- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 15, 2002

High book prices in post-communist times and broad interest in Western literature are making it tough for publishers from Central and Eastern Europe to survive, said publishers at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
At Romanian, Czech or Slovenian book stands on the lower floor of Frankfurt's vast exhibition space, the verdict was almost unanimous: Books are too expensive.
"In the general context of the crisis, people simply prefer to go without books," Dana Kalinova, director of the Czech library and editors association, said with a shrug.
The format of the book fair, which closed yesterday, was also a problem. Halls were divided into countries and regions rather than by subject, and books could not be sold directly to visitors for cash, which deprived small publishers of handy revenue.
"Look in the hall where the Anglo-Saxons are it's huge and well-lit. That's where the business is," Miss Kalinova said. "They have thrown us, the old communist countries, together in a dark hall."
On the walls behind the Czech stand hung photographs of Prague devastated by the floods in August.
"Fifty percent of Poles say they no longer look at a book. That is a real danger for democracy," said Andrzej Nowakowski, president of the Polish book chamber, which represents book publishers and distributors.
He also was concerned that 250 libraries had been closed in the last two years because of a lack of funds.
"In communist times, Lithuania's seven publishing houses were state-owned and subsidized," Culture Minister Rasa Balcikonyte said. "Now there are around 100, but the prices have gone sky-high."
In 1997, her ministry started giving financial aid again in a desperate attempt to protect Lithuanian culture.
Publishing books in little-read languages is also a handicap, booksellers in Frankfurt said, because higher print runs for English or Spanish reproductions make for lower prices.
"Big publishing groups are very demanding," said Miss Kalinova. "A year or two after a book is published, they look for discount printers to print the final editions, which is really hurting the book industry."
It is only when writers from former communist countries make it in the West that real opportunities arise for publishers from Eastern and Central Europe.
The awarding of the Nobel Prize in literature to Imre Kertesz on Thursday is one such windfall that is likely to reinforce the industry in Hungary, which is the exception to the rule.
"Hungarian literature is going through an excellent period with a great variety of authors," Peter Laszlo Zentai, head of the Hungarian Publishers and Booksellers Association, said after the award was announced.
The fair the world's biggest book show, attended by more than 6,000 exhibitors from 110 countries also tried to help by giving higher profiles to writers from former communist countries.
After Hungary in 1999, Poland in 2000 and Lithuania this year, the book fair will make Russia the guest of honor in 2003.
But it is still a question of breaking into foreign markets. Publishers from Central and Eastern Europe find markets like Germany's reasonably open, but others remain largely closed to them.

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