For Russian readers, “e” means free

Feb 22, 2012
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MOSCOW | Russia appears well-placed to become the European e-book leader. The market for books is the largest on the continent, with 140 million people in Russia and millions of Russian speakers in neighboring countries. Internet use is on a long-term upward trend; Russia now counts about 55 million Internet users, more than any other country in Europe.

While Russian publishers and booksellers are sure the e-book market will start to take off, few are willing to venture when that might happen. Publishers face two major hurdles: the steady decline in book sales and widespread copying of digital books.

Already, the digital book market is more than doubling each year, although its share of total book sales is minuscule, said Polina Knyazeva, a spokeswoman for Eksmo, one of Russia’s leading publishers.

Knyazeva forecast that 30 to 40 percent of the market for fiction could be in digital formats in two or three years, based on the rapid growth in both Internet use and sales of e-book readers.

However, annual sales of e-books currently amount to just 90 million rubles ($3 million), or one-thousandth of the total book market, said Alexei Chebatko, marketing director at Wexler, a company that produces e-book readers and sells digital books.

He added, though, that sharp and unpredictable growth is likely to occur in the segment, likening it to Russian social networking sites such as Odnoklassniki, which first became popular and then saw their user numbers multiply in a few months.

Alexei Avramenko, head of CIS content projects at the e-reader maker PocketBook International, is more cautious. From authors to publishers to readers, Russians have been reluctant to get on the e-book bandwagon, he said. Ukraine-based PocketBook dominated the e-reader market in Russia last year, notching 43 percent of sales, according to the SmartMarketing research agency.

Read more at Transitions Online…


About the Author

Vladimir Kozlov

Transitions Online (www.tol.org) is an Internet magazine that covers political, social, cultural, and economic issues in the former communist countries of Europe and Central Asia. The magazine has a strong network of local contributors, who provide valuable insight into events in the region’s 29 countries.
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