art 2002/1

2001 metų Frankfurto knygų mugės gražiausių pasaulio knygų stendas

Book Publishing in Lithuania

by Remigijus Misiūnas

Changes in Lithuanian book publishing started in the late 1980s with the reforms in the former USSR and gained yet more impetus with the regained Lithuanian independence and transiting to market economy.
Book publishing boomed in the first independence years. Yet the inflation and the 1993 introduction of the national currency had a negative impact on the situation. Dropping incomes in social layers purchasing books (intellectuals, civil servants) dwarfed the circulation and increased production costs. Book prices soared up, the numbers of buyers dropped. Around 1998, the book market in the country was full, and the competition high among fiction and nonfiction publishers. With the approximate 30% drop in book selling, a number of publishers experienced crisis, which they have been trying to overcome by a careful market research.
Lithuanian publishing is domestic market oriented. After the failed attempts to export Lithuanian literature in translation, the current policy is to create a national promotion system for translations of Lithuanian authors abroad.
Of all Lithuanian publishing output, two thirds are by the publishing houses, private ones and those run by different state agencies, confessions, etc.; the remainder is published by the state agencies, international organizations, funds, associations and the like.
The size of the market has prompted domination of versatile publishers. In several years emerged a group of leading publishers, Alma littera, Vaga, Baltos lankos, Tyto alba, TEV, Šviesa and some others.
90% of the output is in Lithuanian, the rest in Russian, Polish, English and other languages. Fiction makes up one fourth of the new titles. Though local titles dominate in number, translations outnumber them in circulation.
Book printing quality, which initially dropped with the coming of inexperienced people in business, is now recovering. New and private printers have augmented the capabilities of the former state run printing houses. Of 150 currently in business, some give a product technically no worse than in Western Europe. Yet among many aesthetically appealing books, exist also those of poor taste and quality. Often the excuse for that are scare publisher’s resources. In reality the artists designing book covers often lack insight into the subtleties of the market.
Book selling is the biggest headache of the business, as so far no new book distribution and selling system has been created. Of the several currently operating wholesalers and over 200 retail bookshops, only one tenth are privately owned and attempt to work in a modern fashion. Reference and expensive coffee table books sell best.
The Lithuanian State gave up the monopoly in publishing, but still has a power of financial regulation. Deplorably, to date, the country has no publishing legislation or clear state policy in this field.
Over the 1990’s, Lithuanian publishing profited largely from the OLF’s operations and its Publishing Program, which, besides making possible publishing of the translations of Western classical books in different fields of knowledge, also set the standard and provided trading.
A hampering factor in publishing was the shortage of experience by the new people who came into business.
Those still in publishing business expect a lot from the reviving Lithuanian economy; some of them will have to fold up though, as today publishers are in excess. More state support is expected as well as impetus from the adjusted Charity and Support Law. Hopefully, this could sustain the phenomenon of Lithuanian reader, which keeps amazing foreign publishers.