The Ukrainian Publishing Market 2023: “Competition has reached unprecedented levels”


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There is one question Ukrainian publishers are asked routinely in international events and private conversations: How do you continue working during the war? The opening of dozens of bookstores, the emergence of new festivals, the release of thousands of new books, and unprecedented efforts to regain readers – are these stories of resilience or despair? In this summary, we highlight accomplishments of the literary year and attempt to explain the phenomenon of the paradoxical Ukrainian book market in 2023, which is set to enter the annals of global publishing with its resilience and rapid development.


The Event of the Year and Survival as an Achievement


We asked the major Ukrainian publishers about the event that had the most significant impact on their publishing business in the past year (excluding the ongoing war), and, unanimously, they referred to the fact that President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy has signed the law that bans the import and distribution of Russian and Belarusian books.


The ability of Ukrainian publishers to persist in their work into the second year of the full-scale war with Russia is one of their major achievements. They consistently acknowledge the contributions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in their social media posts, public speeches, and even on book covers.


Changes in infrastructure: ruined libraries and new bookstores

1605 cultural facilities were damaged or destroyed due to the full-scale invasion, more than 600 libraries are among them. In conditions where its survival is threatened, the Ukrainian book business is aiming to thrive, adapting its strategies to focus on “resilience” and planning for a maximum number of possibilities to endure various scenarios.


Creation of new bookstore networks 


Over the last year, 50 new bookstores opened in Ukraine. To understand this trend better: according to the database of the Ukrainian Book Institute, 449 bookstores were operating in Ukraine as of December 12, 2023.


Ye Bookstore opened 22 new bookstores in 2023, bringing the total to 56 bookstores, solidifying its status as the largest bookstore network in Ukraine. As noted by “Bookstore Ye,” this year marked a record in its 16-year history. 


Previously, the leading position among bookstore networks belonged to KSD (incorporated into media holding Bertelsmann AG until 2017), which owned bookstores in Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk until Russia’s initial invasion in 2014. From over 70 bookstores, they now have 46, having opened or restored eight bookstores (including one in Kherson). 


Despite the war, publishing houses that were previously less focused on B2C offline sales are increasingly developing their own bookstore networks, like Vivat with their seven bookstores, or the Old Lion Publishing House that has expanded to eight bookstore-cafés.


“Bookstores expand the market rather than simply redistributing it, attracting new readers,” says Viktor Kruhlov, head of one of the biggest Ukrainian publishing houses Ranok Corporation.


More indie bookstores


Notably, the number of independent bookstores has increased as well. However, this boom is primarily happening in the capital, while big book chains get most of the credit for opening new stores outside of big cities.


Sense Bookstore opened in 2021 and has announced the opening of another store on the Khreshchatyk, the main street in Kyiv. With an area of 1500 sq.m, it is expected to be the largest in Ukraine. According to the founder, the investment that has been made to day is 1 million euros. The opening is planned for February of this year.


It should be noted that this positive trend is occurring without any state subsidies for bookstores. While the existence of a law that supports bookstores is good news, there is currently no budgetary allocation for its implementation.


RELATED: A new bookstore opened in Vinnytsia as a tribute to Ukrainian soldier and journalist Mykola Rachok


…and even more publishers


The establishment of 19 new publishing companies following the ban of the sale of new Russian books in Ukraine could also indicate an increasing number of everyday readers: from 8% in 2020 to 17% in 2023. The same research shows that 54% of readers are choosing the Ukrainian language for reading (to compare: in 2018, it was chosen by 28%). The majority of trade publishers also publish in Ukrainian only. At the same time, Kitap Qalesi Publishing is specialized in Crimean Tatar literature in both Ukrainian and the (Indigenous) Crimean Tatar language.


Trying to restore ‘normalcy’


In 2023, Ranok reached 85% of pre-war figures in terms of titles and print runs (in 2021, there were 595 titles with a total print run of almost 5 million copies). Vivat released 222 new titles, which is approximately consistent with the previous year’s figures. The Old Lion Publishing House reports an increase of 10-15% compared to 2022 (110 new titles published in the year). 


Many other publishers have partially recovered their pre-war figures thanks to reissued titles from publishers’ catalogs. One of the reasons is the need to fill “vacant” niches freed of Russian translations (the presence of Russian translations often significantly reduced the sales of Ukrainian translations or made such publications impossible). 


“Previously, we considered 2022 to be record-breaking in terms of reprints, but it is as if we haven’t lived in 2023 yet because this year the number of reprints of previous editions from different years has reached eighteen positions,” writes Oleksiy Zhupanskyi, the head of Zhupanskyi Publishing House.


The return of offline events and the emergence of new book fairs


This year’s Book Arsenal International Festival, although held in a limited format, has spurred the revival of other major literary events. In the past six months, numerous festivals and fairs have taken place, not only in the west of the country (like BookForum in Lviv or Тranslatorium Literary Festival), but also in the South (like Meridian Odesa Festival,) and new ones have emerged, including Kyiv Book Fest, which managed to draw 25,000 attendees over three days, and the Kyiv Book Weekend. 


“The staging of the Book Arsenal has demonstrated that there are readers who continue to maintain their interest in books – just as much as before the full-scale invasion. The fact that the festival occurred has unlocked the possibility of holding other events,” says Oleksiy Erinchak, founder of Sense Bookstore. 


Translation rights 


Director of the Ukrainian Book Institute, Oleksandra Koval, notes that in 2023, over 130 translations of Ukrainian books into foreign languages were released (60 were published abroad within the Translate Ukraine program). In 2022, according to the Ukrainian Book Institute, the number of rights sold reached a record 230 contracts. The Old Lion Publishing House signed 77 contracts for books by Ukrainian authors in 29 countries. “Ranok” mentions 59 agreements, which is slightly lower than the attention they received from foreign publishers last year, when the publishing house managed to sell 78 licenses abroad to 26 countries worldwide.


Challenges of the Year


Unpredictability. War does not contribute to stability. “Every day is a new challenge; it’s hard to determine the ‘biggest’ one. Right now, the new challenge is to find a connection with Kyivstar,” says Anton Martynov, founder of the “Laboratory” publishing house referring to the Russian hacker’s attack on the Ukrainian mobile operator.


Shortage of qualified professionals and loss of readers through emigration. To maintain expat reader interest in books back home, publishers and bookstores are striving to offer the most convenient services, promotions, and events such as book launches while also taking steps to attract professionals in the relevant fields. 


Translation problems. Vivat considers finding professional translators for working with translated titles to be its biggest challenge: “For the first time, we have a situation in the book market where queues are forming for good translators.” Additionally, the acquisition of translation rights has become more complicated due to restrictions on payments for services and goods not classified as critical imports. 


Competition in everything. Hiring staff for bookstores and publishing, queuing for translators, publishing a book with queues at printing houses, and even acquiring the rights to a manuscript by a Ukrainian author – these are now the main problems faced by the Ukrainian publishing industry. 


“Competition has reached unprecedented levels,” says Viktor Khruglov, who has encountered the same challenges at Ranok.


What is the outcome?


On the one hand, publishers are striving to reach, at a minimum, the performance levels of 2021, with some even achieving success. Against the backdrop of war, investments in their own development, recovery, or in the competitive struggle for readers are perceived as more crucial than ever.


On the other hand, the price we pay daily for the privilege of existence, writing, and publishing is immeasurable in terms of any result. At the same time, the expense of these daily losses prevents us from taking a step back, compelling us to work with increased dedication, activity, and efficiency.


Copy editing: Yuliia Medvid-Hnepa, Lesia Waschuk


The theme of fragility is a leitmotif of Ukraine’s participation in the Frankfurt Book Fair. This research was made as a part of the Fragility of Creators project, implemented by the Goethe-Institut in Ukraine with the support of the German Ministry of Culture and Media.