Romanians spend around EUR 5 per year on books on average. With the industry turnover stagnating at around EUR 50-60 million, local readers could spend much more, but this won’t happen unless a bigger and better distribution system emerges to meet the demand, Marin Vidrascu, Litera Publishing House executive director, told Business Review.
While a German reads on average 16 books per year, a Romanian will only read one or two – but this is not the full story. “The big problem in Romania is the distribution system, not so much the fact that the average person reads or doesn’t read,” said Vidrascu. With around 250-300 bookstores nationwide for its almost 20 million inhabitants, “[Romania’s] distribution system is a very weak one,” added Vidrascu. “With such a weak distribution network — I mean spots where books are sold — the industry can’t grow. If, for example, the number of bookstores were to double or triple tomorrow, this would happen to the turnover, it would go up.”
Nevertheless, such a “bigger and better distribution system” is already happening, with “the online side [having] come in and created a really good niche,” he noted. “Those who didn’t use to have access to a physical bookstore can now order online in any corner of the country. Automatically, the book market has gone up, but let’s not imagine that this necessarily means that many new readers were brought in. It’s just that the buying method is much simpler.”
In fact, Litera expects that 5-10 percent of its projected 20 percent growth in turnover for 2016 will result from its online sales. “The departments will remain mostly the same, with 50 percent of the publishing house’s portfolio dedicated to children’s books,” said Vidrascu. Its major line is Disney books, for which Litera is the only publisher in Romania to have a license, noted the director. “The increases we will be making this year in terms of the editorial portfolio will clearly be in this segment; we’ll develop the children’s brands that we have, Disney and National Geographic among them. For adults, fiction and non-fiction, encyclopedias, dictionaries, we’ll bring new things in each segment,” he added.
In 2015, the publishing house saw growth of around 10 percent from the previous year, despite the book market in Romania stagnating at around EUR 50-60 million. The number is “exactly the books that are being sold in bookstores, be they in hypermarkets, on Magheru Boulevard, or online,” said the director. “If we factor in the so-called kiosk projects, the book market in Romania is clearly decreasing because, when the kiosk projects were in place, the value of the market was around EUR 100 million, without counting textbooks,” he added, pointing out that with the kiosk projects having now decreased, the turnover has stabilized at around EUR 50-60 million.
Not even the recent changes in VAT rates, which led to a decrease in the price of books, “will generate a fast increase in the Romanian book industry, because in the end it’s not a very large percentage and it needs some time before its full effect will be felt,” said Vidrascu. “The state needs to do more and, slowly, we see it growing closer somehow to the cultural market, which is a very good thing.”
It is not only the market for print books that is in a state of stagnation, but also the one for e-books. Not even young people, who might read a lot on the go, necessarily focus on e-books. “When it comes to e-books, the Romanian market isn’t growing and it won’t either, because the device to read on is not so cheap, and when it comes to illustrated books no solution to read them has been found, even at world level,” added Vidrascu.
Partnerships such as Litera’s current one with Uber, some of whose cars are equipped with books for customers to leaf through, are a source of exposure to literature, where “you see the book, you don’t buy it on the spot, but you keep it in mind and later there’s a website you access and order it from and it gets delivered in 24 hours,” said the director. However, this progress is not replicated much elsewhere. “We must draw the unhappy conclusion that things can’t change in a few years,” he added, pointing out that the focus should be on igniting the urge to read from a young age. “We need a serious infusion of books between four and eight. If this period is missed, it’s more difficult afterwards,” he warned.
Adult coloring books reach Romania
Since the beginning of the year, Johanna Basford’s coloring books have topped the bestseller charts, the Litera director told BR. “After that are obviously the Disney books, the Zootropolis ones. That has the movie as well, a movie that was very well received in Romania, and that works well for us too.”
Romanian readers’ tastes are comparable to their international counterparts. “It doesn’t differ very much from countries such as Germany, Italy, or even the United States,” said the director. “Personal development books have soared both worldwide and in Romania: how to improve yourself in every field, from knitting to soccer, we have them all. There’s a clear growth in that direction.”
Women are the main buyers of books, locally, according to Vidrascu. “They always buy more than men, not just books, and automatically they also deal with children’s books,” he said. Men are mostly interested in buying books that they later give to women, especially during the Valentine’s, March 1 and March 8 period.
Pictured: Marin and Dan Vidrascu