Book Trade

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Book Trade


the distribution by sale of nonperiodical printed publications, such as books, pamphlets, posters, postcards, and sheet music. As a special type of commerce the book trade is an aspect of culture and serves as an effective means of ideological influence.

The invention of printing laid the foundation for the development of the book trade.

In Russia during the 16th and 17th centuries, the Pechatnyi Dvor (Printing House) in Moscow had two shops and a “book depot,” or wholesale warehouse. The invention of the printing machine in the early 19th century promoted the growth of the book trade. The educative function of book publishing is associated with the names of N. I. Novikov, V. S. Sopikov, and A. F. Smirdin. The Revolutionary Democrats attempted to give a propagandistic direction to the book trade. At the beginning of the 20th century monopolistic firms dominated the book market; there were 3,503 bookstores in 1913. Books were also sold by book vendors and by secondhand and antiquarian book dealers. The warehouses of the legal Bolshevik publishing houses served as centers for revolutionary propaganda.

After the Great October Socialist Revolution the book trade came under the control of state and public organizations. Between 1918 and 1921 many books were distributed free of charge among working people by the special organization Tsentrope-chat’ (Central Press Distribution Agency). With the transition to the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1921, the sale of printed matter was directed by the trade sector of Gosizdat (State Publishing House). In the countryside the book trade was conducted by consumers’ cooperatives. The subsequent development of the book trade was determined by a decree of the Central Committee of the ACP (Bolshevik) entitled “On Publishing,” promulgated Aug. 15, 1931. The decree laid the foundation for a book trade based on the study of the people’s demand and need for books. The book-trade association KOGIZ was established under the auspices of the Association of State Publishing Houses in 1931; it was the chief organization for book distribution until 1949. In 1949 knigotorgi (book-trade offices) were set up, which in 1953 came under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture and later under that of the Committee on Printing (since 1972, the State Committee on Publishing, Printing, and the Book Trade of the USSR Council of Ministers). The development of the book trade reflects the cultural progress of the peoples of the USSR (see Table 1).

Table 1. The book-trade network and sales of printed publications in the USSR
(in actual prices)
Total book sales (millions of rubles)1823348021,1401,734
Per capita book sales (rubles)0.961.853.744.947.14
Number of bookstores (thousands)
Number of kiosks (thousands)6.77.724.329.934.5

The All-Union Book-Trade Association of the State Committee on Publishing, Printing, and the Book Trade (Soiuzkniga) of the USSR Council of Ministers has coordinated and directed the book trade within the country and has supervised centralized wholesale supply since 1958. Since 1973 it has been a part of the Central Board for the Book Trade and Promotion of the USSR State Committee on Publishing. The rural book trade (with the exception of that of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Moldavia) came under the management of consumers’ cooperatives in 1957; Tsentrokoopkniga (Central Cooperative Book Office) was established in 1969 to supervise the rural book trade. The Ministry of Communications sells books and magazines in the kiosks of its agency Soiuzpechat’ (All-Union Press Distribution). Some publishing houses have their own book-trade networks, for example, Nauka (Science) and Transport. The foreign book trade is conducted by the all-Union association Mezhdunarodnaia Kniga (International Book).

In the USSR the book trade is an important part of general party and state work for the communist upbringing of working people. All forms and methods of book trade are directed toward this goal. Most books are sold in various kinds of bookstores— general, specialized (by subject matter, sales procedures, or groups of readers), or occupational (primarily carrying books on a specific subject). Old books are sold in secondhand bookstores, of which there were 236 in 1971. Book-supply agencies for libraries organize the planned accessions of public libraries. Traveling forms of the book trade are well developed, including selling by bookmobiles. Methods for the mass distribution of books include sales exhibits and lotteries. Books may also be obtained by placing preliminary orders with publishing houses, based on their plans, and by subscribing to multivolume publications. Studies of demand are used in working out booksellers’ orders, drawing up contracts with publishing houses, and determining the subject of books to be published and the size of printings. An important place in the expansion of the book trade is occupied by the organization, with public participation, of people’s bookstores and kiosks (4,200 in 1971) and by the mass movement of book distributors from among the general public (more than 250,000 participants in 1971). Advanced and secondary specialized education in the book trade is developing, as well as scientific research in the field. The history, organization, and economics of the book trade, commercial book science, and book-trade bibliography constitute the subject of study of a specialized branch of knowledge known as bibliopolistics (from the Greek bibliopoles, “a dealer in books”).

Other socialist countries. In the other socialist countries the largest bookstores belong to the state and to public organizations, with only a few small, chiefly secondhand, shops owned by private individuals. In Rumania, Hungary, and Bulgaria a considerable number of bookstores belong to consumer cooperatives. In the German Democratic Republic retail books are widely sold by mail order. The wholesale trade is conducted through state firms: in Bulgaria, the Stationary and Mobile Book Trade; in Hungary, the Allámi Könyvtersesztö Vállalat; in the German Democratic Republic, the Leipziger Komission und Buchhandels Gesellschaft; in Poland, the Składnica Ksiegarska; in Rumania, the Centrala Editurilor şi Difuzări Cărţii; in Czechoslovakia, the Knižny Velkoobchod. In Yugoslavia, where there is no centralized direction of the book trade, bookstores belong to the publishing houses and to public organizations. In Mongolia, 90 percent of the books are sold by book vendors. In Cuba, the State Book Institute publishes and distributes books, mostly free of charge; stores have also been opened where secondhand books may be exchanged. A description of the book trade in a number of socialist countries is given in Table 2.

Table 2. The book trade in selected socialist countries
 YearNumber of bookstoresNumber of books sold (millions of copies)
German Democratic Republic19701,200115.0

Capitalist countries. In the capitalist countries the book trade serves the interests of the ruling classes. It is controlled by publishing monopolies, which establish prices and wholesale discounts and sell about one-third of their publications through book clubs, traveling salesmen, or direct mail orders, thus bypassing retail bookstores. In the USA at the end of the 1960’s, out of 8,500 bookstores, about 40 percent belonged to universities, religious organizations, and trade unions. Books are also sold in drugstores and department stores. Some 15 percent of American book production was exported to English-speaking countries. The largest American wholesale firms and book exporters are Paperbound Book Distributors, Doubleday, Barnes and Noble, Brentano’s, and McGraw-Hill. During these years Great Britain had 6,303 bookstores, and its wholesale firms included Foyle, J. A. Allen and Co., and Booksellers in London, and Blackwell’s in Oxford. Central Books, founded in 1936, distributes Marxist literature. In Japan, 20 large wholesale firms, including Maruzen, Tohan, and Nippan, control some 20,000 bookstores; many books are imported from the USA and Great Britain. In the Federal Republic of Germany, which has 11,500 bookstores, wholesale monopolies are represented by Fischer and Bertelsmann. A number of bookselling firms are owned by neofascist associations, and progressive enterprises have joined to form the Workers’ Alliance of the Socialist and Democratic Book Trade in Hamburg. In France, book-trade policy is determined by Hachette, the largest concern. Other major firms include the French Book Club, which at the end of the 1960’s numbered some 300,000 members, and the export firms Foma and Zodexport. France has many bookstores belonging to democratic organizations. Each year the French Communist Party holds large book festivals exhibiting democratic books.

In the developing countries, owing to the population’s illiteracy and poverty, resulting from the colonial policy of the imperialist countries, the national book trade is poorly developed. In India, for example, which accounts for 3 percent of world book production, the majority of local firms are controlled by West European and American publishing monopolies. Independent bookselling enterprises receive state subsidies. The National Book Trust, a state organization, was established in 1957 to regulate cooperative and private bookselling enterprises.

International wholesale book fairs are regularly held in Brussels, Chicago, Frankfurt am Main, Bombay, Belgrade, Leipzig, Warsaw, and Sofia; international auctions of rare books are held in New York, Bologna, and London.

Publications devoted to the book trade include, in the USSR, Knizhnaia torgovlia (1948–72), published under the title V mire knig since 1973; in Poland, Księgarz (since 1913); in Hungary, A Könyv (since 1969); in the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany, Börsenblatt für den deutsche Buchhandel (since 1834); in the USA, Publishers’ Weekly (since 1872); in Great Britain, Bookseller (since 1858); in Sweden, Svénsk bokhandel (since 1952); and in Italy, Giornale della libreria (since 1888).


“O sostoianii i merakh uluchsheniia knizhnoi torgovli: Postanovlenie TsK KPSS, 31 maia 1960 g.” In Spravochnik partiinogo rabotnika, issue 3. Moscow, 1961.
Govorov, A. A. Istoriia knizhnoi torgovli. Moscow, 1966.
Pletnev, V. S. “Problemy knizhnoi torgovli segodnia.” In the collection Izdatel’skoe delo: Knigovedenie, issue 1. Moscow, 1968.
Organizatsiia i tekhnika torgovli knigoi. Moscow, 1969.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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