funding for the purchase of books for libraries and priority funding for the publication of textbooks and teaching aids, the lack of effective measures to combat piracy provoked the critical situation in the industry of book publishing and culture, representatives of the industry have said.
"The Ukrainian government considers the sphere of culture as something secondary, marginal, optional, which neither requires state support and nor affects the state of society. In Ukraine, over 30 years of independence, we have tried to promote a program to support reading and books four times, but the Cabinet of Ministers has not approved," President of the Ukrainian Association of Publishers and Book Distributors Oleksandr Afonin said at a press conference at the Interfax-Ukraine agency on Thursday.
He also noted that the Cabinet of Ministers today has the Strategy for the Development of Reading for 2021-2025 "untouched", developed by the Ministry of Information Policy with the involvement of experts, but after its presentation in April of this year and support by the profile committee of the Verkhovna Rada, it has not been approved, which means it is not provided specific funding.
In addition, he added, almost a year ago, the parliament registered bills No. 5238 and No. 5239, providing, in particular, the exemption of book publishers from income tax during the crisis period, but their fate is also unknown.
Afonin also noted that the state budget for 2022 does not provide funds for the purchase of books to replenish the funds of libraries.
According to chairman of the board of the National Educational Association Victoria Voytsytska, the publication of the Ministry of Education of textbooks and teaching aids is underfunded in Ukraine every year, in particular, for 2022, only 40% of the need for pupils of the 9th grade is financed, and textbooks for children with special needs are not at all provided with funds for printing textbooks in Braille (the need is UAH 381 million).
"Ukraine is also today a leader in the violation of intellectual property rights, in particular, literary content and counterfeit products, but we have not seen a single criminal case against piracy initiated by law enforcement officers," Afonin said.
Director General of the Folio publishing house Oleksandr Krasovytsky noted that for many years book publishers have been talking about three main problems of the industry related to the state: the absence of library reform and government policy in the field of libraries, electronic and paper piracy, and the presence of a white-gray-black market for books from the Russian Federation.
He noted that in the past two years another problem has been added: in Ukraine there are many sellers of pirated paper Russian books, printed "under the table" for sale through marketplaces, and estimated their share at 10-15% of the market.
"We understand that the average book printed in Russia costs UAH 250 in Ukraine, the one printed in Ukraine costs UAH 170-180, and pirated – UAH 60-80, that is, the reader will choose the one that is cheaper. This has already led to the closure of market segments that have moved to the pirate level. And without the intervention of law enforcement officers in the activities of such marketplaces, nothing will work," he stressed.
Krasovytsky also noted the critical situation with bookstores in Ukraine.
According to him, if before the coronavirus crisis, the bookstore budget consisted of 60% of funds that are returned to publishers, 20% for salaries and 20% for rent, today, when a significant part of paper book sales went online, the amount that owners of book stores receive has decreased by about a third, or even halved, but the amount they spend on maintenance and salaries has remained.
"That is, this is already 40% and 40%, or 30% and 30%, and there is not enough money to pay off the publishers. Stores close along with debts, publishers take on the underpaid money, and the problem of stores is transferred to the publishing level - last year, 340 publishing houses out of about 1,250 stopped operating, and this number will increase," he said.
According to him, in such a situation, the Ukrainian market can be absorbed by the Russians, who "will spare no expense for this."
Director General of the Ranok publishing house Viktor Kruhlov noted that many employees have already been transferred to a part-time job in the publishing house, and there are publishing houses where 60-70% of the staff do not work.
"Last year, the number of circulations decreased by a third, and this year, compared with the already crisis last year, for 10 months we have a 20% drop in circulations. This is a catastrophic situation. If 30 years ago there were 3,000 bookstores in Ukraine, in 2019 - 250-300, then 52 bookstores were closed last year," he said.
In addition, an additional negative factor is the rise in prices for materials for books.
"This year materials began to rise in price: Ukrainian cardboard at the beginning of the year cost UAH 18,000 per tonne, now it is UAH 28,000 per tonne, then next year UAH 35,000-40,000 per tonne is expected. Offset paper costs now UAH 42,000, and in the next it will cost at least UAH 50,000. That is, materials have already risen in price by 30-80%, and next year they will double in price, which will affect the price and demand for books," Kruhlov said.
Following the results of the press conference, its participants outlined the necessary measures to support book publishing, in particular, to begin the implementation in full of the Strategy for the Development of Reading, to provide for the purchase of books in the areas to which it is planned to allocate UAH 1,000 to accelerate vaccination against COVID-19, to create conditions for lending to the subjects of the industry at a low interest rate (2-4%), carry out a systematic purchase for libraries in volumes that allow for an annual 5% renewal of library funds.
Among the good initiatives, Kruhlov noted bill No. 6287, registered in the Verkhovna Rada, which provides for reimbursement of rental costs for bookstores selling Ukrainian books (up to 20% of sales revenue) and gift certificates for the purchase of Ukrainian books at birth and at the age of 14.