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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pushkin and Pulp Rub Shoulders at Fair




The two-hundred and two-month-old national poet Alexander Pushkin rules the world at the 12th Moscow International Book Fair that runs through Sunday and offers visitors a unique opportunity to stock up on recent Russian titles at cut-rate prices.


Even though the party is over - his birthday was on June 6 - Pushkin pops up in every nook and cranny of the two-floor exhibit in the shape of fresher, revised and ever more beautiful editions of his works. Taking center stage at the fair is the collective exhibit, Dedication of Russian Publishers to the 200th Anniversary of Pushkin, with about 300 works by and on the poet, published over the past two years.


"He is alive," said Galina Shetinina, spokeswoman for the Press Ministry, which runs the exhibit. "He was born with us. He appeals to each period of a man's life."


But is he commercially viable?


"C'mon, what about Tchaikovsky, opera and drama?" Shetinina said. "There are now new interpretations, new understanding of his works. Everything will go on."


As proof she cited the Russky Put publishing house, which will publish at the end of this year the first ever encyclopedia entirely devoted to Pushkin's "Eugene Onegin."


Alexei Panaiotti, advertising manager at the St. Petersburg-based Azbuka publishing house, said the Pushkin craze will fade away with the jubilee. Nevertheless, Panaiotti maintains that the classics are still viable, even if Russian's tastes have veered toward pulp fiction.


"It sounds strange, but people still read classics," he said, adding that his company produced a series of Russian and foreign classics two years ago that has now reached 1 million copies. And they still plan to issue five or six books this year.


Shetinina said Vladimir Nabokov and Andrei Bitov are now the most popular classical authors. "Many new authors haven't remained truly national writers," she said wistfully.


INFRA.M, a company at the forefront of the publishing industry since 1992, has decided to stay away from the Pushkin trend. Its marketing deputy director, Galina Zinkovich, said people are making money on his persona.


"You should sell books that educate people," she said, adding that she had felt "ashamed" after publishing a book on Monica Lewinsky earlier this year.


Zinkovich said that between 1991 and 1992, Russia's Union of Publishers collapsed, leaving publishing houses to fend for themselves. "For some it was better, for others it was worse."


INFRA.M kept its head above those troubled times by widening its range of books, and now publishes books and periodicals on law, economics and the English language.


As for the favorites in modern Russia, detective and romance novels still prevail. The array of encyclopedias and "do-it-yourself" books are also a rich novelty on the Russian market. Tatyana Derevianko, commercial director at ATC Press, said their most popular titles are from the Practical Psychological series, such as "Practical Psychology for Little Girls or How to Behave Toward Boys."


The one shadow hanging over the hundreds of Russian and foreign publishers and visitors at the opening of the fair Wednesday was the rise of book prices.


Vadim Siniansky, vice president of the Russia Association of Book Publishers, said the rise is due to the cost of paper, which itself fluctuates with inflation. This year, he said, paper costs had increased 3 1/2 times, so book prices had doubled.


Derevianko said huge amounts of paper are now being exported to be sold at higher prices. Imported material is also expensive. She said paper sold last year abroad at $800 per ton cost $1,800 in Russia. "Right now, we have expensive and bad quality paper," she said. "And there is no law that puts some limits on this."


Siniansky gave his verdict on Russia's 11,000 registered publishing houses, 2,000 of which release books. "Publishing is doing great. But it is book sales that are suffering. They are hampering the publishing process."


This is in contrast to last year when after the crisis book sales actually increased, Siniansky said. "People cut down on multimedia entertainment, like the Internet. But they still needed to do something with their hands, and books were the cheapest option."


He added that interesting trends are taking root: Russian bookstores are uniting and opening several branches, on the model of Dillons and Barnes & Nobles in the West.


Elena Roshina, a housewife who is into esoteric literature, is undeterred by the market's ups and downs.


"This year's choice is smaller than last year's and prices are higher. But still, I've found what I needed," she said.


The fair runs through Monday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. in Pavilions 20 and 57 of the All-Russian Exhibition Center (formerly VDNKh, now VVTs).Tel. 181-9504. Metro: VDNKh. Entry to the fair costs 30 rubles.