The State of the Ukrainian Book Publishing Sector During Wartime

December 22, 2022
UkraineWorld spoke to Oleksandra Koval, Director of the Ukrainian Book Institute.

Key points – in our brief, #UkraineWorldAnalysis:

1. On how the war is affecting the book publishing sector

  • The war has led to an up to 50% drop in demand and production compared to the previous year. This indicator does not even include textbooks for high school publication. Before the war, they made up more than 40% of the total circulation, but not a single textbook was published in 2022. The reason is the lack of funds in the state budget to pay publishers and distribute the books to schools.
  • Texts about the war are found in online literature, and projects devoted to documenting and understanding the war appear on the Internet. This year, the bulk of the books being published were those prepared for publication in 2021, so the thematic offerings are the same as before the war - fiction, non-fiction, children's books, and others.

2. On worldwide response to Ukrainian books

  • This year, the Ukrainian Book Institute has been working to promote Ukrainian books worldwide. Thanks to the help of the organizers of international book fairs, we managed to organize national book stands in Bologna, London, Warsaw, Prague, Frankfurt, and Guadalajara. For the first time, we managed to place about 500 Ukrainian titles in the Frankfurt Book Fair Catalog of Rights. We see quite a lot of activity in viewing this catalog, including from unexpected places like Chile. We expect that sales of licenses for Ukrainian books in 2022 will exceed last year's and may reach 150-180 titles.
  • Together with our Polish colleagues from the Polish Book Chamber, we hold webinars for Ukrainian and Polish publishers, mainly covering the topic of promoting Ukrainian books on the Polish market. When we talked about how to use the Rights Catalog on one of the webinars, we saw a surge of interest from Polish publishers. We plan to hold similar webinars with publishers from other countries next year.

3. On how publishing is surviving during the war

  • Ukrainian publishers and booksellers are trying to survive and stay operational in this difficult time: warehouses of finished goods which were partially damaged in the spring during the shelling of Kharkiv and Kyiv Region were moved to safer western regions. The supply of books abroad has been arranged, in particular to Poland and Germany, where the largest number of refugees have fled to, and now Ukrainian books are available in large book-selling networks in these countries. We can boast of another achievement: Ukrainian books, including digital versions, can now be purchased on Amazon, which was not the case before the war.\
  • Unfortunately however, a certain increase in demand for Ukrainian books among temporary immigrants or for licenses to publish text translations cannot compensate for the loss of solvent demand in Ukraine, where about 12 million people were forced to flee their homes, half of them leaving Ukraine for a long time, and where many people have lost their property and income.
  • In order not to lose the book publishing industry, the government should allocate funds for the purchase of books for public libraries, for certificates which everyone from new parents to 14-year-old teenagers can use to choose books for themselves in bookstores, and allocate subsidies to bookstores. All this is provided for by the Law of Ukraine "On State Support of Book Publishing," but, unfortunately, these expenditures have not been recognized as a priority.\
  • Our entire book industry will face an even more difficult year in 2023. And in order to hold on, a measly amount of 50-60 million euros, as for the European publishing business, is needed. And this is the price of saving book publishing in the country, which after the war will be extremely dynamic in its recovery and development. It will be possible to make good money here, especially for foreign publishers, by selling us licenses for translations, which until now were mainly sold to Russia. But the main thing that Ukraine will give to the world is new meanings and narratives, new literature, new names. It is necessary to persevere and win. All together.
Oleksandra Koval, Director of the Ukrainian Book Institute

This material was prepared with financial support from the International Renaissance Foundation.