It isn’t easy to cancel a paid contract for a print run, but it is possible to say no to renegotiating a new one or licensing new books; meanwhile, it isn’t so hard to revoke permission to distribute digital books, as there are no advances at stake. Thus, translations of books by JK Rowling, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman and others began to disappear from digital stores and book services.
The position taken by the official book industry institutions was generally predictable. The Russian Book Union head Sergei Stepashin unequivocally spoke out in support
of the “special military operation” and at the same time for friendship with the Ukrainian people: “The special operation taking place now is the result of Western political games, to which Russia can no longer respond in another way. And it is by no means directed against the Ukrainian people, because Russians and Ukrainians are brother peoples.” But Ukrainian publishers, according to the board of the Russian Publishers Association, didn’t behave brotherly at all, calling for a boycott of Russian publishing houses. In a public letter
, the association brought up old grievances and accused Ukrainian publishers of calling for "discrimination on the basis of nationality and citizenship." Evgeni Kapyev, the CEO of Eksmo, Russia's largest publishing house, distanced himself from the conflict, peaceably suggesting
: “Let's think together how we can help make our world a better place. What our tomorrow will be like depends on each of us today: will we build walls or bridges?”Western publishers turn away from Russia
The idea of building bridges while walls are being blown up didn’t find much understanding among the Western book community, and following the example of Western publishing houses, all major Western book fairs announced that they wouldn’t cooperate with Russian official institutions.
The problems with licenses have affected small independent publishers to a lesser extent. Many of them have long-standing informal and quite friendly relations with foreign partners, and they have more opportunities to personally explain and clarify their position on what is going on. Moreover, many of them signed a letter
from the Alliance of Independent Publishers and Booksellers against the war in the very first days after the Russian invasion. A few days later, however, the alliance website closed the form to collect more signatures and hid those already affixed to protect signatories from persecution on the basis of the law about discrediting the Russian army passed at the very beginning of the war. Still, almost 1,500 book publishers, booksellers, editors, translators and other bookmen managed to state their view.
Yet even the publishers who managed to maintain a working relationship with Western rights holders quickly discovered that it wasn’t so easy to pay for the rights. This was due both to sanctions against the Russian banking system and to the Russian government’s countermeasures that put in place a complex authorization mechanism to make payments to licensors from "unfriendly" countries, which led to a stoppage
in foreign-currency payments.
Russia’s being cut off from international card systems complicated the operation of digital content services. The departure of Visa, MasterCard and PayPal drove a significant drop in sales, though an even bigger blow was the refusal to work with Russian counterparties on the part of Apple and Google payment services, as well as services like Stripe, which ensured not just the security but also the recurrency of payments – especially important for subscription services. The Russian subscription services that had partnered with them simply lost their users
and were forced to spend a good deal of time and money on restructuring their billing systems.
A considerable number of the users themselves (and readers) preferred to go abroad as well. According to various sources, hundreds of thousands left Russia during the first wave of emigration (after the start of the war) and the second (after the draft was announced). And among them was a considerable number of publishers. Most of them didn’t stop doing business in Russia, though some took care to move at least part of their business to Europe, following the readers who left – and their children, as you can’t take your entire home library with you, while Russian emigrants won’t stop buying children’s books. Specially for them, the Samokat and Boomkniga publishing houses organized the online bookstore Samtambooks
with a warehouse in Riga and worldwide delivery. How long the current Russian emigration will last no one dares to guess, though emigre publishing houses inevitably appeared in each of the Russian emigration waves of the 20th century. It can be assumed that this one won’t be an exception. Moreover, the current exodus from Russia doesn’t seem to be over yet.
The financial sanctions were just the beginning. The next packages of sanctions cut Russian publishers off from high-quality printing houses in Europe and Russia off from European – primarily Finnish – paper, as well as European inks and spare parts for printing machines, a significant number of which in Russian printing houses are German-made.
To be fair, until about the middle of the year these sanctions didn’t have a big impact on the book industry. The decent stocks of imported paper and other supplies began to run out only in the summer. Suppliers sounded the alarm: UV varnish, self-adhesive film, colored ribbon for bookmarks, light Finnish paper, cardboard for bookbinding were running out. They are to be replaced by simpler (and heavier) paper and Korean or Chinese inks (not German); the ribbon, meanwhile, looks like a lost cause. We’ll have to get by without ribbon. A solution for maintaining and repairing complex printing equipment was also found, inspired
by the experience of Russian airlines, which have been forced to cannibalize their fleets.