As Kommersant has learned, the German and Spanish divisions of one of the world’s largest book publishers, Penguin Random House, have returned to work in Russia. Market participants are counting on the resumption of business relations with foreign partners, interrupted after the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine. However, experts clarify that regional divisions can only manage the rights to books by local authors, and their share in the overall portfolio is small.
Some foreign publishers have begun to return to the Russian market, Alexey Ilyin, general director of the Alpina publishing group, told Kommersant. In particular, according to him, the Spanish and German divisions of the world’s largest publisher of books in English, Penguin Random House, are again operating in the Russian Federation. Mr. Ilyin clarified that the companies returned to the country after the Frankfurt Book Fair, which took place on October 18–22.
The Spanish Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial is based in Barcelona, and includes Lumen, Pinguin Clasicos, Origen, Nube de Tinta, etc. The German Penguin Random House Verlagsgruppe operates in Munich, Gütersloh, Berlin and Stuttgart. According to the company’s website, its portfolio includes Liu Cixin, Nicholas Sparks, John Grisham, Stephen King, and Lucinda Riley. The division includes imprints Goldmann, Prestel, Manesse, Siedler, etc. It was not possible to contact their representatives in Russia.
After the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine, a number of foreign authors (among them, for example, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, JK Rowling) suspended work with Russian publishing houses (see Kommersant, March 21, 2022). A number of publishing houses, including Penguin Random House Macmillan Publishers, Simon & Schuster, and the international book wholesaler Gardners, also announced that they would cease operations in Russia. The Russian Book Union then estimated the share of foreign authors in the total revenue of the Russian book market at 40%.
Eksmo-AST did not comment on the information about the return of Penguin Random House. At the same time, in March, Eksmo began selling the autobiography of British Prince Harry “Spare” in the original language on marketplaces, Vedomosti reported. The company said that the publication was purchased from a wholesale distributor from a country where the book was published in English. Using a similar scheme, Eksmo planned to launch the distribution of other foreign bestsellers. Penguin Random House is the international publisher of the memoir Spare.
The return of the Spanish and German divisions of Penguin Random House “has given hope to Russian publishing houses; many expect that they will be able to buy rights directly from foreign partners,” says a Kommersant source in the media market. In his opinion, in the near future we can expect advertising campaigns from Spanish and German authors, who “will fill their niche in the absence of English-language bestsellers.”
However, divisions can only manage the rights of local authors, emphasizes Vladimir Kharitonov, technical director of Freedom Letters. “In 2021 in Russia, the share of Spanish and German authors in works and circulation was only 8% of all translations, while English ones were 61% and 69%, respectively,” he notes.
In general, Mr. Kharitonov clarifies, the share of translated books in the total output in Russia has not changed much, although there is a decline: the reduction in the output of translations slightly outpaces the overall decline in the market, “which is more noticeable, because translations make up a significant part of the most widely read literature—fiction.” With Penguin Random House returning next year, he believes the decline will be less pronounced. However, Mr. Kharitonov clarifies, publishing houses will need time to conclude contracts and carry out translations.