eBooks Rise in Russia, But Piracy Reigns

Russian reading may be in decline but e-books are quickly gaining traction

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Electronic book reader standing on stack of books

Tolstoy. Pushkin. Solzhenitsyn. With five Nobel Prize laureates in literature and a rich history of famed authors, Russia has long been a publishing powerhouse. But that hasn’t helped it escape a worldwide publishing crisis marked by a precipitous decline in annual book sales. To help stem the tide, last month the government announced plans to pool more than $100 million to prop up the nation’s $2 billion book market until 2018, as part of a broader initiative to boost funding for the arts.

Amidst the crisis, ebooks have emerged as a bright spot. According to the Russian Association of Online Publishers, ebook sales almost doubled in 2012 to $8 million, up from $4.1 million in 2011. As Quartz reports, 70% of Russian readers are using ebooks, which cost about $3 each in the republic (versus $10 or more in the U.S.).

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Despite the low prices, piracy continues to usurp major publishing companies. According to the RBTH graphic, 92% of readers admit to downloading books free from the internet, causing an estimated annual loss of $120 million for the industry. Rospechat, the governmental agency that regulates mass media, has cracked down on the illegal book market as well as launched a campaign to encourage reading legally. But experts say until Russia creates its own online market like Amazon or sees an influx in quality digital content, e-book growth will remain an illegal undertaking.

The legal crisis underscores a larger price problem in the publishing industry, which more recently gained attention with a U.S. federal ruling that found Apple guilty of conspiracy in e-book price fixing.

MORE: Apple Found Guilty in E-Book Price Fixing Conspiracy Trial