When the first Krasnoyarsk Book Culture Fair was held in 2007, there were no overseas attendees in sight. In fact, there were only 63 local exhibitors, including 45 publishing houses. Still, 10,000 visitors attended the midwinter event, for which exhibitors trucked in nearly 10 metric tons of books.
Fast forward to November 2–6, 2011: the fair attracted 215 exhibitors (125 publishers), 36 overseas visitors, and more than 40,000 people. At least 60 metric tons of books were displayed throughout an exhibition space that, at 6,595 square meters, had more than doubled that of 2007. The Israeli Cultural Centre, Goethe-Institut, and the embassies of France and the Czech Republic took part in the fair. Frido Mann, Vladimir Tarasov, Jose Antonio Tassies, Arturo Valenis, Kerry Shawn Keys, and Gerardo Beltran were among the famous writers, poets, and artists present. (Four years earlier, the biggest names at the fair were Russian writers Vladimir Sorokin and Victor Erofeev.) More than 170 events were held, focusing on such topics as present and future libraries, methods for launching a bookstore, and even a five-day master class on creating a children’s comic book.
What makes the Krasnoyarsk Fair so interesting? And who would have thought it a good idea to hold such an event in the middle of nowhere—not in Siberia’s biggest city, Novosibirsk, or its second largest, Omsk, but in its third largest, Krasnoyarsk? For some answers, PW turns to Irina Prokhorova, publisher of New Literary Observer (NLO) and cofounder/chairperson of the Mikhail Prokhorov Foundation, which organizes the event.
Why did you choose Krasnoyarsk?
The answer is interlinked with the history of the Mikhail Prokhorov Fund, which was established in 2004 and was the first charitable foundation focused on supporting cultural initiatives in the Russian regions. The fund’s strategy was fully crystallized when Mikhail Prokhorov became the general manager of a huge metallurgic company, Norilsk Nickel, in the arctic city of Norilsk in the Krasnoyarsk region. In its first two years, the fund operated exclusively in Norilsk. Then it expanded its activities to cover the whole Krasnoyarsk area. Now it is active in 10 Russian regions, but Krasnoyarsk remains our focal point.
What is the impact of this book fair on the region?
It has become not only the city’s main cultural event but also one of the most prestigious at the national level. It is a source of pride for the Krasnoyarsk people and its government, and a wide-ranging fair that offers book presentations, discussion panels, and roundtables, as well as audiovisual events such as theater and musical performances, film screenings, exhibitions, installations, and other experimental genres, as well as a strong children’s program.
The whole city is involved, since off-venue events are held at clubs, museums, theaters, and art centers and galleries. In a way, it unifies the local community, especially the educated, who have been demoralized and fragmented over the years. It also exposes the misperception about reading habits in regions outside of the major cities: people are reading, and they want to read more given the opportunity.
Aside from bringing outstanding artistic voices and new experiences to Krasnoyarsk, which stimulates a new wave of local creativity, the fair also introduces the regions to our guests. It is common knowledge that Russian artists from the capital cities prefer traveling abroad and are ignorant of their own country. So the fund focuses on bringing locals and overseas visitors together to discover Russia’s diverse nature and culture.
How about practical changes?
The fair has helped to improve the distribution of high-quality fiction and nonfiction to these regions. Local bookstores and libraries now have access to up-to-date book information from the publishing hubs. The fair also witnesses a lot of signed agreements between publishers and distributors. In addition, the fund’s grant of $300,000 has brought in essential books—such as titles for children and publications on popular science, contemporary literature, and art—for Krasnoyarsk’s public libraries, whose needs have been neglected in the past 20 years. The Krasnoyarsk book fair’s success has since prompted other Russian regions and cities, such as Perm and Voronezh, to launch their own book events.
How are publishing and distribution in this region?
In Russia, 80% of all publishers are located in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The rest are regional publishers, with the majority in the Krasnoyarsk area. In some regions, there are only one or two publishers, usually university presses. For instance, in Tomsk, there is only one publisher, which is associated with Tomsk University. Altogether, there are about 50 publishers in Siberia and the Far East regions. In terms of book distribution, there are around 750 bookstores, mostly belonging to the federal bookstore chains such as Top-Kniga and Bukva. Most distributors are small companies—about 150 of them for Siberia and the Far East—and, presently, their continued existence is rather iffy.
What publishers and retailers are found here?
There are Bukva [the publisher, not to be confused with Bukva the bookstore chain], Trend, and three university presses: Rastre, Policor and Apeks. As for bookstores, we have Russkoe slovo, Biriusa chain, Academic Book, Knizhny Meridian and Bestseller. The distribution side is represented by Reclamnaya kniga, Detsky ray, Intellect and XXI Century Books, as well as a special library supplier.
Are books sold here differently from those in Moscow or St. Petersburg?
As far as bestsellers and mass market titles are concerned, there is practically no difference. The main problem is still the lack of high-quality and professional titles in Krasnoyarsk bookstores, a situation that exists in virtually every city in Russia, even those within a three-hour drive from Moscow. But with the Krasnoyarsk book fair, the situation has improved.
How about differences in reading habits and book preferences?
I do not see much difference, except there is always a special interest in local culture and literature in each region. For instance, there is generally a strong feeling of Siberian identity here, with plenty of books and studies on Siberian history, literature, and culture. The most popular topics at the fair are about Siberia within the Russian culture, or Siberia through the eyes of foreigners.
How much does a book cost in Krasnoyarsk?
The average price is 20% to 30% lower than in Moscow, because the standard of living here is definitely lower than in the capital. Publishers do take into consideration the lower salaries and smaller market when pricing their titles.
Why should anyone think of braving the Siberian winter to attend this fair?
This book fair is held in a big industrial, cultural, and educational center in a very important Russian city. It defies the typical perception of Siberia as a vast land of snow and wilderness. Coming to Krasnoyarsk would enrich one’s knowledge of the diverse world. Besides, this fair represents a big potential market for new ideas and books.
What has been planned for the 2012 event on October 31 to November 4?
The working theme is the Russian North/Northern Civilization. The idea is to present a notion of a northern country that defines certain social metaphors, mentality, identity, and way of life. We will be inviting writers, intellectuals, and artists from Scandinavia and perhaps from Canada and the U.S. to participate in the upcoming event.
Quick facts about Siberia and Krasnoyarsk
Krasnoyarsk region (population, 2.8 million) occupies around 2.34 million square kilometers and is 4,000 kilometers away from Moscow along the Trans-Siberian railway. The train ride is three days from Moscow; there are also daily flights from Moscow.