Russia's book market is on the rebound. According to Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi, $1 billion worth of books were printed in Russia last year alone. The number of bookstores has also increased, and an increasing number of them are open 7 days a week. The wide variety of reading material in Russia satisfies the interests of nearly everyone.
Russia's publishing boom is not going unnoticed by the outside world. As the number of Russian authors and publishers who come to Germany to promote their books increases, visitors to the Frankfurt Book Fair display a growing interest in Russian literature, the director of the fair, Volker Neumann, said. According to him, more than 200 publishing houses and more than 100 authors took part in the 2003 Frankfurt Book Fair.
Since the early 1990's, there has been a steady demand for popular fiction, especially crime stories. Detectives-turned-authors, such as Alexandra Marinina, offer an insider's perspective on police investigations. Darya Dontsova, Viktor Dotsenko, Tatyana Polyakova, and Tatyana Ustinova write ironic crime stories. Boris Akunin writes highly slylized historical detective stories.
Intellectual literature is also in demand, however, the selection is slim. Polls indicate that 17% of readers prefer the classics. Contemporary authors, like Lyudmila Ulitskaya, Tatyana Tolstaya, Viktor Pelevin and Viktor Erofeyev are quite popular, but their books are mostly interesting for their style, not content. "An enjoyable read, but the message is too vague," Nataliya Perova, a 40-year-old bank teller and a passionate reader, described a much-hyped book by one of the authors mentioned above. Intellectual books have print runs of 5,000-10,000, as domestic publishers are unwilling to take a chance on authors that common Russians might find too pretentious or unintelligible, a Vagrius Press official explained. "I can understand less than a half of his ideas. Or maybe there just aren't any in there? Only his style redeems him," Alexei Pavlov, a 35-year-old doctor, remarked about one of Russia's contemporary intellectual novelists. Mr. Pavlov said that he relied on Western authors for intellectual stimuli.
Indeed, many Russian readers, like Mr. Pavlov, now satisfy their hunger for serious fiction with books by foreign authors. Intellectual literature is gaining a strong foothold on Russia's foreign language book market, noted Alexei Mikheyev, the head of the adult fiction unit at Rosman Press. "Our publishing house alone has just launched ten new series of such books. Of course, it's hard to create a full-fledged brand in a year, but, judging from the sales, we have all necessary prerequisites [for growth]," Alexei Shekhov of Eksmo Press, said.
Paulo Coelho, Haruki Murakami, Milorad Pavic, Umberto Ecco, Richard Bach, Milan Kundera, Patrick Suskind, Allesandro Barrico, and John Fowles are among the best-selling foreign authors in Russia. Reprints of works by Erich-Maria Remark, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Herman Hesse are also popular.
According to publisher Igor Zakharov, intellectual fiction is popular primarily with middle class Russians, who still enjoy reading but are not willing to read elitist or popular fiction. Low-income readers, who cannot afford Western fiction, have to read books from public libraries or their own private collections.
"In the past, I used to buy books quite often. I could afford to. But now they are too expensive, 100 rubles or more [$1= 28.5 rubles]. I've got two children [to support] and my salary is $100 a month. It'd be too much of a burden on my family budget to keep up with the latest books," said Irina Vlasova, a school teacher from Pskov, in north-western Russia.
Nine percent of the Russians do not read at all because of lack of money, time, or interest. "I have just enough time to thumb through magazines on my way to work," Kirill Tarasenko, a 30-year-old manager, confessed. "After a hard day at work, I'm too exhausted for anything but television," said Yuri Shchepin, a 24-year-old auditor.
"Young people rarely read now because they prefer movies and television to written material, and the latter is much less intellectually demanding," Karen Shakhnazarov, a movie director and the chairman and CEO of Mosfilm Studios, pointed out in a RIA interview. "It's difficult to curb the expansion of popular culture; this is something beyond our control. The tendency toward diluting individuality and the lack of distinctive writers, painters and musicians are global phenomena. But, this does not mean that nothing should be done to improve the situation. We must always keep in mind that Russia has a great culture."