Book Publishing
and Book Distribution
"The Bulgarian state has almost no policy concerning the book industry, most of its administrative gestures concerning book publishing and book distribution being only timid attempts." These are the words of Raymond Wagenstein, the president of the Bulgarian Publishers' Association (created in 1993) and member of the International Publishers' Association. The members of the association genuinely recognize reading as a national priority. Their work is driven by the attempt to cover up for the mission of the National Book Centre, because the Ministry of Culture (MC) constantly diminishes or overtakes its functions. According to Wagenstein's vision the mission of the association he runs is to lobby the MC and the "power-driven" Ministry of Education, as well as to represent the publishers' branch in Bulgaria to domestic or foreign institutions, to organize training seminars and the participation of Bulgaria in the Frankfurt Book Fair...
He appreciated the reforms introduced by the MC in the field of the book industry as "illiterate, irresponsible and almost criminal". Hitherto book distribution in Bulgaria has been totally ruined. The bookshops existing before 1989 have been moved from under the authority of the MC to that of the Ministry of Industry, with the argument that the latter gathers experienced experts in privatization. Thus the illegitimate desetatisation has transformed all bookshops mainly into "white" technique stores.
There are today towns and villages in Bulgaria where not a single book may arrive. The publishing products are sold on the street under the open sky. That's why the lifecycle of an edition is not longer than several weeks.
According to Dancho Panayotov, manager of the "Helikon" bookstore chain, tiny merchants stubbornly obstruct the enlargement and modernization of book merchandizing. Most of the publishers have some understanding of distribution and, if they do not open a bookshop of their own, they may not avoid the mournful spider web coming next, where 300 publishers work with a single distributor, as well as 300 distributors work with a single publisher... Nevertheless publishing houses own most of the Bulgarian bookshops.
After 1989 all 27 state publishing houses have been drained for good and brought to oblivion. There has been some interest towards privatisation of the textbook monopolist - the "Narodna Prosveta" Publishing House, but today this publisher is also forced to operate in a competitive environment.
In 2001 a total circulation of 9 500 000 books have been published in Bulgaria, which is equal to 2 books per capita of the population. Only 10 years ago the total circulation distributed equalled 10 books per capita. Bulgaria does not read any more, is Wagenstein's conclusion.
Most of the announced circulation is not verified in reality. It is a particular phenomenon in publishing that books printed in Bulgaria are rarely assigned an ISBN number, and to speak of a strich code is virtually impossible.
"To publish a book is the easiest thing to do. I'm against ministry grants for book publishing, especially in a country where there is overproduction of books by a countless number of small publishing companies. If the state is determined to help, it has to focus all its efforts on regulating book distribution". Wagenstein is convinced that "the book distribution regulation is precisely the issue where there is no reform at all".
He points out as a constructive example, book store chains such as "Helikon" and "The Penguins" developed all around the country, as well as regional book store chains like "ABV" and "Pegasus".
Supposedly the annual turnover of the whole book market is between 35 and 50 million leva - in case the usual circulation of an edition is around 1000 copies with an average price of 5 levs. Still many book professionals estimate that only an insignificant share of the profit earned from books is reinvested back in book publishing.
According to Wagenstein there are 3000 registered publishing companies with an ISBN in Bulgaria, or, as he puts it, "one publishing company per each reading survivor" in the country. But real players on the book market are those who take part in the 2 Book Fairs organised annually, i.e. approximately 150 publishing houses. Moderate enterprises, i.e. with more than 20 books published each year, amount to 50 publishing houses. As for the large publishers, one can count only a couple. The rest of the publishers are family businesses. The Book Fairs in their turn are private enterprises. They are like bookstores behind doors.
We would conclude by saying that both publishers and book distributors find the printing facilities of Bulgaria resourceful to meet the needs of the whole Balkan Peninsula. Still, one could say that it is still in the future that society and the literature community in particular would recognize electronic publishing as a real component of the book sector.