Well-read and well-jabbed - or how the 'COVID thousand’ is revitalizing Ukraine’s book industry

18 January, 12:44 AM
A sales person helps a customer to chose a book in one of the Knyharnya Ye book stores in Kyiv (Photo:Oleksandr Medvedev/ NV)

A sales person helps a customer to chose a book in one of the Knyharnya Ye book stores in Kyiv (Photo:Oleksandr Medvedev/ NV)

The government’s COVID vaccination incentive program, dubbed “yePidtrymka” (Ukrainian for “There’s Support”), has caused a veritable surge in book sales: Ukrainians have spent hundreds of millions of hryvnias granted by the program on books, with some stores reporting their sales going up five-fold, NV.Magazine wrote. 

Harkening back to his speeches on how vital it is to support the creative economy, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky announced yePidtrymka in December 2021. The program made every fully-vaccinated citizen eligible for UAH 1,000 ($35) to be spent on books, theater, cinema, and rail tickets.

Ukrainians were only happy to oblige and went on a spending spree, directing these state-issued funds of theirs at, predominantly, bookstores.

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By Jan. 10, fully-vaccinated Ukrainians had spent over UAH 1 billion ($35 million) of the stimulus funds, with bookstores attracting the lion’s share of the money – UAH 361 million ($12 million). Cinemas are next, having attracted UAH 300 million ($10.6 million) so far.

PrivatBank, Ukraine’s largest state-owned commercial bank, reported that their clients spent 41 percent of disbursed stimulus money on books, with clients of Alfa-Bank following right behind, with 40 percent spent in bookstores. Oschadbank, another state-owned bank, paints a similar picture.

“It is a major victory that books were among the goods and services Ukrainians can spend their government stimulus on,” said Ivan Bohdan, head of Ukraine’s largest online book retailer Yakaboo.

“People finally can purchase something valuable, something they could not afford before.”

The impact of yePidtrymka, totaling at UAH 11 billion ($390 million), could boost Ukraine’s annual GDP by 0.1-0.15 percent, according to the National Bank of Ukraine.

This may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but is absolutely a game-changer for the local book industry, considering that it usually suffers from slumping demand, the dominance of Russian-language books, and counterfeit products, commented Dmytro Horuynov, chief economist at the Economic Strategy Center.

Horuynov estimates that thanks to yePidtrymka, Ukrainian publishers could see as much as UAH 750 million ($27 million) coming their way. Given that their yearly revenue is usually around UAH 2.6 billion ($92 million), the stimulus program is going to be very significant, boosting the market by almost 30 percent.

“Not bad at all,” said Horuynov.

Publishers have long since been lobbying the government for some sort of subsidy – like scrapping VAT on books – arguing that their business is vital for the development of national culture. And while tax relief would occasionally be granted, for a limited time and to a limited number of publishers, yePidtrymka has finally showered the entire book industry with cash, spurring its development.

“We can already see that many rushed to long-neglected bookstores and publishers, eager to spend their money specifically on books,” said Iryna Slavinska, writer and NV.Radio’s executive producer.

“This is an infusion of new readers.”

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