Publishing and Reading in Bulgaria

Did you know that Jane Austen had written for more than 20 years before publishing her first novel, and Stephen King threw out his first manuscript of Carrie because he thought it was not good enough? Both of them were working hard on improving themselves, and although they had to go through a number of difficulties, they were able to do it, and thus, set an example for others. This highlights the importance of books being discussed, popularized, recommended, and sometimes rejected. The latter is especially important for those writers who think that there is nothing easier than writing a book. After all, being a poet or a writer is not just about seeking public attention and recognition, but also about having something vital to say and knowing the best way to do it. Literature requires dedication and vocation, and something very important without which it just does not happen ­­– dedication. If you cannot understand this yourself, people who understand literature should be the ones to tell you. Nowadays, in my country at least, literary criticism has become a meaningless and incomprehensible occupation to some extent. The reasons for this are yet to be clarified, but that is not my goal.

Nineteen ninety-two proved to be a golden year for Bulgarian publishing compared to the vacuum of previous years. After the artificially sustained paper problem dropped out, the number of private publishing houses grew in geometric progression. In Plovdiv, if they were 7 or 8 in 1991, only a year later, they were 20. Private publishers quickly took the initiative into their own hands and began to dictate the conditions of the book market. The reasons for that can be found both in certain favorable socioeconomic circumstances and in the new course of democratic changes in the socio-political development of the country. In the same year, total book production was about 300 titles with approximately 7,000,000 prints. In comparison to three years previously, the highest number of titles was at 160 with about 1,000,000 copies. The number of titles in 1992 had increased nearly twice, and the circulation by seven times. This data shows that in the last years there was a strong hunger for books in the market, but that it was satiated as much as it could. It also reveals that the market had been artificially restrained so far.

For a year or two, book publishing had turned into a lucrative and appealing business with rapid profits. Since the fall of the monopoly on paper and state publishers, it had begun to dismantle another monopoly on the printing bases. State printing houses responded much more flexibly, and immediately turned to the new competitive marketplace, while government publishers were unable to adapt and suffered heavy losses. Some companies bought print technologies and, among other things, began to print books. This was the case for the “hybrid” publishers, some of whom were willing to put books on the market without preprinting, almost on an amateur basis. Such publishers did not know and did not recognize the posts of editor and proofreader. Book surrogates appeared with extremely low artistic qualities and layout. But in time these publishing hybrids were forced to become more competitive. As a result, they began to publish better quality books. Another change that followed in 1992 is the choice of thematic books available to readers –romance, thrillers, adventure, esoteric and erotic books began to be published.

From the above, it can be safely concluded that in 1992 in Plovdiv, and possibly in the country, there was an overproduction of fiction. This was a phenomenon that may not repeat itself. The reasons lie mainly in the rapid accumulation of capital, embedded in book publishing, and in printing a large number of titles in large prints to satisfy the average and below average reader’s taste. This has led to a great drop in quality with regards to the artistic level. This could not have been avoided at this stage, since the market conditions favored this process. There was an emergence of a so-called internal protectionism, that is to say, that books which could be rapidly realized were published more, and the competition was eliminated by titles guaranteeing high circulation of sales and gaining large sums of profit. These profits, in turn, were then put back into accumulating basic tools and printing new books.

However, the place of Bulgarian literature is unclear throughout this process. The titles by Bulgarian authors are only 13% of the total, and the circulation is even lower ­– only 1% to 2%. Out of 20 publishing houses, only 12 have published Bulgarian fiction. Thus, despite the increased number of publishers, the Bulgarian titles have fallen in half and the circulation is only 16% of that of the old publishing house. It can be said that in 1992, the Bulgarian book was incriminated on the market. Even now many of the retailers think of it almost as “socially harmful” and do not want to hear about it, let alone put it on their stands. The pretext is not just the trade discount and the low profit. Readers also do not look for the Bulgarian book, they are still afraid of the bookkeepers giving it to them to go with the latest bestseller. Either that or they are simply tired of the fornicators of the artificially imposed “glories” in Bulgarian literature.

Stalls and bookstores are overwhelmed with books, which would indicate that there is still a trade going on. It was revealed that fiction, popular medicine, applied psychology, and esotericism are the most sought after. Furthermore, there was an increased demand for new contemporary writers and Bulgarian novels. The books from the Harry Potter series was the undisputed favorite – the sales of the six novels that have so far been published in Bulgaria have exceeded 300,000. Books like Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code also enjoyed a great readership and were even re-published. A lot of fantasy was reported to be read with Terry Pratchett being the most popular. Logically, books that are often advertised in the media are the ones most sought after. This is especially true for those who were also made into movies.

Ten years later, in 2017, a Eurostat survey shows that Bulgaria is on one of the last places in the European Union to read books. More than half of Bulgarians (50.4%) have not read a single book in the past year. Romania is the leader in the ranking at 68.4% and Portugal is second at 59.5%. Every fourth Bulgarian reads up to five books a year. 14.4% manage to read between five and nine books, and only 9.2% reach up to 10 or more books per year. In comparison, in Finland, this percentage is close to 25%. Eurostat identifies the lack of education as a major factor. Over 90% of those with primary or no education do not read books. Even for people with secondary education, the percentage is quite high at 52.9%. Nearly 60% of Bulgarian men admit they have not read a book in the past year. For women, this percentage is 42.2%.

No matter how grim this picture looks, however, there is a certain improvement in the reading and publishing culture in Bulgaria. Although the reading culture is not as good as it was back in 1992, there is a reading trend going on among young Bulgarian people. Publishing houses try to publish more Bulgarian authors and books, and as a result, more of such books are sought after by the average reader. In the past few years, several Bulgarian authors have been internationally recognized and publishers, being encouraged by this success, are trying to promote writing among the young and old generation, looking for the next bestselling writer. Additionally, big publishers also try to promote reading by creating more reading festivals and fairs, as well as creating more reading space in different cities throughout the country. At the same time, the number of Bulgarians who are dissatisfied with their own reading habits is increasing. It still does not mean that people are starting to read more, but it means that they are starting to worry about reading less. And perhaps the next step is to indeed start reading more.

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Nesrin Nazlieva is a Psychology student at Erasmus University.  She decided to follow the example of her predecessors who, back in 1460, left the Karamanid beylik and immigrated to Bulgaria.  Instead of Bulgaria, however, she chose the Netherlands.  Her short story with a not so short title ‘The Story of a Wanderer Who Traveled the World in Search of His Hat’ earned her a second place in one of the most prestigious national literary contests in 2015.  When she is not glued to a book, she spends time working out in the garden, learning Spanish, and trying very hard not to be the worst player at Ludo.

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