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9 months of invasion: how Ukrainian publishers work in times of war23.12.2022
During the full-scale invasion, all spheres of Ukrainian society managed to go through several stages of integration and adaptation to the new reality. Business had to face a lot of challenges: destroyed warehouses and premises, staff reductions, logistical problems, etc. This also applies to publishing houses.
We conducted a survey among Ukrainian publishers about their working conditions during the war in the first two months of invasion. However, the situation is changing at the speed of light, and it is probably impossible to count how many new books by Ukrainian authors have been published abroad, and to tell all the stories about partnership of European bookstores and publishing houses and Ukrainian publishers one could write a longread of its own.
Therefore, to understand the actual picture, we conveyed yet another research of publishers’ work. We have tried to trace the main changes since February, to formulate the main directions of publishers’ work and to record the condition of Ukrainian book publishing today. A separate important block of this survey is international cooperation.
How do publishing houses work at the 9th month of war in Ukraine?
According to the survey, 85,9% of publishing houses in Ukraine continue their work during the war, 14,1% partially carry out their activities, that is, virtually everyone is trying to work despite of difficult conditions.
The situation has changed for the better: in April this year, only 39% of publishing houses worked, 51,2% worked partially (online or offline).
Publishing houses UA Comix Publishing, Publisher Oleksandr Savchuk, Anetta Antonenko Publishing House, Zhupansky Publishing House, Kalamar, Safran Oriental Publishing House, Smoloskyp, Laboratory and others provide their work in full.
Among these publishers there are those that ceased their work in April this year, for example, Publisher Oleksandr Savchuk and Smoloskyp.
“We continue to publish new books, sell old ones, print additional copies and even participate in various events. We are a veteran publishing house, and from the first day of our work we have been writing about the military, had a loyalty system for combatants and transferred our books to fighting units and hospitals,” Stiletto and Stylos publishing house commented.
Among publishing houses that work partially, most sell books via their own online shops and bookstores and work together with partners. These publishing houses are Medusa, Mandrivets, My Bookshelf, and Crocus.
Due to the invasion, publishers not only changed the form of their operation, but also their location. 10,7% of publishers have experience of moving to another city, while 60,7% have not changed it. 28,6% of publishers say that their team or the publishing house itself had experience of partial relocation.
Extent of damage
The shelling resulted in damaging of offices and warehouses of some publishing houses like: Vydavets Korbush, Folio, ADEF-Ukraine, PEGAS, Vivat, Vihola, SAMIT-KYYGA, LANTSUTA, Chas maystriv, Georges, Osnovy publishing group and others, that is 18,5% of the publishers of our survey.
Most of the damaged premises are located in Kharkiv, including Vivat and ist publishing. There are also warehouses that were damaged in other regions of Ukraine. For example, in Kyiv region, in Bucha, the warehouse of the publishing house ADEF-Ukraine was damaged.
“Our warehouse is located in the logistics center of the Ranok publishing house. Several times it was damaged by shelling. Some books are sunk because the fire safety system worked,” Fabula publishing house shared.
The publishing house Ranok suffered the most damage.
“There were three “strikes” in April, July, August. One person died. Warehouse, office, firewater system and books were partially damaged. A warehouse that contained paper was destroyed, 4 bookstores were bombed. That is approximately UAH 16 million of direct losses,” the publishing house Ranok reported.
Many publishers are still calculating their losses. In the meanwhile, Folio estimates its losses of UAH 2 million. The publishing house Korbusha noted that the office premises were damaged by looters, and the amount of losses is about UAH 100, 000.
81,5% of respondents say their offices remained undamaged.
Profits, salaries and grants for publishers
Most publishers have already observed a gradual increase of interest towards books in summer, while earlier (until April) they noted that book sales had dropped dramatically.
“In the first months sales dropped to almost zero, but since June we have seen a gradual increase in sales, and even a return to normal figures,” they said at UA Comix Publishing publishing house.
Some publishers even had their sales increased, and we are talking about such publishers as Anetta Antonenko Publishing House, Smoloskyp, Vovkulaka, Yakaboo Publishing and others. Partial leveling of the situation was reported by the Zhupansky Publishing House, Portal, Nora-druk, Rodovid, Medusa, Komora and others. The high demand is also reported by A-BA-BA-HA-LA-MA-HA.
“Since the beginning of the full-scale war in Ukraine, we have experienced two major changes: from March to June, the activity of our foreign customers was greater than that of Ukrainian ones, for obvious reasons. However, since July Ukrainian market has become more active. Russian-language books are not presented on the market, and that also had a positive impact on our work. Readers (customers) and bookstores in Ukraine are massively refusing Russian-language books, and accordingly, our publications are placed on the shelves instead of Russian ones. The emphasis has noticeably shifted to the publications of Ukrainian authors,” The Old Lion Publishing House says.
The sales of the publishing group Osnovy, publishing houses 4mamas, Blym-Blym, Irbis Comics, state specialized publishing house Art and others decreased by more than 50%.
“Of course, they, sales, are much smaller. We also have debts from some partners who took the books before February 24. This, accordingly, does not allow us to fully repay the debt to the printing houses,” the publishing house TUT said.
Given the profits of publishers, 44,7% of them have not reduced wages to employees, 37,6% have reduced payments to employees, 8,2% of publishers are unable to pay. But 9,4% increased payments to employees.
Publishers are trying to adapt to new realities and save on manufacturing processes and rent.
“The whole team works remotely, we gave up the office due to our inability to pay the rent. Our activities are the same as before February 24, but now we are also actively working on Ukrainian projects and with Ukrainian authors,” they said at Laboratory publishing house.
For comparison, the situation was different in April: 28% of publishers were not able to pay salaries to employees.
Also, publishers are looking for additional income. Thus, they have the opportunity to get help from Ukrainian and foreign institutions.
The work of publishers was supported by foundations and organizations: Ukrainian Emergency Art Fund, House of Europe, Goethe-Institute, USAID, Toloka, Fundacja Powszechnego Czytania. The latter Polish institution provided assistance to 51 Ukrainian publishing houses.
“With the assistance of the British Embassy we published a book by Timothy Snyder (with illustrations by Nora Krug) “On Tyranny. Twenty Lessons of the Twentieth Century. Graphic adaptation”. Also, with the assistance of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, we plan to publish a book by Kateryna Zarembo “The Sun of Ukraine Rises in Donbas. Stories of the Ukrainian East in the early XXI century,” a representative of Choven publishing house informs.
Entry into foreign bookstores
Publishers that continue their activities are trying to expand their activities abroad. The easiest and the largest number of Ukrainian publishers managed to enter the Polish book market. Some of them, such as NK-Bohdan, had already distributed their products through the Polish network Empik before, but after February they significantly deepened it.
Such cooperation is connected to territorial proximity (many Ukrainian publishers faced customs clearance and packaging of books abroad for the first time), as well as with the desire of Poles to support Ukrainians. It is difficult to ignore the fact that there is a large number of Ukrainian refugees in Poland, too.
In particular, Ukrainian books can be found in bookstores, libraries, institutions in Warsaw and Krakow.
“The bookstore that wanted to support us personally after February 24 and buy books is the Polish store Karakter in Krakow. There were no special difficulties, but the delivery process took about a month and a half, because it was necessary to draw up a lot of papers for customs, to pack the books on a pallet correctly, and I had no experience in this, so in the conditions of a new warehouse and without a professional employee, my father and I packed the books ourselves according to the requirements,” says Kateryna Nosko, director of ist publishing.
At the same time, Poland opens markets in other countries for Ukrainian publishers. Books that are already in Polish warehouses are much easier for publishers to export to Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, France, Italy, Spain.
“Books of the Ukrainian publishing house Vivat can be purchased in 10 Polish bookstores and online platforms. Currently, Poland is a convenient hub for us for further cooperation with other countries. In fact, Vivat books can already be found on sale and in the libraries of many other European countries — Germany, Austria, Belgium, Sweden, the Baltic states. We had the experience of transferring books to the UK,” the publishing house Vivat noted.
“The worldwide network of Christian bookstores CLC has purchased several of our publications and distributes them in Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary,” representative of the publishing house Svichado tells about their experience.
Among other countries where Ukrainian publishers export their books are: Canada, Latvia, Lithuania, Great Britain, Sweden, the Netherlands, Ireland, Israel, Hungary, Slovakia, Italy, Moldova, Belgium, and some others.
In addition, some Ukrainian publishers will present their books in bookstores in different countries through distributors. For example, publishing houses Nash Format and Yakaboo.
But not all publishers are doing well while trying to establish cooperation. Some publishers report difficulty in negotiations on the export of books abroad.
“Interest in Ukraine has obviously increased, and it is noticeable. But publishers, first of all, rely on their interests and select books in accordance with the requirements of their publishing portfolio,” the publishing house Vivat says.
Publishing books abroad: challenges, success and failure
The occupants’ shelling of the largest printing houses in Ukraine, logistics problems and the security situation force publishers to look for ways to print books abroad. In addition, it is more convenient for those publishers who already sell their books in foreign bookstores. Thus, it is much easier to deliver them directly to the place of sale.
“We printed books at a Latvian printing house. We liked the result very much, but it was very difficult to organize delivery and customs clearance,” they say at Yakaboo Publishing.
Thus, Ukrainian publishers print books in Poland, Latvia, Germany, Moldova, and the Netherlands.
Unfortunately, printing books abroad is much more expensive than in Ukraine. There are also problems with delivering books from abroad to Ukraine.
Therefore, in general, Ukrainian publishers continue to print in Ukraine, both to support domestic manufacture and because the cost of such services abroad is quite high. If printing was carried out, it was mainly for charitable purposes for refugee children (Krokus, Chorni Vovtsi, NK-Bohdan, etc.).
In March this year, The Old Lev Publishing House prepared files of 14 books, which it provided free of charge to publishers and printers in different countries.
“These printed books were distributed free of charge to libraries, schools, refugee centers and other institutions. These are, in particular, such countries as Poland, Romania, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Great Britain and others. For example, in Poland, the books were printed in the companies Toruńskie Zakłady Graficzne Zapolex Sp z o.o. and Totem.com.pl,” The Old Lion Publishing House commented.
As an exception, the publishing house Pegas managed to establish the process in Moldova, because after the beginning of a full-scale war they printed more than 100 books with circulation of more than 250,000 copies.
Meanwhile, Bookchef, surprisingly, announced a large-scale cooperation in Germany: “We have a joint project with Arena Verlag (Germany) to publish children’s books in Ukrainian. In total, 10,000 books were printed, 1200 of each title in Ukrainian. The books were distributed for free among Ukrainian children in schools in Germany.”
What are the most popular topics for foreign book market?
With the full-scale invasion, interest towards Ukrainian fiction, reportage, diaries, essays and even poetry has grown in other countries. Among the topics of interest to foreign publishers and readers are the Russian-Ukrainian war, Ukrainian history and culture. Children’s and teenage literature also remains popular.
“Readers are interested in all aspects of Ukrainian history and culture,” says Alla Istomina, director of ADEF-Ukraine.
Ukrainian authors are popular abroad. Among them are Serhiy Zhadan, Andriy Kurkov, Victoria Amelina, Kateryna Mikhalitsyna, Stanislav Aseev, Natalka Vorozhbyt, Yaroslav Hrytsak. The publishers have also acquired the rights to books by Natalia Matolinets, Kateryna Kulyk, Roman Romanyshyna and Andriy Lesiv, Maryata Prokhasko and Taras Prokhasko, Olena Stiazhkina and other writers.
Editorial team: who had to leave Ukraine, and who stayed here to volunteer or go to the frontline?
82,9% of publishers have employees who volunteer and 43,4% of those who are at the frontline. These figures have not changed (the latter has even increased): in April they were 86,6% and 30,5% respectively.
Most publishers transfer funds for the needs of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, both from the sales of books and the publishing house’s profits. For example, Stiletto and Stylos donates 10% to the Come Back Alive Fund every month.
“For the first few months our bookstore in Lviv did not work. We made it into a volunteer headquarters, later we were able to restore work and combine these two functions in one space. In addition, from the first days our artists have been drawing posters and paintings about the war, they were shown at international exhibitions and auctions, the proceeds from which we transfer to the needs of the Armed Forces. Based on these drawings, we also create merchandise (T-shirts and posters), 100% of their profits go to volunteer needs. We periodically publish reports and results of our work on the publishing house’s Facebook page,” UA Comix Publishing says.
Thus, Nash Format, The Old Lev Publishing House, Bilka, ASSA, TUT, Smaki, NAIRI, Komora, Vihola, Laboratory, Dukh i Litera and others are actively involved in volunteer activities.
“The ArtHuss publishing house published postcards with illustrations by Andriy Yermolenko. He is a Ukrainian artist, illustrator and designer, art director of the Ukrainian Week Magazine. He is widely known in Ukraine for the chevrons for hundreds of Euromaidan and ATO soldiers (in particular, “Ukrop”), and a series of unofficial logos for the largest cities of Ukraine “United Colours of Ukraine”. All money from the sale of postcards are sent to the needs of the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” ArtHuss publishing house says.
Some publishers have become volunteers. For example, Iryna Bilotserkovska, commercial director of Bilka publishing house, volunteers in the NGO Volunteer assistance 4.5.0. She is responsible for a separate direction — helping the frontline with medications.
Publishers, editors, illustrators, authors are on the battle positions. Thus, members of the teams of the publishing houses TUT, Bukrek, Nash Format, Styletto and Stylos, Shkola, Folio, ArtHuss, The Old Lion Publishing House, NK-Bohdan, PEGAS, NAIRI, House of Chimeras, Svichado and others serve in the Armed Forces.
“An editor. Worked with several of our books. One was only a third done. And then everything changed. He serves on the front line. We also have several authors who serve in the Armed Forces. In different units,” the publishing house TUT informs.
Thus, 11 people from Ranok publishing house and corporation are defending Ukraine: “Most of them voluntarily went to defend the country in the first days of the war. As a publishing house we collected ammunition, because there was nothing at first. We took Izium, defended Vuhledar, and defended villages in Kharkiv region.”
Employees, authors and illustrators of some publishing houses were in danger and were wounded at the frontline, in particular, the publishing houses TUT, NAIRI, Stiletto and Stylos, BOMEX PLUS, A-BA-BA-HA-LA-MA-HA.
“Our friend, artist Ruslan Lubinsky, who illustrated the collection by Stiletto and Stylos: Ukrainian Military Poetry, was wounded during the battles for Kyiv. Earlier, he also fought in the east, and from the first days of the full-scale invasion he was in the army again,” the publishing house Styletto and Stylos informs.
On March 14, the founder of the publishing house Orientyr Mykola Kravchenko “Kruk” died because of shelling. Also on March 24, during the counteroffensive of the Ukrainian army, the translator of the publishing house Plomin, historian and publicist Serhiy Zaikovsky “Deimos” was killed.
In July this year, the author of the publishing house Bilka — Hlib Babich died.
Results of 9 months of publishers’ work: what has changed?
So, if we summarize the results, we see the following results of the Ukrainian publishers’ activity for 9 months of war:
- Most of the publishers that stopped their work in April have now resumed their activities.
- Increased sales in the summer compared to April-May this year and the majority of publishers reaching the profit level of 2021 in September-October.
- Publishers continue to look for ways to enter the foreign market: participation at international events, searching for new partners, selling rights, presenting books at foreign bookstores.
- Publishers did not stay away from the war: they are engaged in volunteering, supporting refugees, and team members of some publishing houses are on the frontline.
Who took part in the survey?
The material is based on information obtained by a survey about Ukrainian publishers by Chytomo cultural and publishing project.
The online survey of book market players involved 85 publishers from all over Ukraine. The interviewed publishers are small, medium and large. The survey was held before the largest book event in the world – the Frankfurt Book Fair.
The material was created and published within the project “MC2C (Media City to City): Creating city-to-city media connections for local and Ukrainian diaspora audience needs”. It is implemented by Lviv Media Forum in partnership with Thomson Media and with the support of the Federal Foreign Office of Germany.
The information or views expressed in this material are the sole responsibility of its authors.
This publication is sponsored by the Chytomo’s Patreon community
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