Book Arsenal

The Will to Rebuild: Why the Ukrainian Publishing Industry Keeps on Going


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The Ukrainian publishing market faced a significant collapse during the initial months of the escalation of Russian-Ukrainian war in 2022. However, it is currently striving to regain its footing. Amidst missile strikes, publishers and booksellers are adapting and refining their business models and approaches. Their ability to adapt swiftly and embrace change has become crucial, however it requires much more investment, effort and creativity. 

Despite reasonably pessimistic expectations, the first half of the year brought unexpected results: a “boom” of new bookstores opening all over Ukraine, a revival of international collaborations and finally — Book Arsenal in Kyiv. So, what’s happening?

28,000 guests visits the most anticipated Book Fair and Festival

Due to the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war, the festival offered a limited format, but nevertheless attracted a significant number of guests — President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the First Lady attended the festival, as well as international guests, including Gvantsa Jobava, Vice President of the International Publishers Association. “My visit here is a gesture to say: we are here now, in solidarity, when you endure this difficult situation when you are at war. Meanwhile, you are so brave that you decided to hold a book fair during the war, and it is so inspiring. Your festival is a sign that even in these dreadful conditions, books and reading still matter,” Gvantsa said in a conversation with the Chytomo team.


The Book Arsenal featured nearly 100 events centered around the theme When everything matters over the course of four days. This year, the book fair showcased a significant section dedicated to War & Military books of various genres. Unfortunately, fiction books were more rare, but predominantly diaries, memoirs and poetry were presented. The demand for War & Military books is growing and nonfiction books appear to be paving the way for an anticipated surge in “big prose” and fiction in particular.


One of the highlights of this genre is the war diary “I Am Transforming” written by Volodymyr Vakulenko, who was kidnapped and killed by russians. The book was published by Vivat with a preface by the Ukrainian writer Victoria Amelina. “I provide a broader contextualization for this story citing other Russian crimes, like the extermination of Ukrainian writers in the 1930ths, also referred to as the Executed Renaissance. This, along with the diary itself, gives you a glimpse of the tradition of Russian crimes, and I hope we managed to translate the book into many languages,” commented Amelina who worked on the edition. Only a week later, Victoria was killed by a Russian missile.

The New Law: Sanctions for Russian books to prevent piracy

President Zelensky has signed a law to make it impossible to pirate and publish authors from Russia. “It is prohibited to publish, import, or distribute in Ukraine books containing works by authors who are citizens of the Russian Federation. This ban will not apply to books published in Ukraine before Jan. 1, 2023. Books in other languages may be published and distributed if they are published in the original language. Translated literature must be published and distributed in translations into Ukrainian or any official language of the European Union or the language of the indigenous people of Ukraine,” the explanatory note of the law states.


In addition to banning imports of book products from Russia and Belarus, the law, according to the authors, would utilize administrative and economic sanctions to prevent piracy, the publication of Russian authors in Ukraine, and translation of books into Russian by Ukrainian publishers.


The law does not prohibit the publication of Russian-language books – Ukrainian authors who write in Russian can still freely be published in Ukraine. Similarly, the law does not prohibit citizens from purchasing books in Russian for personal use in non-wholesale quantities.

The first half of the year gives hope for post-war recovery

The Book Chamber of Ukraine reported in July that about 6,000 titles were published in the first half of the year with a total print run of 5.6 million books. This is an improvement compared to the same official statistics from 2022, when only 6.1 million  copies were produced over the year. Taking a step back, in 2022 publishers experienced  a two-fold decrease (42,8%) compared with total print run of 2021 with 44.7 million copies printed. However, the official statistics don’t provide a complete picture, especially considering the wartime conditions. Up to 2,000 titles were published by trade publishing over the last year (Jun22-Jun23), according to the latest Chytomo’s monitoring. Among them, 1400 new titles by 77 main publishing houses were submitted to Chytomo’s catalog, Showcase of Novelties.


According to The State Committee for Television and Radio-Broadcasting of Ukraine, 178 new publishing houses and bookstores emerged in Ukraine in 2022. The trend has continued this year. 


Max Kidruk, a popular Ukrainian author, stopped collaborating with publishing houses and established his own, “Borodatyi Tamaryn.” Reflecting on his decision, Max shared with Espresso TV channel his initial hesitations: “When we established the publishing house, I was convinced that nobody needed it during the war, that no one would read books. And we will spend money and be burdened with five tons of paper. I must admit, I was mistaken.” Having the first print run of 30,000 copies, Kidruk’s first book published under “Borodatyi Tamaryn”, a sci-fiction novel “Colonia. New Dark Ages,” (Book 1) is almost sold out. “We have 2,700 copies left after six months. Even without war circumstances I would be happy with the result.” The price of the book is 12.5 EUR. An average bestseller requires a minimum of 10,000 copies sold.

Book prices are on the rise

The cost of book production in Ukraine has increased, primarily due to the rise in printing costs. “The materials and consumables in our production are entirely imported, so they have risen in price by 70-80%. Depreciation, salaries, and utilities remained unchanged. Profitability was reduced to 10-15%. Thus, in general, the price increased about 45-50% in hryvnias,” says Kostiantyn Kozhemiaka, founder and director of ArtHuss Publishing House and Huss Printing House. Yulia Orlova, director of Vivat publishing house, recalls that the cost increased by 60-80%.


According to the latest catalog “Showcase of Novelties’ published by Chytomo, the average book price is 7,.25 EUR. “In my opinion, a book is approaching its psychological upper price limit on the Ukrainian market. We see this in the sales results. The revenue and the average check are still growing, but the number of books sold is definitely not,” comments Liubomyr Serniak, head of sales at The Old Lion Publishing House.


While some publishers and bookstores express cautious optimism, with some claiming that “sales have hardly fallen,” others speak of a “window of opportunity.” It’s important to note that achieving such results requires working twice as hard under wartime conditions. 


Several publishers have opened representative offices and bookstores in other European countries, including Poland (such as Chas Maistriv, Artbooks) and France (My Bookshelf with new imprint Le Petit Canard).

The Bookstores Boom

One might think that transitioning to online sales would be the most obvious course of action after 500 days of war, especially considering ruined libraries, bookstores and facilities (only Ranok’s losses in Kharkiv are estimated at 400,000 EUR), blackouts and everyday air raid alerts. Besides, online sale platforms were upgraded after COVID. But unexpectedly, new and new bookstores are opening, including indies.


Why? Because bookstores are not only a business. Bookstores are a social responsibility for those who are willing to “rebuild Ukraine”. Bookstores could also be a dream project that can’t be postponed any longer. New bookstores are being opened by book chains, publishers, and entrepreneurs from other realms — whether IT or the event promotion industry. 


To open a bookstore in Kyiv city center has become somewhat of a meme, as dozens of bookstores were opened there in 2022-23.


In Kharkiv, while some bookstores remain closed, Knygoland chain (part of The Ranok Corporation), has against all odds, opened the largest bookstore in Ukraine with a floor space of 650 square meters.


The fifth “The Old Lion Bookstore-Café” has already opened in Lviv, and the publishing house plans to open several more bookstores in Lviv and other cities. “Although the overall situation is not easy and we had to provide generators for our premises in winter, we are coping and things are going well.”says the representative of the Old Lion Publishing House in Lviv. “The level of danger and the number of air raids strongly affect the workflow and the number of visitors,” adds Bohdan Kulyk, manager of the The Old Lion Bookstore in Dnipro.


The expansion of bookstore chains is also taking place in the “upcountry,” in smaller cities that have long been underestimated. Despite the war’s impact on overall purchasing power, Ukrainians in these areas eagerly seek to satisfy their cultural hunger.


In the past six months, the “Bookstore Ye” has successfully opened almost 10 new bookstores, reaching Zhytomyr, Chernihiv, Poltava, Chernivtsi, Uzhhorod, Lviv, Cherkasy, and two locations in Rivne. Unfortunately, due to shelling in the Donetsk region, the chain had to close its sole bookstore in Sloviansk.


Many bookstores are targeting YA audiences. Vivat bookstores have also responded to this demand and opened new bookstores in the West of Ukraine, observing an exceptional response from the 13-18-year-old demographic. Smaller companies are also targeting young people in smaller towns, like Lantsuta, a comic book publisher, that recently announced the opening of a bookstore in Kamianske, a town near Dnipro.


As a sidenote: for now, these bookstores are not receiving any subsidies from the government. 

Translation rights

According to the Ukrainian Book Institute, interest in Ukrainian literature has been steadily growing since 2013. The number of translated Ukrainian books has seen significant growth, surging from approximately 48 to over 120 in 2021. In 2022, Forbes Ukraine called the trend  “a quantum leap”: foreign publishers acquired the rights to more than 230 books by Ukrainian authors.


Among the sales leaders in the previous year were Staryi Lev Publishing House, Ranok, and Vivat. Notably, Vivat experienced a doubling of its copyright sales, and The Old Lion Publishing House has consistently maintained an impressive number of 60 contracts per year, establishing themselves as a key player in the industry. 


Publishers keep saying: purchased licenses in many cases helped them to save the business in 2022. Now, in 2023, answering the questions on how to support the publishers in Ukraine, they claim: “The best support is to do business with Ukraine!”


Edited by Jared Goyette