25 hryvnias for books

It is an average sum of money an average resident of Ukraine spends on the purchase of books for the WHOLE year, according to approximate calculations. And, for example, according to the State Statistics Service, the Ukrainians spend on average 93 hryvnias on the purchase of alcohol and 162 hryvnias on cigarettes monthly.

If in Ukraine there were the same disputes and debates about reading books like the ones about voting in the elections, we would be a conscious country with a conscious population.

People who read books regularly are a minority. A group of readers is almost a sect, a caste, a closed club. However, this club still accepts new members and, they say, there is a tendency towards growing, although it is still slight. Still, there are much fewer people who read books, paper or electronic, than those who do not read at all.

I saw a lot of flash mobs, events, movements that were aimed at increasing interest in reading. But there was no system in it, it was episodic and not very effective. Because the calls to read were addressed to those people who do read.

I have not seen any serious and relevant research on what exactly the Ukrainians read, how the book publishing has changed, how the book market of the country looks and so on. It is possible that such studies exist somewhere in complete confidence, and I just faithfully searched in open sources.

The only thing I have found is the numbers from the study of early 2000 conducted by the company ProMova on request of the public organization Forum of Publishers  (EU-funded Eastern partnership). No more than 40 percent of respondents read books, and 50 percent do not buy them at all. In Poland, the percentage of readers is 34 percent. Our researchers say that the Polish figure is more honest because Ukrainians are traditionally cunning about reading books – it’s a shame to admit that you do not read.

In 2012, the books were sold for the sum of 2 billion hryvnias. In 2017 – for 1 billion. The annual volume of books sales in Ukraine is equal to the volume of the Moscow publishing house Eksmo. The books of which keep being smuggled, for example, to Petrivka or the famous “Knyzhka” of Odessa – the market in the city center, where people exchange currency and sell books and other goods.

It is symptomatic that the country that has thirty millions of adult citizens, has book circulations of 2-3 thousand copies. A circulation of 10 thousand copies is a great success.

A paper book has been buried for a long time. In fact, the theater has been buried exactly the same way. It began to change, to offer new formats and new meanings. At the same time, traditional performances are quite popular and competitive. So there is hope.

I know that in large cities and in some towns libraries are turned into co-workings in attempts to organize the space in such a way that it would be important for people to come and spend time there, take books, read, talk about what they read. Somewhere it works, somewhere it fails. Somewhere people just come to get free wifi. But at least there are platforms where events revolve around books and reading.

In February 2016, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine issued an order “On approval of the Concept of state policy for the development of national publishing and popularization of reading for the period till 2020”. Then in March 2018, this order was canceled by another order…

We have neither support nor promotion of reading at the state level. Only in recent years, there were some steps to organize the work of the Ukrainian Institute of Books, last year the books were finally purchased at the state expense to replenish the library collections.

We have an increase in the number of book festivals in the country. In addition to the Forum of Publishers in Lviv, Book Arsenal in Kyiv, and Green Wave in Odessa, in 2017 Bookfest was initiated in Chernivtsi and VinBookFest in Vinnytsia, in 2018 the book festival Book Space was started in Dnipro. There is also a number of book fairs in other cities of the country. There is a demand, there is movement, there are empty niches.

But if you look at the list of various festivals that take place in Ukraine, you will see that we have even fewer book festivals than culinary ones.

We’re becoming a nation that loses the habit of reading. The reading process is directly related to other processes that take place in the country. In particular, the electoral process. Smart, thinking people don’t choose bad and stupid power. They are not tricked by populism and “television chewing gum”. They do not think in primitive categories and fleeting moments of the present.

Reading should be popularized. Made trendy. We need different meetings with writers across the country, reaching the most remote towns and villages of the country. It should be brought to schools. Book clubs should be organized. Social advertising should be produced, where influencers in various industries would appeal to potential readers. Quality literature should be published. The bookstores and clubs should be supported at the state level where they do not exist, but they should be.

To summarize it – we need to have a vision and an integrated approach at the level of state institutions. We can try to fight for the human brain.

And here’s my sad statement: in Odessa, the city with a population of one million people, there is no large bookstore, there is no book publishing house which actually works as a publishing house, not just as a printing house for orders that survives on the money of few authors who can afford to pay for the right to see their surname on a book cover.

In our country, they popularize beer, stimulate to buy new fridges, remind to chew gum after a meal, urge to eat healthy and do sports.

The country needs slim, healthy people who chew gum, drink beer and buy refrigerators. And they do not necessarily need to think.

Zoya Kazanzhy

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