In an age dominated by information technologies, keeping people interested in reading is becoming a real challenge. Since books are still the best way of passing on knowledge, the only solution open to publishers is to move with the times and use the new virtual tools to add value to books. In the Republic of Moldova, the EBRD’s Advice for Small Businesses, which is financed by the European Union through the EU4Business initiative and Sweden, has given Litera an opportunity to keep readers interested in books through an online bookstore.
For the Litera Publishing House in Chişinău, which is nearly three decades old, the online bookstore was a breath of fresh air at a time when interest in reading is falling and financial losses in a sector like this are becoming inevitable. When the Litera Publishing Group put its books online in 2016, this had a dual effect – on the one hand, it helped the publishing company to survive, and on the other hand, it kept clients interested in reading. Although overall book sales in Moldova have fallen over the last few years, the Litera Publishing House is successfully keeping its sales steady by exploring the opportunities of the virtual realm.
Veronica Vidraşcu is the Deputy Director of the Litera Publishing House in Chişinău. She stands surrounded by her books one Saturday, much as she has spent her whole life, passionate as she is about books and reading. Now she can say that she knows everything about the process that a book goes through, and she has learned many things as she went along, including the fact that to get closer to readers at a time when technologies are advancing at the speed of light, you have to ‘conquer’ the virtual world.
It is common knowledge that a piece of advice, a suggestion or a good recommendation can often help you to avoid difficulties. Vidraşcu, who admits the publishing house’s previous attempt to create an online bookstore was a failure, is convinced that quality professional advice is the key to success. The market prices for advice in this area are unaffordable, the large number of book titles that had to be processed increased the eventual project costs, and most importantly a lack of experience in working with business consultants turned a noble aim into a failure.
But since the desire to succeed was strong, other opportunities to make the idea of creating a virtual bookstore a reality soon arose. The financial support granted by the European Union’s EU4Business programme through the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to provide business advice to small and medium-sized enterprises spurred the Litera Publishing House to try again.
“This time, we did things differently. We realised that without detailed Terms of References for the project, with clear deliverables and deadlines, we wouldn’t be able to cope. So we hired an IT consultant who guided us through all of the stages. The biggest project challenge was integrating the accounting software with the online store software, which enables the database to be updated automatically as soon as a book has been bought or gone on sale,” Vidraşcu said.
The deputy director of Litera admitted that without combined advisory and financial support, the initiative would not have got off the ground. “The EBRD advisory team guided us throughout the process, from application to completion, and the website was successfully developed in line with the consultant’s recommendations. From the total of over €20,000 which was invested in creating the website, the grant amount was €8,375. The financial help was vital, we couldn’t have succeeded without it, so the virtual bookstore would have remained an unfulfilled dream,” Vidraşcu said.
Expertise has become a necessity in the business world in Moldova, and without it, a business cannot compete. But to introduce specific know-how, businesses need professional support, so the idea of advice for small businesses with support from the EU4Business scheme is beginning to take root in Moldova too, and is helping businesses to discover new opportunities.
Now, nearly two years after the online bookstore (www.litera.md) was created, Vidraşcu is convinced that the efforts were worthwhile, and internet sales grew by around 10% within a year. The transition to the online format enabled Litera, which runs four bookstores in Chişinău, to cut some of its costs, which is why books in the online bookstore are cheaper. But the biggest success that the online bookstore has achieved is that it has helped books to reach readers in rural areas, not just those in Chişinău, who have access to a much wider range of literature.
As a result, Litera’s books have also become available to village or school libraries in different localities. With just one click, they can order a greater quantity of books and take advantage of discounts and promotions. What is more, parents who have travelled abroad can buy books more easily by accessing the online bookstore. “We receive orders from France, Italy and Germany. Our fellow countrymen buy books which they donate to children’s homes, nursery schools or their children during the holidays. The books are brought to their destination free of charge using courier services. So we have managed to get closer to readers in villages, who also need to read,” said Vidraşcu, who pointed out that at least five or six orders are placed online every day.
Since the online bookstore was launched, over 650 buyers have registered on the publishing house’s website and taken the opportunity to keep up to date with the latest releases.
Since discovering Litera’s virtual bookstore, 12-year-old Bianca Bucico has found a number of new books which she can hardly wait to buy. “It’s a simple, accessible and very convenient way of browsing the Internet and quietly choosing the books you need,” Bianca said.
Vidraşcu is convinced that only books will tear the younger generation away from their computers, phones and internet games. “However strange it might seem, books heal the soul. Book therapy is something we are planning for the future. What this means is that people who have certain problems can come to us, and the bookseller will recommend that they read whatever they need to get through the tough times that they are having,” she said.
Although readers can now cultivate their minds by benefiting from the opportunities offered by e-book platforms, what they ultimately want is to hold a book in their hands. And Vidraşcu believes that a good book is still a good investment, which can be given as a gift or left as a legacy to the generations that will follow ours.
Books have been, and still are, a defining part of the human personality. Neither the internet nor television can fully substitute the knowledge that books pass on, and the opportunities offered by the virtual realm, supplemented by the financial efforts of the European Union, can only bring books closer to readers and keep them interested in getting to know and developing their own personalities.
EU4Business is a European Union umbrella initiative which brings together all of the EU programmes that offer support to SMEs to develop the private sector. EU4Business covers nearly 40 projects in the region of the Eastern Partnership countries, and its total active portfolio is worth over EUR 300 million in EU funding. Across the six countries of the Eastern Partnership, EU4Business offers access to resources, funding for export investments, alignment with EU standards and support for female entrepreneurs and new businesses, including through advice services.
In Moldova, over 800 businesses have so far been helped to access advice services in fields such as strategy, marketing, business management, technology and quality or financial management thanks to funding from several international actors, including the European Union through the EU4Business initiative.
The Litera Publishing House was founded in Moldova on 3 May 1989 and later expanded into Romania, where it now has 22 bookstores. In nearly three decades of activity, it has published over 8,000 book titles with a total of over 50 million copies printed. In its four bookstores in Moldova, the Litera Publishing House sells not just its own books, but also titles from Romania’s most prestigious publishing houses.
Author: Mariana Tabuncic