War and Books: How Book Sales Trends Changed in 2022

Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February, disrupting millions of lives and industries, and causing immense suffering and unspeakable atrocities.

We won’t get into how unfair, unnecessary and cruel this war is because everyone should already know that. 

Still, we want to present one industry and its changes after the invasion: the publishing industry. 

We want to give you insights from PublishDrive so you can see the book sales trends. This data will give you a good sense of what’s happening around in the self-publishing industry because:

  • We published over 150K individual book titles (ebook, print-on-demand, and audio).
  • We cover over 100 countries from book sales, including Russia and Ukraine.
  • We have a cultural and geographical connection to the war.

Besides our own data, we will also share international sales data found from other sources.

But first, let us take a look at how the publishing industry in Ukraine changed over the years.

Table of Contents

The History of Publishing in Ukraine: A Russian-Dominated Market

The publishing history in Ukraine had its highs and lows. For example, during the Soviet era, if someone wanted to search for Ukrainian books to read, they were not to be found. 

Galina Padalko, chief communications officer at Vivat Publishing House, said: "I went into a bookshop, and there was a cordoned off shelf with the words, 'Ukrainian literature,' and the shelf was empty. I went up to the guy behind the checkout and said, 'Where're the Ukrainian books?' And he looked at me like he was baffled."

During that period, if someone from Russia, Ukraine, and other Eastern European libraries wanted to read something that wasn’t related to the Soviet era, the only possible way was through an exchange with Western centers.

In 1991, Ukraine gained independence from Russia, and the situation with their books was getting better. The Russian Federal Law on Libraries of 1994 recognized the right to both books in Russian and works in other languages recognized by countries formerly part of the USSR.

But this situation didn’t come without its disputes.

For example, in 1999, there was a heated argument between the two countries because the Russian government wished to commemorate the bicentenary of the birth of the poet Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837), who was of Ukrainian origin but considered one of the founders of Russian culture and literature.

Another similar case was an argument from 2009 over another bicentenary, that of the birth of Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852).

The 2013 Invasion of Crimea

The Russians continued to impact the Ukrainian publishing industry with the 2013 invasion of Crimea. But this time, the book industry felt a high spike as many Ukrainian authors started to write about the threatening political situation, pointing out the Russian publishers that chose pro-Kremlin propaganda over Ukrainian books.

The Maidan Uprising of 2014

Tensions led to The Maidan Uprising of 2014, where Ukrainians started to destroy dozens of Soviet-era Russian-language books. In Sevastopol, pro-Russians burned boxes full of Ukrainian-language books from libraries and schools across the city. 

Russian book distribution allowed only with a permit

Starting in 2017, Ukraine didn't allow Russian books to be distributed without a permit. 

This decision helped Ukrainian publishers thrive. Baturevych, formerly with the Ukrainian Book Institute, a government agency, said that the number of books published by Ukrainian companies rose by around half between 2016 and 2019.

The Direct Impact of the Russian Invasion on Ukrainian Publishers

The pandemic has already negatively affected the publishing industry and book sales since most of their books are sold in bookstores. 

This effect worsened once the war started.

A photograph of the Ukrainian writer Lev Shevchenko's house in Kyiv went viral on social media. The author had made a wall of books from his library up at the window to protect himself from the bombardment, but symbolically, he was also defending against barbarism with culture and books.

Image source


"Bibliocide" in Ukraine once again

Following the Russian invasion in February 2022, Ukraine has seen thousands of works destroyed or removed from the shelves of bookshops and libraries. 

The Ukrainian authorities have banned the publication of Russian-language works to stop publishers from paying royalties to Moscow.

According to Ukrainian sources, dozens of libraries have been destroyed since the beginning of the war. 

Moreover, Oleksandra Koval, director of the Ukrainian Book Institute, accuses the Russian military of destroying Ukrainian language books, especially history textbooks

Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine is considered the center of the Ukrainian book industry, but when Russia started to bomb the city in February, many publishers had to leave.

There are numbers that show us the great negative impact this war has had so far.

Anastasiia Zagorui conducted an online survey from March 26 to April 8 on 81 publishers on behalf of Ukrainian trade publication Chytomo to see how they’re facing this situation:

  • 10% said they were forced to stop their operations.
  • 51% continue to publish but made changes such as reducing the operating hours to cut costs.
  • 39% of publishers had not changed their models when the survey was taken.
  • Some physical bookstores, mostly from the west of the country, continued working.
  • 95% of publishers reported that sales dropped dramatically during the first month of the war, while 17% of publishers were still paying full wages, 55% were paying reduced wages, and 28% couldn’t pay their employees.
  • 86.6% of the surveyed publishers have employees who volunteered for humanitarian efforts, and 30.5% have employees serving in combat roles who tragically went missing or were even killed. 

Among these publishers, many said they continued to work as usual, with a few important changes:

  • Those who have chosen to leave for different parts of Ukraine or to another country can work remotely. 55% did not move, 36% partially relocated within Ukraine, 7% fully migrated within Ukraine, and 2% moved abroad.
  • Publishers increased ebook production.
  • The Nash Format publishing focuses on titles of interest during the war and in the postwar period.
  • Publishing houses started working with international partners: 24.6% of publishers have done it already, 51% plan to do so, and 24.4% still don’t know how to enter the international market.

What actions have publishers taken to keep the industry alive

Ukrainian cultural heritage is at risk. To save their history and culture, the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture launched the Saving Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Online (SUCHO) program to digitize works preserved in museums, libraries, and archives to keep them from possible destruction.

Other works have been moved to safer locations. Cultural officials keep the bookstores open when the risk isn’t that big. 

Some publishers choose to host online talks as a source of income for their authors, while some, like Ranok Publishing, made an agreement with a Polish printing house to distribute Ukrainian books through them to children for free. Also, they have been working to make Ukrainian textbooks available free of charge to all European students.

Most publishers are fond of the idea that the Ukrainian government should support the publishing industry in the country and abroad, where their image should remain positive, dispelling all Russian propaganda.

A clear solution to keep book sales and the culture alive is to support the distribution of ebooks so that everyone can read Ukrainian titles wherever they are.

International Book Sales Since the War Has Started

Overall, book sales in Europe increased significantly during the pandemic. 

However, at the beginning of 2022, sales started to plummet. Here are a few data we found out from Publishers Weekly:

In Germany

  • The book industry rose 3.5% in 2021, with a total sales of 9.63 billion euros, according to a report released by the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels.
  • On the other hand, in the first six months of 2022, the market suffered a loss of 11.1% compared to the same period in 2019.

In France

  • SNE considered the sales for 2021 to be excellent, up 9.7% over 2019 and 12.4% from 2020. This growth from 2021 was influenced by the government that declared bookstores essential business. It also gave all 18-year-olds a Culture Pass, which meant a €300 gift to spend on books, art, music, theatre, and other cultural activities.
  • Sales are down by almost 6% for the first half of 2022, compared with the same period in 2021, according to the Syndicat National de l’Edition (SNE)

In Italy

  • In 2021, the total sales revenue rose 16%, to 1.7 billion euros, compared with the first six months of 2022, when the revenue dropped 4.2% 

Books about Russia and Ukraine Go Out of Stock in the Chinese Market

While the book industry may have suffered a decline at the beginning of 2022, in China, Ukrainian and Russian books were sold at an unprecedented rate.

Some books have even gone out of stock, so they had to be reprinted.

This could have happened because Chinese readers wanted to know as much as possible about the two countries since the war started.

But not only about the war. The review platform, Douban, shows that the most searched queries are about the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky. Zhang Hongbo, director-general of the China Written Works Copyright Society, told Global Times that readers are very interested in the two countries' history, especially in Crimea.

Moreover, editors from the Writers Publishing House said that the sales have increased for the Ukrainian literary classic Never Drop Behind. Its author, Oles Honchar, mostly talks about humanity and war.

International Book Sales as Seen from the PublishDrive Platform

Although internationally book sales seem to have dropped in the first six months of 2022, PublishDrive helped self-published authors and their book sales overall:

PublishDrive grew almost 200% in 2022, so we analyzed where this growth came from.

And it seems that international book sales exceeded US book sales in 2022.

Here’s a closer look at the bestselling countries, as seen from our platform.

International stores, audio, and subscription and library models also saw impressive growth this year. 

Trending categories:

Ukrainian and Russian Book Sales as Seen from the PublishDrive Platform

We also analyzed the sales from this year’s Q1 and Q2 from Ukraine and Russia compared to the same period of the last year, and here’s what we found:

  • The book sales for publishers coming from Ukraine (Ukraine being their country of origin) have tripled in 2022 compared to 2021;
  • We sold the same amount of Ukrainian books until June 2022 as we did the entire last year. This means that by the end of the year, the sales will double;
  • On the other hand, from Russian publishers, we see a slight decline in sales (about 15%) compared to the same period in 2021. This means that there’s going to be a 30% growth by the end of 2022.

Bestselling stores for Ukrainian content

We also looked at which stores sold most of the Ukrainian content.

Here are the results:

Ukrainian and Russian book sales according to different stores

We also looked at the changes from this year's Q1 and Q2 compared to the same period last year in terms of Ukrainian and Russian book sales.

Bestselling categories’ changes in Ukraine compared to last year's same period (Q1-Q2, 2022) 

In terms of indies and publishers

  • We have 30% more Ukrainian publishers (we had many campaigns to support Ukrainian book publishers’ content).
  • We have about 25% more Russian customers than last year.

Final Thoughts

We can only hope that the war will be over soon and people can start rebuilding their lives in peace.

Regarding the publishing industry, we can safely say that the growth we witnessed from our platform comes from the possibility of publishing ebooks and audiobooks. This format reaches everyone globally at just a click of a button.

Print-on-demand also positively impacted the publishing industry because it’s risk-free in terms of money spent on printing books, and it’s environmentally friendly.