In the 1990s, Ukraine inherited from the Ukrainian SSR a book distribution system, but it was almost destroyed because the role of the humanitarian policy in the security of the state was underestimated and because the authorities trusted market mechanisms too much. It resulted in a crisis of the Ukrainian book printing industry, a decrease of the culture of reading, a fall of the educational level of the population, and a fall of the prestige of intellectual work. All these conduced to the success of the Russian humanitarian expansion against Ukraine, and even the authorities’ steps aimed at introducing privileges for those who publish Ukrainian books did not help much.
Prior to 2013, the book market of Ukraine was focused, first of all, on sales of books imported from Russia, which affected negatively both Ukrainian publishers and audience. It is attested by a research carried out in 2013 by the Ukrainian association of publishers and distributors of books. According to its results, at that time, Russian books occupied 73-75% of the market, while Ukrainian ones – only 20-23%.
After Euromaidan (2014) and the beginning of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, the situation began to change promptly; people’s boycott of Russian goods concerned the book sphere as well. More than that, since 2014, Ukraine started to reconsider its cultural policy and to bring it into accord with the requirements of the humanitarian safety of the state, which, naturally, included the questions of regulating the book production market.
The year 2014 was marked in Ukraine by the growth of demand for everything Ukrainian, and at the end of 2016 the Ukrainian Supreme Council introduced restrictions on import of books from Russia, which led to an essential decrease of the quantity of Russian books in the Ukrainian market. For example, if in 2016 about 50 thousand titles of books were brought from Russia to Ukraine, then in 2017 import licenses were received by 7,7 thousand titles only. Book publishers in Ukraine supported these tendencies and started to print less books in Russian: in 2013 they published 27% of books in Russian, and in 2018 – 14%, which is essential less.
Ukrainian analysts say that the period since 2014 became the time when the national book market started to get formed. The considerable decrease of import of Russian books resulted in the increase of the offer on the part of Ukrainian publishers. Thus, in 2015-2018, the genre spectrum of Ukrainian books began to widen fast; the number of translations from foreign languages into Ukrainian increased. The only thing that hindered the development of the Ukrainian national market at that time was the low purchasing capacity of the population under the conditions of Russia’s hybrid war against Ukraine. Thus, in 2017-2018, the development of Ukraine’s book market was faced with visible stagnation tendencies. During that time, the Ukrainians bought less than one book in two years. In comparison, the Poles bought 2,5 times more and the Germans – 5 times more than the Ukrainians.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the situation only worsened. In 2020, in Ukraine, 343 publishing houses and 48 bookshops suspended their activity. In total, the volume of book publishing decreased by 23% as for the quantity of titles and by 34% as for the total amount in comparison with 2019. Online and offline sales of books decreased by 50%, meanwhile in the developed countries au contraire – sales of paper books increased by 5-8% (the USA, Germany, Japan). Want of Ukrainian-language literature was particularly visible in the eastern and southern areas of the country, especially in rural areas.
Large-scale literary events, exhibitions, and festivals had no big success; in total – losses of publishers under the lockdown conditions are estimated in 5 million hryven. However, it is necessary to notice that at this time the Ministry of Culture actively helped publishers by providing them with its institutional support.
It is possible to separately mention the presidential initiative „E-support“ that started to work in December 2021 – it was aimed at supporting the spheres that suffered from the epidemic most of all. The state gave everyone, who got vaccinated against COVID-19 twice, 1,000 hryven (approximately 30 euros) to buy from a certain list of services, among which, e.g., there were internal air and railway tickets, subscriptions to gyms, tickets to cinemas, theaters, and museums, and to purchase books. The Ukrainians liked to buy books most of all; it was this category that was the first in the list of services for which it was possible to pay e-cash.
In the spring of 2021, Ukraine started to discuss the Reading Development Strategy for 2021-2025, which was worked out by the Ukrainian Book Institute and the Ministry of Culture. The need of this strategy arose because in Ukraine the number of people who read books became to decrease essentially. Thus, according to the Book Institute, in 2018 there were 38% of regular readers who read books at least one time a week, and in 2020 – already 27% only. The Strategy presupposes an increase of the publishing of books and a growth of bookstores all across the country; it is aimed at restoring library book funds and inculcating a habit of reading.
One more step on the path of developing the culture of reading in the Ukrainian language was the bill „About introducing changes into the laws of Ukraine about the stimulation of the development of the Ukrainian book printing and book distribution“ taken as a basis by the Supreme Council of Ukraine in January 2022. The bill was aimed at stimulating the development of the Ukrainian book market as an important factor of national security and presupposed a growth of bookshops, circulations and titles of books, stimulation of reading of books in Ukrainian and a considerable decrease of the influence of the state-aggressor (Russia) on the Ukrainian book market.
On February 24th, Russia began a full-scale war against Ukraine. Unfortunately, it was impossible to find any exact data concerning the situation with authors. The monitoring of open sources demonstrates that a considerable quantity of representatives of the creative sector remained in the country: they fight against Russian aggressors, volunteer, and participate in meetings with fighters of the regular Army in the zones of operations.
In May 2022, the Ukrainian Book Institute carried out a poll among 188 publishers for the sake of forming a strategy of reconstruction of this branch after the war. According to the research results, only 32% of Ukrainian publishing houses are able to work in a full-fledged mode, 39% cannot work at all, and 29% can work only partially (to carry out their editorial and translation activity, to create book layouts, to work with authors).
According to Tetyana Popova, the coordinator of this poll, due to the absence of the financing of the book printing during the war, all publishers happened to be in an extremely difficult situation, particularly on the occupied territories where active operations are being conducted. E.g. a lot of books used to be printed in the Kharkiv Region where there used to be many printing houses. They became one of the first victims of bombardments. One more problem is the deficit and the growing paper prices, as well as the impossibility of selling the published books.
Another factor that affected the possibility of continuing the publishing business under the war conditions was the business of saving the copyright products, breadboard models of books, with which publishing houses used to work. The majority of publishers did manage to save their book editions, archives, and other objects of copyright (85%).
Also, it is important to underline that at the moment of the poll the overwhelming majority of employees of publishing houses were relatively safe (81%), and 19% – in a situation of varying degrees of danger: at war at the front; in the zones of operations.
Under the war conditions, it is impossible to evaluate the real state of things in the humanitarian cultural sphere because many libraries and objects of culture came to be in the zones of hot military operations. Thus, the monitoring of the information from open sources shows that in some Houses of Culture, where the Russian occupational troops stayed, Ukrainian books were simply destroyed, lacerated, or even fusilladed.
This information has been prepared with the help of the web-site of the Ministry of Culture and the Information Policy of Ukraine: https://mkip.gov.ua/news/7349.html
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