The Russian book industry is indeed pivoting to the East. But not because Russia has been “canceled” by the West and Western publishers are not selling rights, but rather because book culture follows what is fashionable among young people across the world. And this does not make the Russian state very happy.
After the start of the full-scale war between Russia and Ukraine, when major Western copyright holders, one after another, began to refuse to license Russian translations of their books, the “generals” of the Russian book industry – quite in a laddish manner – in effect said, “we didn’t want it that much anyway, we can live without you, we have the East.”
The pages of the few specialized industry publications are full of news about trips of delegations of Russian publishers to book fairs in China, Korea and Indonesia. The editor-in-chief of Russia’s largest publishing house, Eksmo, proudly wrote at the beginning of March 2022
: “the Iranians invited us to meet, they said, ‘43 years [we have been] under sanctions and it is nothing, life goes on’... They invited us to Tehran for a book fair. In fact, we have outlined ways to collaborate; we will do it.”Uptick in sales of Japanese and Chinese books
I do not know how Eksmo’s collaboration with the Middle East worked out, but it seems to be going well with the Far East. The list of 50 bestselling books, which once a year is loudly presented by the largest publishing holding EKSMO/AST, along with the largest chain of bookstores Chitai Gorod-Bukvoed, the largest online retailer of paper books OZON and the largest e-book store LitRes. They basically all have the same owner: Oleg Novikov
, a cofounder of Eksmo.
As many as 10 out of the 50 bestsellers are books from Japan and China. Among these 10 “books from the East” are all three volumes of the extremely popular (by Russian standards – i.e., with sales of more than 100,000 copies) Chinese fantasy Heaven Official’s Blessing
by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu.
The “fashion for the East” and the accompanying increase in sales of Chinese and Japanese books are hard to miss.