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Pirates in Russia plunder e-book market

Russia's publishing industry faces a tough challenge in fighting the illegal downloading of books, which is limiting the sales of print and e-books.

Sales of e-books in Russia are rocketing. Increasing twelvefold in the past three years, sales in 2011 totalled 135m roubles (£2.6m). However, these are dwarfed by the high number of illegal downloads, which account for as much as 90pc of the e-book market. In Britain, illegal downloads make up only 29pc of the market, according to Entertainment Media Research.

The federal press and mass communications agency, Rospechat, claims sales lost to piracy in Russia add up to several billion roubles a year. Part of the problem, according to Rospechat, is that more than 100,000 titles are on offer through illegal downloading sites while only 60,000 titles are available from legal suppliers.

In a recent interview with, Mikhail Kotomin, editor-in-chief of independent Moscow publishing house Ad Marginem, said that success in legal sales of e-books in Russia can be achieved only if the leader in online print-book sales,, joins forces with the retailers of legal electronic books and sells both formats side by side: “E-books would be presented not by the authors but by their publishers. Then, even small, independent publishers like Ad Marginem would have direct access to the market and could bypass monopolised distribution.”

Persuading people to pay for e-books may be an uphill struggle. In a Levada Centre poll, 79pc of respondents said they only downloaded books that were available free; 18pc said that they paid for licensed versions only when the text they needed was not available free; and a mere 0.4pc said that they regularly paid for legal content.

E-books, whether sold or illegally downloaded, have had an impact on sales of printed books. Even first-rate writers and literary prize-winners now have to fight for large print runs.

Books by science-fiction/fantasy author Sergey Lukyanenko are sold in both print and electronic formats. For his latest bestseller, New Watch, he received a total of $10,000 (£6,400) from sales on a print run of 120,000 copies.

“Writers whose books are released on smaller print runs of 12,000 stand to make only $1,000 for a year’s work,” he wrote in his blog.

Yet a print run of 12,000 copies in Russia today is considered very good. “In order to receive a worthy sum for one’s e-books, the author must be wildly popular,” Mr Lukyanenko added.

Publishers believe that the only way out is to develop the legal market for e-books. To do this, the number of quality digital titles must be increased and their prices lowered. Also, the procedure for buying e-books must be made clearer and more convenient. Fighting piracy and the violation of copyright is a very challenging task, because most pirate sites are registered abroad and are therefore outside Russia’s 

Sergei Anurev, general director of e-book seller LitRes, predicts that if Russia’s e-book market continues to grow at the current rate, the share of legal sales will reach 3bn roubles (£58m) – 5pc of the current book market – by 2015-17.

Although the price of e-book readers is steadily dropping, Vladimir Chichirin, brand-director of publisher Eksmo, says that Russia, unlike the US, will not see explosive growth in the e-book market: “We don’t have the base for it; we don’t have our own Amazon.”