28 september 2011

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin attends a conference of the Russian Book Union

Vladimir Putin

At a conference of the Russian Book Union

“Reading high quality and serious literature directly influences people’s level of education and cultural sophistication. It sets social trends and shapes the nation’s aspirations to make scientific and economic breakthroughs and other significant achievements. To a great extent, it serves as a springboard for the entire nation, giving it a competitive edge on the world scene.”

Vladimir Putin's opening remarks:

Good afternoon, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

I am pleased to have this opportunity to be here and speak before you. First of all, I would like to thank you all for your efforts to develop book publishing in Russia, to support Russian writers and to popularise book culture in Russia in general.

Reading high quality and serious literature directly influences people's level of education and cultural sophistication. It sets social trends and shapes the nation's aspirations to make scientific and economic breakthroughs and other significant achievements. To a great extent, it serves as a springboard for the entire nation, giving it a competitive edge on the world scene.

It is clear that a person's desire to read something depends on many different factors, and having high-quality stories available is especially important. Affordability is also important. I know that these are prosaic concerns, but people want good books to be available in their local stores or online stores or local libraries. Good printing is important too, along with high quality paper. As we all know, a book should be attractive so that people want to take it from the shelf.

Thanks to our writers and publishers, Russian readers are currently offered a wide choice of fiction, educational and entertaining literature. The number of books and brochures on the Russian market has doubled since 2000, making Russia one of the global leaders in this respect along with the United States, China and Britain.

It is worth noting that Russia's publishing industry has been growing fast in the last decade, but has lately come under the influence of multimedia technology. We all know that this is a global trend. Compact e-readers are growing ever more popular: about 1 million such readers were sold in Russia this year, and their overall sales have increased 200-fold over the last four years. Surely you know this.

There are Russian websites where one can easily download the best works of Russian classic writers, which is certainly good. But there are serious concerns too. New stories, too, become available online immediately upon release, without the writer's approval and, of course, free of charge. This kind of intellectual charity is actually a flagrant violation of copyright and does great damage to the publishing industry. I am not calling for an end to technological progress. But progress aside, it is important that laws are obeyed, including laws on intellectual property.

It is true that no country has yet succeeded in fully eradicating online piracy. In some places, pirates form online groups, which are like political parties. But this does not mean that we should stand idly by as people's rights to profit from their work and their rights to their intellectual property are flagrantly violated.

We have established a new government commission headed by Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov. Its purpose is to develop effective legal solutions to protect copyrights and to ensure that the digital book market develops in a civilized and legitimate manner. We will certainly cooperate with our counterparts in other countries on this front.

At the same time, we must support demand for conventional books among today's readers. Therefore, we are determined to support national publishers and to create conditions in which serious literature would be published and publishing it would be profitable. As a result, these books will reach local bookstores and libraries in cities and towns across Russia.

To make high quality books widely available, it is important above all to supply the printing industry with high-quality paper, including coated paper used for complex printing products. You know that some time ago we supported this industry by cutting the import customs duty on coated paper to 5% from 15%. This arrangement remains effective until February 2012.

I understand publishing and printing companies' desire to have it extended. On the other hand, I think everyone here would agree that we must expand local production of good paper. We have a paper industry in Russia, along with our publishing industry. Therefore, we will be making very prudent and careful decisions jointly with our Customs Union partners – Belarus and Kazakhstan – to create an environment in which Russian producers can make affordable paper of the same (and possibly better) quality than foreign products, while trying to safeguard the interests of printing houses and publishers.

The next point: publishing houses and book shops have to deal with unsold copies. There is no use selling them at or even below prime cost, since the profit is still subject to taxation. Publishers are therefore more willing to publish literature that is in high demand and that is most likely to sell out. In most cases, of course, this means light, easy reading.

We are facilitating the adoption of changes that need to be made to the Tax Code. In order to accomplish this, the respective agencies must approve the limit at which remaining copies can be written off. I understand that it is probably the most complicated issue, but we must address it together with the business community and its representatives who are present here, so as to close up any loopholes for dishonest market players that could negatively impact the budget. I know that industry professionals insist on a limit that is different from the one proposed by various ministries and agencies. We need to find a compromise.

There is another important point, which has to do with libraries. Dmitry Likhachyov, one of the great scholars of the 20th century, said that the culture of an entire country depends on its libraries. We will continue to expand the network of libraries in remote towns and villages and to improve the social status of librarians. I would stress that this issue must be under the constant oversight of officials at all levels, from federal to regional and municipal authorities.

Next year, we are allotting 0.5 billion roubles to equip libraries with computers. At the same time, we will ensure that library stocks are continuously being replenished.

I would like to note that libraries often face difficulties in purchasing literature directly from publishers. They have to participate in auctions and the final bid is often unpredictable. Moreover, a book print run may be sold out before the auction is closed, and we understand that.

I believe it is necessary to eliminate the barriers that prevent libraries from promptly replenishing their stocks. This must be approached as part of the improvements made to the law on government order placements. The government is actively involved in this work.

Colleagues, for a very long time, we have been one of the most literate countries in the world, in terms of reading books. It needs to be said directly, that there is a real danger that we may lose this status. According to social surveys, the number of people who never read, neither in print nor electronically, is growing. It is a troubling sign. Therefore, encouraging people to read should, without exaggeration, be a national objective.

This objective requires joint efforts by both social and government institutions, such as youth and religious organisations, the media, regional and federal agencies and finally, writers, and school and university teachers. We must work on a single strategy that will be understood and accepted by all of society and translate it into life.

And one more point. The intellectual and cultural potential of the nation are shaped by how much we read and how much we publish; but even more than that, they are shaped by the moral and ethical values that are conveyed by these books; whether they encourage critical thinking, reflection and analysis.

I will emphasise once again: it is for the good of the country and its future that we will revive our people's appetite for a good read. We have all the necessary tools for this: talented authors and professional publishers.

Thank you very much for your attention.