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Perestroika In Publishing
by Greg Gransden

FOR NINE YEARS, the pride of Larissa Eryomina`s life has been an eclectic literary compilation that she edits every year for Moscow`s Kniga. publishing house. Entitled Memorable Dates in Literature, it is an annual collection of articles, bibliographies, biographies, photographs, and reproductions of cover artwork, all tied to important anniversaries in world literary history and contributed by the country`s most prominent writers. The 1990 edition includes a feature by Boris Pasternak`s niece, a series of illustrations by the 1920s constructivist artist Lazar Lissitsky, and articles about figures as diverse as the American writer Edgar Allan Poe, the 18th-century Italian typographer Giambattista Bodoni, and the Finnish illustrator Axel Gallen. But there is a poignancy to Eryomina`s preparations for this year`s edition. Because reduced government subsidies have put state-owned Kniga under heavy financial pressure, the 1991 edition of Memorable Dates will be the last. "You can`t publish such books any more," muses Eryomina, shaking her head sadly. "It`s a tragedy." Under perestroika Soviet publishing, perhaps more than any other sector of the economy, has had to adapt to market forces. This has forced many to make difficult choices between publishing books with unique literary value - such as Memorable Dates - and works with strictly commercial appeal, such as mysteries, science fiction, and erotica, which currently enjoy enormous popularity in the Soviet Union. But reform has also brought editorial freedoms that were inconceivable even three years ago. In the past two years, for example, Kniga has published works by Yuly Daniel and Andrey Sinyavsky, the first writers to be prosecuted at the start of the Brezhnev era in the 1960s, and the memoirs of Nadezhda Mandelshtam, whose husband, the poet Osip Mandelshtam, was killed during the Stalinist terror of the 1930s. This year, Kniga will translate and publish historical works by Richard Pipes and Robert Conquest, U.S. academics known for their trenchant anticommunist political views. Kniga is also a member of a publishing consortium, headed by the literary journal Novy Mir, which is putting out an eight-volume set of the dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn`s selected works. Religious works, long suppressed by the Soviet government, are also enjoying a renaissance here. For example, no fewer than six publishing houses are planning to publish the works of C. S. Lewis, the popular British religious and children`s writer. One cooperative publisher, Gnosis, is devoted entirely to publishing theology and religious philosophy. And not just mainstream religion: Hare Krishna literature, which earned its purveyors prison terms as recently as 1988, is now freely available, and at least one publishing house is considering putting out L. Ron Hubbard`s Dianetics. This editorial emancipation has created a thriving and eclectic marketplace for books. Independent publishing houses have sprung up at a feverish pace; by one estimate, some 300 were registered in Moscow last year, though perhaps two-thirds of these were fly-by-night operations, which put out one book and then disappeared. Innumerable book vendors clutter the street corners and metro stations of the Soviet capital. It is perhaps the only industry here that is not pervaded with gloom about its future. Even vanity publishing has begun in the Soviet Union. Prometei, a university textbook publisher, has already published some 400 titles, ranging from prose and poetry to scientific literature and monographs, with print runs of 5,000 to 20,000. It costs the authors about 3,000 to 4,000 rubles (about $1,950 to $2,600 at the official exchange rate) per book. "Before, we had an enormous number of authors who were angry and frustrated because they couldn`t get published," said Vladimir Grushetskin, chief editor of Prometei`s department of socio-political literature. "Now they can" But while publishing is booming, it is also changing the way it does business. Before perestroika, publishing was a state monopoly, and the state provided its publishers with ample resources while keeping a tight rein on editorial freedom. That monopoly was abolished in the summer of 1989. Since then, scores of cooperative (private) and joint-venture publishers have sprung up. Meanwhile, several state-owned publishers, including Kniga, have opted for a leasing arrangement that gives them semi-independent status. Independence has not, however, meant that publishers are free from bureaucratic constraints. Cooperative publishers, for example, are forbidden to put out books under their own trademark. They are required to publish under the trademark of a state or joint-venture publishing house, for which they must pay a hefty fee. State publishers, for their part, face other restrictions: for example, they are prohibited from dealing in cash. All payments - to suppliers, for example - must be made on account, through bank transfers. Suppliers, who prefer cash, often demand a premium on top of the purchase price to accept payment on account. In the case of computer equipment, for instance, the premium can be as much as 25 per cent of the original purchase price. State publishers are also at a disadvantage in the market for translators and authors, since they must compete with private publishers such as cooperatives and joint ventures. State publishers, whose wage rates are fixed by the government, can only pay translators from 150 to 400 rubles ($98 to $260) per 24 pages, according to Eryomina; cooperatives offer at least 1,000 rubles ($650).But it is suppliers who have created the most obstacles for publishers. Virtually everything, from paper to typography services, is in short supply in the Soviet Union. Under such conditions, suppliers have tremendous leverage on their customers. For example, they often demand a percentage of the gross sales revenues from a given book instead of a fixed payment. Irina Karpova, chief editor at Yunona, a Soviet-Yugoslav publishing joint venture, said paper suppliers often demand between 20 and 50 per cent of gross sales; typography and printing firms, 20 and 40 per cent; and distributors anywhere up to 50 per cent. Publishers have to bargain hard to retain even a 25-per-cent share of sales, out of which they pay their overhead and, at least in theory, make a profit. `We have the ideas, we find the authors, we plan and put together the book," says Karpova. "But most of the profits go to the technical people, not the publishers" Even when publishers can secure paper supplies and other services, there is one obstacle that often proves insurmountable: copyrights. Soviet publishers must pay for the rights to put out any foreign book that was published after the 1973 Berne Convention. Simple enough. But the Soviet ruble is not convertible into other currencies, and publishers for the most part have no way of obtaining the foreign funds necessary to purchase copyrights. This obliges Soviet publishers to either publish only those works which appeared in print before 1973, or convince the foreign author to accept royalties in rubles that can only be spent in the Soviet Union. Into the latter category fall the academics Pipes and Conquest, who Eryomina says are eager to see their works in print in the Soviet Union. Soviet emigre writers, who often have relatives stilt living in the USSR, also frequently agree to accept rubles in payment. Still, most publishers reluctantly stick to pre-1973 works. The state-owned Raduga publishing house, for example, was forced to suspend plans to publish more recent works of fiction when the AllUnion Copyright Association, or VAAP, reneged on a promise to provide an allocation of hard currency. Among the books that Raduga cannot publish because of this is Tom Wolfe`s Bonfire of the Vanities, the rights for which reportedly cost about $20,000. Plans to put out works by the U.S. authors John Updike and Saul Bellow, Switzerland`s Alfred Muschg, Argentina`s Julio Cortazar, Britain`s Malcolm Bradbury, and several Japanese authors are also on hold for the same reason. "On the one hand, publishing is easier now that there`s no dictator from above telling us what to do," says Nina Fyodorovna, chief editor of foreign socio-political literature at Raduga. "But other complications have arisen" Still, though the financial pressures are daunting, many Soviet publishers have ambitious publishing agendas; they finance these by publishing quick-selling, commercial works such as mysteries or science fiction in print rims of 200,000 to 500,000. Prometei, for example, has put out more than a score of Agatha Christie titles to finance the printing of Albert Camus`s The Plague and selected works by Franz Kafka and Sigmund Freud. Raduga will put out books by Arthur Conan Doyle, Arthur C. Clarke, and Roald Dahl to pay for publishing Iris Murdoch, Graham Greene, E. L. Doctorow, Herman Hesse, Shmuel Yosef Agnon of Israel, Stefan Zweig of Austria, Hans Christian Branner of Denmark, and others. Raduga also has tentative plans to publish a collection of Canadian mystery stories. Indeed, Raduga is among the few Soviet publishers that have put out Canadian novels; since 1985, it has published a collection of Canadian short stories (by Ethel Wilson, Marie-Claire Blais, Richard Wright, and Ande Langevin), Margaret Arwood`s Surfacing, Claire Mowat`s The Outport People, Margaret Laurence`s The Diviners, and David Adams Richards`s The Coining of Winter. Earlier, Raduga had published three novels by Morley Callaghan (More Joy in Heaven, A Fine and Private Place, and Close to the Sun Again). The print run for each work was a modest 50,000, and the books sold out quickly. The other two publishing houses that have dealt in Canadian fiction are Molodaya Gvardia, which has published poetry by Al Purdy and a collection of Canadian short stories, and Khudozhestvennaya Literatura, which put out Atwood`s The Edible Woman (the Russian title of which translates literally as `A Tasty Tidbit.") Various journals have published work by Pierre Berton, W. P. Kinsella, John Robert Colombo, Stephen Leacock, and even songs by Leonard Cohen. Farley Mowat is the most widely published Canadian author in the Soviet Union, particularly his essays, non-fiction, and children`s literature, such as The Dog Who Wouldn`t Be, Lost in the Barrens, and The Boat Who Wouldn`t Float. On the whole, however, Canadian literature is little known in Russia. Still, there exists a small circle of Soviet specialists in the field loosely organized by Nikolai Paltsev, editor of Canadian and American fiction at Moscow`s Library of Foreign Literature. "Canadian letters is a kind of passion for me:` says Paltsev. "(Margaret Atwood`s) Lady Oracle is one of my favourite books. Paltsev helps edit the Journal of Modem Literature Abroad (to be renamed Diapazon this year), in which works by virtually every major Canadian author have been reviewed, including Alice Munro, W. 0. Mitchell, Gabrielle Roy, David French, Timothy Findley, and Northrop Frye. One conspicuous omission, it should be noted, is Mordecai Richler. But the Journal of Modern literature Abroad has traditionally enjoyed only a narrow readership, mainly because until this year the Soviet government considered it classified material and restricted access to it. Paltsev says he has often tried to get publishers interested in Canadian authors - two years ago, for example, he persuaded Raduga to put out Robertson Davies`s What`s Bred in the Bone, but they did not have the money to do it. This, then, is the main obstacle: financing, and particularly hard-currency expenses such as copyrights. One possible solution would be for Canadian writers to accept their royalties in rubles, which can be used to purchase Soviet-made goods. There is a precedent: one Vancouver-based musical group, the Powder Blues Band, is negotiating to take out its recording royalties in lacquer boxes and Georgian cognac. Another potential option would be to have the Canadian government contribute to the publishing costs. Other Western governments are doing it: for example, the Gnosis publishing cooperative is counting on a $ 10,000 grant from the Danish government to publish a work by the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. The United States Information Agency (USIA) gives out US$ 10,000 grants to Soviet publishing houses to publish selected works on American politics, society, and history. The grants go to pay for the copyright. Canada does not have a similar program; but if it wants its authors to be published in the Soviet Union, it should consider one.

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