"For many, the “beautiful” car plate numbers, for which serious amounts are paid, can be of greater value, but not books.”
Social problems changed the system of values and that books are expensive nowadays, but book sellers and publishers in Armenia are sure that sales will grow if the publishing sector is exempt from taxes and a corresponding state policy will be worked out.
Poet Khachik Manukyan says that in the past people read more. Books were more accessible and each home had its own library:
“All this confusion during the transitional period. Seemingly endless lists of unsolved social problems. Imminent threat of war distracts us from books, although I, like many others, can not live without reading.”
Writer and literary critic Hovik Charkhchyan says that many are intimidated by prices on books:
“Perhaps, when compared to the outside world, the prices on books are more affordable in Armenia, but look how much our citizens earn. How can a person who receives 100,000 dram ($205) afford to buy one or two books a month?”
He compares the cost price for the publisher with prices in bookstores and notes that the amount almost triples:
“If you are an author and you pay for printing, then you are counting on some profit. In a bookstore, a seller adds his profit, and then VAT. A normal book of average volume costs 7,000-8,000 drams ($ 15-16) today. There are wonderful books that you want to buy, but when you see the price – you retreat.”
At one time, the well-known Armenian writer Yeghishe Charents, who was also involved in publishing, introduced the concept of “cheap literature” in Armenia, affordable to everyone. For this, the writer was looking for new ways of publishing, and trying to get state support to minimize the prices of books. Modern writers consider it possible that the experience can be repeated nowadays, at least to free the sphere from taxes.
Anna Nagashyan, the manager of the Bureaucrat bookstore in Yerevan, says that if books cost a little less, then sales would increase:
“At the same time, we understand the position of publishing houses. We are familiar with the sphere from the inside. Take translations, which are now in high demand. They pay for copyright, pay for the work of an interpreter, pay taxes. If we take into account all the expenses, we get what we have today. But when buying a book, we acquire not a thing, but a system of values, a piece of culture. In any case, we try with the help of sales and discounts to adjust to the buyers.”
Many publishing houses today, when publishing new books, are actively engaged in their advertising, trying to attract readers with their own sales.
In particular, the Antares Publishing House tries to provoke interest for books with interesting projects: “Celebrities Read”, “Reading is Sexy”, “Prohibited Literature”, “Compass”and “Must Read”. Antares tries to publish high-quality literature which has never been published before in Armenia – 150 books a year.
There are also open air book fairs in Yerevan, where books are cheaper than in bookstores, and you can even bargain there. Regular people give their books to sellers at the fairs for a penny. Unlike bookstores, it is still possible to exchange an already read book for another there, paying a small amount.
A seller at one of the book fairs, Edgar Karapetyan, notes that there is more interest for former forbidden authors and modern foreign writers, while the classics remain in the shadows.
Another seller, Vram Martirosyan, notes:
“’Educational literature, like manuals, are selling the best. The books that cost from 5,000 to 10,000 drams ($10-20) do not sell well.”
Vram believes that books are not so expensive; rather, people read less due to the lack of ideology:
“The older editions of classics cost 1,000 drams ($2). New editions of the same works are 4 times more expensive. Though the fact that people do not read much is not connected with social problems, it is important what they are taught in schools. The education qualification has been reduced. There are those who have money, and they can buy kilograms of extra, unnecessary food, but they will not buy a single book. For many, the “beautiful” car plate numbers, for which serious amounts are paid, can become of greatest value, but not books.”
The owner of a small bookstore in Etchmiadzin, Julietta Khachatryan, says that customers come to her store every day:
“They buy mostly fairy tales and fables that cost up to a thousand drams ($2). The most popular is “The Little Prince”, they buy Narek (“Naregatsi’s Book of Mournful Canticles”) and the Children’s Bible. However, they do not even approach books that cost 5,000 – only in exceptional cases.”
Nevertheless, both book sellers and writers say that people read more now than five years ago.
A book consultant at the Bureaucrat bookstore, Aram Avetis, says:
“Slowly but surely we are moving forward. Those who read, continue to read.”
He divides readers into groups: people who read only modern literature, those who want to read classical works, time-tested, and those who like to read what is popular in the world.
“A book consultant dictates the taste. I offer the right literature. A person who considers himself educated and developed should read specific literature. When we go to the dentist, we do not tell him how to treat our teeth, but let the doctor do his job. And here it is exactly the same,” says Aram.
Two thousand titles are printed in Armenia annually, of which 30% are fiction. Also, 145 publishing houses are registered in the country in total.
“Effective or inactive, this is a terrific figure. And the fact that publishing houses are being opened means there is a demand for printing. It is a pity that everything connected with books is concentrated in the capital and in one or two big cities. In the more rural areas we do not have bookstores. In Soviet times, bookstores were present in big villages and regional centres, and books were quite affordable,” says writer Charkhchyan.
The sphere certainly needs a revision, and there is an opinion: it is necessary to start opening bookstores of a new format, that will become centres of leisure for the whole family.