E-books are booming in Russia, but up to 95% of all downloads are pirated copies

Pirates are hungry for content.
Pirates are hungry for content.
Image: Reuters/Tobias Schwarz
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Despite the recent decline in reading in Russia and the stagnation of the local book market, interest in e-books continues to grow, as demonstrated by the Knigabayt E-book Expo recently held in Moscow. A recent infographic released by RBTH, indicates that 70% of Russia’s readers read ebooks, with 50% turning to ebooks in the last three years and 23% in the last year alone.

According to the Russian Association of Online Publishers, the Russian ebook market nearly doubled in 2012, reaching 250 million rubles ($8 million)—up from 135 million rubles ($4.1 million) in 2011. In fact, the e-book market has been growing rapidly since at least 2008. However e-books still represent just 1% of the total Russian book market.

Vladimir Kharitonov, the executive director of the Russian Association of Online Publishers, said currently, the total number of e-book readers in Russia is estimated at 20-22 million people and is expected to significantly increase over the next several years. Most of Russian e-book readers live in Moscow and St. Petersburg, while the number of people reading e-books in the Russian provinces remains insignificant.

Among the major players in the market are iMobilco, with 20% marketshare, and LitRes, which is dominant and controls 60% of the market. Sergei Anuriev, the general director of LitRes, believes that somewhere between the years 2015 and 2017 the share of the e-book segment in the Russian book market may reach 5%, which will be equivalent to RUB 3 billion ($90 million).

Russian e-books are priced significantly lower than in Western countries. Mikhail Osin, head of digital sales for one of Russia’s leading booksellers OZON, said in contrast to Western countries where the cost of a typical e-book is estimated at $10-15, the equivalent title in Russia sells for about $3.

Lack of content leads to piracy

Unfortunately, piracy remains a serious problem. According to representatives of Eksmo, Russia’s largest publishing house, up to 95% of all downloads of e-books are pirate copies, something that results in the annual losses to the industry of 4 billion rubles ($120 million).

Work is being done to stifle the drain due to pirates and is being spearheaded by Rospechat, the state agency that regulates mass media. Last year the agency launched a media campaign to encourage readers to buy legal e-books and is now regularly monitoring websites guilty of offering pirated books. As a result, over the last two years more than 25,000 links to pirated e-books have been removed from the internet.

According to Andrei Yurchenko, a senior analyst at Pro-books magazine, one of Russia’s leading publishing trade magazines, pirated sites remains popular in Russia resulting from the lack of any real competition from companies that distribute legal content: it is estimated that between 100,000-110,000 titles are available in pirated editions, compared to just 60,000 available legally.

“The current situation with pirated content in the Russian e-book market could be explained by the lack of legal alternatives in terms of service, product range and prices,” says Yurchenko. ”Once such alternatives will be available, it should go a long way toward solving the problem.”