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Reading russia, vol. 3

 | 
Damiano Rebecchini
, 
Raffaella Vassena

Part IV. Towards the Digital Revolution

Social Reading in Contemporary Russia

Birgitte Beck Pristed

Full text

Introduction: Social Reading as a Global and Russian Phenomenon

  • 1   J. A. Cordón García, J. A. Arévalo, R. G. Díaz, D. P. Linder Molin, Social Reading: Platforms, Ap (...)
  • 2   N. M. Richards, “The Perils of Social Reading,” Georgetown Law Journal, 101 (2013), 689-724; B. W (...)

1For the last decade, Russian social reading sites, based on social media technology and specializing in books and interactive exchange between readers, have been on the rise. The online reading practices of such Russian sites’ users are part of an ongoing globalization of digital reading and the debate surrounding it. Technological developments of the late 2000s and the worldwide spread of tablets and other portable mini computers have added new meanings to the hitherto allegedly ‘solitary’ activity of reading a printed book; the reading device itself has transformed into a point of interconnectivity, and enables readers’ instant, sometimes synchronous, exchanges of/about content during the reading process. Consequently, the concept of ‘social reading’ has emerged in a number of Western reading studies. While some scholars embrace the possibilities of new social reading platforms for sharing reading experiences through user-generated book comments, reviews, readers’ rankings and recommendations, in-text highlighting, reading lists, and the like,1 others warn against the perils of commercially and/or politically motivated mass surveillance of reader behavior and the problem of copyright infringements that these technologies enable.2

  • 3   L. Koepnick, “Concepts of Reading in the Digital Era,” in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literat (...)
  • 4   N. S. Baron, Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World (New York, 2016).

2Lutz Koepnick has argued that while the shift from analog to digital writing went unquestioned and digital writing has today become the tacit, daily, socially accepted norm, digital reading is continuously considered problematic and subject to biased views in both camps.3 Advocates and experiment-minded authors of digital literature celebrate the emancipation of the active, participating reader from authoritarian structures of traditional authorship and editorial control, and consider increasingly free and fast global access to digital reading matter a vehicle of democratization. In contrast, critical quantitative and qualitative surveys of reader behavior skeptically argue that digital reading technologies invite fast skimming, scanning, distraction, and multitasking, and represent an obstacle to in-depth concentration and comprehension of complex texts, and thus ultimately contribute to the decline of reading.4

  • 5   More than half of 17 Russian social reading sites, categorized by Ekaterina Krylova in a research (...)

3Russian social reading networks are subject to high fluctuations. They pop up and disappear faster than academic research on them is published.5 The present study does not attempt to provide an exhaustive survey of current Russian social reading networks, but instead seeks to analyze select, representative examples with special attention to the largest, Moscow-based platform, LiveLib.ru, and the mid-sized St. Petersburg-based platform, BookMix.ru. The comparison of two different multifunction platforms gives an impression of the varied offer of social reading services, at the same time, the two selected platforms are relatively stable and have been operational for the decade under study. The study analyzes how the social reading sites frame the reading experience and alter the users’ modes of reading by examining platform functions, layouts, and user statistics, supplemented with personal and published interviews with representatives of the two sites. An obvious limitation of the study is its focus on the ‘sender’ side, which is of course a problematic term when one is dealing with ‘user-generated’ content. The article aims at discussing the intentions behind the Russian social reading sites (i.e. both their business models and ideal concepts and purposes), but does not provide any reader survey of the users’ reading preferences and habits, motivation for choice of platform, and the like. In the case of social reading, such empirical reader research is growing almost obsolete, because the platforms are permanently monitoring the behavior of digital readers, whose data are always already collected.

  • 6   G. Ritzer, N. Jurgenson, “Production, Consumption, Prosumption: The Nature of Capitalism in the A (...)

4Instead, this article situates the social reading networks in the larger context of digital reading in Russia. It discusses how the social reading ‘prosumers’ are subject to a double exploitation: they produce unpaid content and, at the same time, are targeted as ‘transparent’ consumers.6 The article argues that social reading sites ‘gamify’ reading by applying incentive systems, developed by the computer game industry, onto reading. However, it seeks to avoid a reductive view on the resulting Russian reader as a self-optimizing, book-consuming subject, caught in never-ending, neo-liberal or social-Darwinist competition. In a Russian context, social reading platforms and informal, social exchanges of and about reading matter have a special significance, due to weakened institutional reading infrastructures. Hence, social reading networks become an important part of digital compensation strategies to counteract contemporary deficits in libraries and bookstores, and outbalance the distribution of and sales problems associated with the printed book. As I will demonstrate, Russian social reading networks are based on both exploitation-ware and seemingly self-organized mutual aid systems that extend the small community of the physical book club or local study group to a widespread Russian-language reading audience both inside and outside Russia’s borders.

  • 7   The social reading sites are accessible at: https://www.goodreads.com/; https://www.livelib.ru/ab (...)
  • 8   On a ‘decline’ discourse, for example V. E. Barykin uses the expression “padenie kul’tury knigi” (...)
  • 9   See Schmidt, “Virtual Shelves, Virtual Selves,” in the present volume.
  • 10 M. B. Remnek (ed.), The Space of the Book: Print Culture in the Russian Social Imagination (Toron (...)

5LiveLib.ru and BookMix.ru, together with a mushrooming number of smaller social reading sites, partly developed their functions and interfaces as Russian language parallels to Anglophone platforms. Both were likewise prompted by the global development of social media marketing. LiveLib.ru
was founded in early 2007, shortly after the American site Goodreads.com
was launched, and BookMix.ru followed in 2008.7 Yet in comparison with Western discussions and perceptions of digital reading, notions of a reading ‘decline’ versus reader ‘emancipation’ appear even more polarized in Russian public and scholarly debates.8 One reason is that the advent of the digital revolution in Russia coincided with the historical shift from a Soviet state publishing system and strongly normative culture of the book and reading to a post-Soviet private book market, which involved economic and societal ruptures and fundamentally changed the context of reading, writing, and publishing.9 However, today’s Russian term for social reading networks, “knizhnye sotsial’nye seti (social book networks) still reflects the sacrosanct status of the traditional, printed book for the Russian intelligentsia and the acclaimed special role of literature in both nineteenth and twentieth century (Soviet) Russia.10Knizhnye sotsial’nye seti” persistently refer to the “book” as a printed entity, a material object with a beginning and end, shielded by a protective cover, rather than the process of reading or the ‘liquid,’ open-ended nature of shared, digital texts.

1. Russian Reading Between Print and Electronic Books

6At first glance, the Russian Book Chamber’s statistics of the national, annual production of print publications seem to confirm the notion of a decline of the printed book over the last decade.

  • 11   K. M. Sukhorukov, “Statistika knigoizdaniia: pliusy i minusy 2009 g.,” Bibliografiia: nauchnyi zh (...)

1. 2: Both tables are generated on the basis of the Russian Book Chamber’s annual statistics and do not include periodicals and newspapers.11

1. 2: Both tables are generated on the basis of the Russian Book Chamber’s annual statistics and do not include periodicals and newspapers.11
  • 12   L. A. Kirillova, K. M. Sukhorukov, “Vse vyshe, i vyshe, i vyshe…: Rekordnye statisticheskie pokaz (...)
  • 13   See Menzel, “From Print to Pixel,” in this volume.
  • 14   Perova, Sukhorukov, “Knigoizdanie Rossii v 2017 g.,” 6 and 13, table 2. In recent years, Russian (...)

7Russian book publishing peaked in 2008-9, but since then, the 2008 global financial crisis, declining oil prices, the 2014-16 ruble crisis, the partly sanction-based, partly self-inflicted isolation from parts of international trade after the Russian annexation of Crimea have all negatively impacted the Russian publishing industry and book consumers’ purchasing power.12 The resulting drop in production, sales, and circulation of print books has been reinforced by a parallel weakening of reading infrastructures, including the closure of local public libraries and physical bookstores.13 Notwithstanding a slight trend towards recovery in 2017, the preceding decade witnessed a drop in total print runs, which are down 40% from the 2008 maximum of around 760 million print publications. However, Konstantin Sukhorukov and Galina Perova, specialists of the Russian Book Chamber, convincingly bust the myth that “before [in Soviet times] everything was better” in terms of title output. Despite a stagnation in title diversity over the last decade, their comparison demonstrates that the recent 2017 title output of printed publications for the Russian Federation alone is still more than twice as high as any annual title output from the late Soviet and Perestroika publishing eras, 1960-90.14

  • 15   V. P. Chudinova, “Chtenie ‘tsifrovogo’ pokoleniia: problemy i perspektivy,” in I. V. Lizunova (ed (...)
  • 16   On the censoring role of Roskomnadzor and the recent so-called “anti-piracy” and “anti-extremism” (...)
  • 17   The Scientific Technical Center Informregistr. Depozitarii elektronnykh izdanii, http://catalog.i (...)
  • 18   According to recent amendments to the federal law on depository copies, Russian publishers (since (...)

8It would be hasty to equate the crisis of the printed book, as evidenced by figures from the Russian Book Chamber, with an apparent crisis of reading in Russia without taking into account a countervailing rise in electronic publications and reading over the last decade. Rather than having stopped reading, the new generations of Russian readers have changed their preferred medium and modes of reading.15 Unfortunately, the Russian Book Chamber does not keep a similar systematic record of electronic books and publications; instead, Russian publishing houses are obliged to register electronic publications with the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology, and Mass Media, Roskomnadzor, which is mostly infamous for an allegedly all-encompassing registering and frequent ‘blacklisting’ of Russian websites.16 However, in fact, the official registration of the Russian publishing industry’s electronic publications by the Roskomnadzor Scientific Technical Center, Informregistr, is limited to only physical discs, such as CD-ROMs and DVDs containing textual or multimedia content. Since the Informregistr catalog was launched 1994, it has accumulated only approximately 53,700 such titles, a far from complete registration which primarily consists of scientific electronic encyclopedias and dictionaries.17 In contrast to the ISBN practices of Western publishers, Russian publishers usually do not register e-book and print book editions of the same title with separate ISBN numbers, which complicates a systematic and comprehensive mapping of the development of legal Russian electronic book publications.18

  • 19   One such source is Rossiiskii knizhnyi soiuz and the Moscow government’s Monitoring moskovskogo k (...)
  • 20   Rossiiskii knizhnyi soiuz. Monitoring sostoianiia moskovskogo knizhnogo rynka (2017), 56. Online (...)
  • 21   A. V. Gerasimova, “Ob odnoi spetsificheskoi praktike: otzyvy na knigi v internete,” Monitoring ob (...)

9Of course, both international and Russian market research companies carry out surveys of the sales and consumer trends within the Russian e-book market, but such surveys are not neutral and objective, as they serve the interest organizations of the publishing industry and local authorities, and often focus on certain segments of urban readers whose consumer patterns surpass those of the general population.19 Thus, to a wide extent, Russian electronic books and publications still belong to a gray zone of publishing. Despite the 2014 ‘anti-piracy law’ and Roskomnadzor’s increasing efforts to combat online piracy, in a 2016 survey, 80% of reader-respondents indicated that they access electronic books ‘for free,’ without distinguishing between legal and illegal electronic sources.20 Readers associate the printed book with notions of ownership, with an (often inaccessibly expensive) object to be possessed and displayed in a home interior. The printed book differs from the ‘less valuable’ electronic publication, which is shared, used, and circulated (often for free) by readers without necessarily belonging to them. But as Anna Gerasimova indicates, the act of writing a short reader’s review on social reading sites could be interpreted as a strategy of personalizing or taking ownership of digital publications.21

2. Russian social reading networks: readers’ or marketing interests?

  • 22   Cordón García et al., Social Reading: Platforms, Applications, Clouds and Tags, 143. Andreas Kapl (...)
  • 23   B. Stein, “A Taxonomy of Social Reading: A Proposal,” The Institute for the Future of the Book, 2 (...)
  • 24   G. Genette, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation (Cambridge, 1997). Genette’s examples of ‘epi (...)

10As a special communicative means of engaging texts, social reading emerged as a result both of recent developments in electronic publishing and broader information technological developments, including the increased availability and speed of internet broadband and the 2004 introduction of Web 2.0, that enabled the creation and exchange of user-generated content and facilitated the rise of social media.22 Bob Stein, a pioneer of digital reading, has suggested a taxonomy of social reading, differentiating, on the one hand, between readers’ formal and informal, offline and online discussion and exchange about a text and, on the other hand, between shared IN-text comments etc. (e.g. in the margins of digital texts) and discussions outside the (printed or digital) text.23 When examining Russian social reading networks, the present study focuses primarily on platforms that facilitate readers’ participatory, user-generated online communication about books, a digital exchange which takes place outside the given text. Extending Gérard Genette’s notion of the ‘epitext’ of a literary work, it suggests understanding social reading as the formation process of a digital, reader/user-created ‘epitext’ that serves as an informal response to a given work.24

  • 25   Cordón García et al., Social Reading: Platforms, Applications, Clouds and Tags, 2.
  • 26   Readers of twentieth-century capitalist consumer societies, of course, also participated in ‘soci (...)
  • 27   On wall newspapers, see M. S. Gorham, “Tongue-Tied Writers: The Rabsel’kor Movement and the Voice (...)
  • 28   On Soviet self-publishing practices, see Zitzewitz, “Reading Samizdat” in the present volume. On (...)

11Reader-receivers’ appropriation of the message is an inherent part of any communication and interpretation process.25 To claim or celebrate the current, digitally driven, paradigmatic shift from an individual book consumer’s introverted, private, and silent reading of a printed book to shared and participatory reading of network texts in an online community makes even less sense in a Russian context than in a Western one. ‘Social’ reading, in its broader, non-digital sense, is not a new phenomenon, but was constitutive for constructing a community of Soviet print culture. To a higher degree than twentieth-century capitalist consumer societies which — reductively speaking —primarily perceived readers as receivers of available, mass published and distributed entertainment and educational offerings,26 the socialist reading regime not only encouraged, but also required participatory reading of its citizens: Pre-digital, ‘reader-generated’ content, social activism, and reader responses were integrated aspects of Soviet reader didactics and editorial policies, ranging from the reader-correspondents’ self-made wall newspapers and readers’ diaries of the 1920s to the reader-respondents’ letters to journals and newspapers of the 1950s and 1960s.27 Likewise, late Soviet readers actively participated in the production and distribution of samizdat and tamizdat literature as copyists, smugglers, and black market traders to compensate for and subversively respond to book shortages and restricted access to texts.28 Hence, the most recent social reading chapter in the Russian history of reading must be seen as a continuation of such Soviet practices rather than a break with them. Nevertheless, the technological and ideological media conditions for the interconnectivity, speed, and scope of social reading exchanges have significantly changed with the digital advent of social media in the twenty-first century.

12Today, both major, international social media networks such as Facebook (launched 2004) and large, popular Russian platforms, such as Odnoklassniki and VKontаkte (both launched 2006), host more than a hundred thousand Russian-language groups and fora devoted to topics such as books, reading, literature, and libraries. At VKontakte, reader groups range from small, specialized communities with less than 1,000 participants to mid-sized groups such as “What to read?” (Chto chitat’), currently with more than 90,000 members, to large communities such as “Books that changed my life” (Knigi, izmenivshie moiu zhizn’), with more than 300,000 members—not to mention “The best verses of great poets” (Luchshie stikhi velikikh poetov), with more than 5,400,000 members.29 Though mass publication of classic poetry was a phenomenon associated with Soviet print culture, and print-runs of poetry steeply declined in the post-Soviet period, the above number suggests that the activity of sharing and quoting poetry is still a living part of popular reader culture in Russia today; it just does not necessarily involve reading a printed book. Hence, the mode of ‘liking’ differs from ‘reading’ great poets. ‘Reading,’ in its traditional, hermeneutic sense, connotes a critical reflection and meaning-seeking interpretation of ‘great literature,’ which is, ideally, systematically scrutinized from the beginning to the end. ‘Liking,’ on the other hand, is associated with the uncritical enjoyment of a ‘good quote’ that randomly pops up with attached, photo-shopped sunsets, rustic flowers, raindrops, pixelated black-and-white poet portraits, love scenes, or video clips from Russian TV talent show poetry recitations. Other fora are dedicated to great novel writers whose devoted ‘followers’ engage in sharing similarly styled prose citations. The mediation of literature on Russian social media sites removes socio-cultural barriers between fan culture and high literature, and it does not discriminate between ‘great’ poetry and ‘occasional,’ imitative verses written by the group members themselves.30 However, as the title of the reading group “Books that changed my life” suggests, the members of Russian social media reading groups still observe elements of the hermeneutic tradition of reading, such as ascribing to the literary work a transformative power to alter the consciousness of the reading individual, if not society as a whole.

  • 31   N. V. Tokareva, “Knizhnye sotsial’nye seti kak populiarizatory chteniia i knigi, proekty kompanii (...)
  • 32   Krylova, “Sotsial’nye seti knizhnoi tematiki,” 131.
  • 33   Cf. also the title of Katharina Lukoschek’s recent study of German social reading networks, “I lo (...)
  • 34   R. Kaplin, “Bol’shie dannye v pomoshch’ chitateliam” (Interview with LiveLib managers Nikita Petr (...)
  • 35   A. Gromov, “Uspeshnym chelovekom mozhet stat’ tol’ko mechtatel’” (Interview with LiveLib founder (...)

13With the advent of social media, Russian niche social media platforms specializing in books and reading also began to appear. The oldest, now extinct Reader2 (http://ru.reader2.com/​ [link not available]) was launched in 2005, and was followed by LiveLib.ru in 2007, currently with more than 1.5 million registered users, and Bookmix.ru in 2008, currently with more than 100,000 registered users. From a reader perspective, the main motivation for using such networks is that the social reading platforms ‘help’ the reader to find a suitable book, based on other users’ recommendations, reviews, and comments. Unlike (legal and illegal) electronic libraries, social reading platforms do not provide full texts or electronic books, but only book excerpts and web links to online bookstores and libraries. Instead, the platforms encourage readers to share their reading experiences and discuss works they have read or intend to read in the future.31 Based on her PhD dissertation research, Ekaterina Krylova has even argued that “social networks specialized in book topics were created and exist thanks to the interests not of publishers but of readers, and sometimes bookstores,”32 (emphasis added) and she suggests that readers’ activity is stimulated by “sharing” reviews, recommendations and opinions.33 This is in line with the self-understanding of LiveLib.ru whose founders present themselves in public interviews as enthusiasts and successful dreamers. In the words of its general director Nikita Petrushin, the main mission of LiveLib.ru is “assistance in the search for like-minded individuals in the sphere of reading. The resource unites users, who can help each other select books across the most diverse fields and genres.”34 The founder, Aleksei Vasenev, rhetorically states, “this is a place created by the people for the people.”35

  • 36   Ibid., 135.
  • 37   A. Sukharevskaia, “Krupneishii knizhnyi onlain-magazin v Rossii vpervye stal pribyl’nym,” RosBizn (...)
  • 38   H. Schmidt, “LitRes: Elektronischer Buchhandel zwischen Business und Piraterie,” Digital Icons: S (...)

14It is true that LiveLib.ru began very modestly as a bottom-up platform programmed by a group of students at the Faculty of Applied Mathematics of Moscow State University, originally created to share information about unavailable academic literature within narrow, specialized fields. However, LiveLib.ru was only able to grow into the largest Russian social reading platform today because of its successful attraction of investors to the project.36 Today, as an online recommendation service, LiveLib.ru belongs to the LitRes.ru group, whose largest shareholder is the Russian publishing conglomerate Eksmo-AST, followed by Ozon.ru, the Russian “copy” of the American online retailer Amazon.com.37 LitRes.ru itself is today Russia’s leading e-bookstore. It was founded 2006 by a conglomerate of online libraries consisting of pirated materials; they legalized their earlier practice through paid access and thus turned it into a viable business.38

  • 39   In her 2011 study, Ekaterina Krylova found that only eighteen out of the hundred largest Russian (...)

15The Russian publishing industry was relatively late in discovering the economic significance of social media for marketing purposes, as Krylova has demonstrated. However, today almost all Russian publishers have their own profiles on the larger social media sites, and the largest publishers actively advertise on the specialized social reading sites to promote their books.39 Advertisement revenues and/or direct investments, especially from the large online bookstores, fund all larger networks, although smaller, non-commercial Russian social reading sites do exist. In addition, social reading sites also link to Russian-language online bookstores abroad, such as Kniga.de, testifying to the sites’ extensive geographical outreach. Hence, when users click on their choices within the different categories (such as books, authors, genres, quotes, and reviews) at the navigation menus, the social reading sites redirect them by linking to the sites of online bookstore and publishers, where readers can buy the preferred books.

  • 40   E. V. Tsykina, “Knizhnye sotsial’nye seti v kontekste sovremennykh chitatel’skikh praktik,” in E. (...)
  • 41   Interview with A. Tananaeva, editor and PR representative of Bookmix.ru, on June 9, 2018.
  • 42   See Pleimling, “Social Reading – Lesen im digitalen Zeitalter,” on the transparent reader (“gläse (...)
  • 43   Cordón García, et al., Social Reading: Platforms, Applications, Clouds and Tags, 175-176.
  • 44   Ritzer, Jurgenson, “Production, Consumption, Prosumption,” 13–36.

16At most social reading sites, users register and create an individual profile, storing their personal data in the databases. However, as Elena Tsykina has remarked in her study, the Russian sites are relatively modest in their harvesting of personal data, and still allow users to register just with a nickname; this is in marked contrast with the most popular international social reading platform, Goodreads.com, which requires users’ full name, information about their age, gender, occupation, interests, reading preferences, and the like.40 The sites accommodate readers’ individual virtual bookshelves or libraries, in which they can rank and review books that they have read or list books and ‘like’ recommendations of books that they wish to read in the future. The degree to which social reading sites ‘read’ their readers differs from platform to platform. Bookmix.ru claims not to sell user data for consumer-tailored advertisement purposes, but only receives commission from advertisement partners based on the user’s level of activity and number of clicks that lead to the partners’ sites.41 Registering at LiveLib.ru involves being targeted with daily email offers, to which, however, the user may choose to unsubscribe. Hence, the commercial interests of publishers and online bookstores in social media marketing consist not only of banner promotion of both print books and electronic books, but also data analysis of users’ costumer preferences and behaviors for tailored marketing purposes. This global trend in social media marketing has caused international controversies about the ‘transparent’ digital reader’s privacy rights.42 The 2013 sale of Goodreads.com (which by 2012 had already reached 13 million registered users of its reader-to-reader recommendation system) to the market monopolist Amazon.com for 150 million dollars shows the strong marketing value of readers’ ranking data.43 Thus, to the claim that Russian social reading sites exist because of and for the sake of readers one must add that the Russian users are inscribed within a global, digital development of “prosumer capitalism” that crosses hitherto established boundaries between producers and consumers.44 Russian readers are subject to a double exploitation of their passion for reading, both as unpaid producers of user-generated content and, at the same time, as targeted, transparent consumers for book advertisers, both of which disrupt the only recently gained post-Soviet private sphere of reading.

  • 45   Kaplin, “Bol’shie dannye v pomoshch’ chitateliam,” 70.
  • 46   Interview with Tananaeva, June 9, 2018. The rather large topic of Russian booktubers deserves a s (...)

17From the perspective of digital marketing companies that host social reading networks, it is not important if users actually read the recommended and discussed books or not. Instead, the networks’ main purpose is to maximize the number of users and increase those users’ online activity (views, clicks, and comments), with the overarching goal of increasing the attraction of their site for advertisers of the book industry. Sometimes registered readers are offered symbolic awards, e.g. a discount in an online bookstore, or particularly active users may be offered ‘free’ review copies of newly published or as-yet unpublished books in exchange for a review. In return, publishers are free to use excerpts of ‘readers’ choice’ as cover blurbs.45 In other cases, popular ‘wreaders,’ who have crossed the reader/writer distinction and shifted to the sender side in the communication circuit, use social reading sites to build up an audience as independent book bloggers or booktubers (bukt’iubery).46

3. Members of social reading groups versus a reading public

  • 47   Lizunova, Lbova, “Prodvizhenie knigi i chteniia v sotsial’nykh setiakh,” 388.
  • 48   Federal’noe agenstvo po pechati i massovym kommunikatsiiam, “Chtenie 21,” http://chtenie-21.ru/he (...)

18Nevertheless, the mobilization of users for profit purposes has a significant side effect: social reading sites indeed appear successful in motivating a certain segment of Russian readers to read (and thus produce and consume) more texts—and, significantly, this segment is one that public reading campaigns by governmental institutions, schools, and libraries usually do not reach. This is not to suggest that Russian public institutions do not aim to use social media to encourage young audiences to read. As Irina Lizunova and Ekaterina Lbova have noted, the #litgeroi initiative, which was launched during the national 2015 “Year of Literature” by the state-funded Pushkin Library Foundation that supports publishing, education, and new IT, would represent one successful example of such encouragement.47 During the #litgeroi campaign, 400 schoolchildren created 104 virtual social media profiles for their favorite literary heroes, including Neznaika, Karlson, and others.48 However, in comparison with commercially-oriented social reading platforms, such singular projects from above do not achieve any mass penetration of the Russian readership and are unlikely to have a lasting effect.

19The vast majority of social reading platform users, around 80%, are in their twenties, thirties, or forties, and belong to the actively working population with middle or higher income.49 Unlike children, students, and pensioners, this age group and relatively privileged social segment does not have to check out books at the boring, old-fashioned, user-unfriendly and often insufficiently funded and equipped public libraries, but can afford to buy their own books, which makes them particularly interesting as consumer segment.50 The users do not all belong to the more highly educated intelligentsia, but reader preferences for mainstream literature, sci-fi, and fantasy titles dominate the top-hundred lists. Other users’ interests in topics such as home, family, health, and travel reflect the non-advanced tastes and preferences of ‘ordinary’ readers.51

20Strikingly, 61% of the audience at Bookmix.ru and 66% at LiveLib.ru consists of female users.52 Anastasiia Tananaeva, an editor and PR representative of Bookmix.ru, explains the predominance of female users with reference to general perceptions of gender roles in Russian families, according to which reading is considered a domestic, “feminine” activity. Buying books and caring for the education of children and family are primarily the housewife’s or working mother’s responsibilities.53 In contrast to libraries, Bookmix.ru does not address child readers, but have groups entitled “Books and Children” (Chtenie i deti), “Pseudo-Intellectual Girl” (Obrazovanka) and so on, facilitating discussions on children’s literature and educational literature while targeting their purchase-responsible parents.54

21LiveLib.ru maintains a library section with links to hundreds of local institutions, but apart from occasionally announcing literary events taking place in public libraries, the commercially-driven social reading platforms currently do not actively collaborate with public libraries in the same way as they do with their book industry partners.55 In her PhD research, Elena Tsykina has argued that Russian public libraries experiencing a declining popularity (especially among young readers) do not take full advantage of the communication potential of social media technology. Instead, young readers recommend literature to each other online and become each other’s ‘favorite librarians.’56 These findings differ from those of Julia Melentieva’s earlier, 2009 survey of Russian high school students’ reading habits, which did not yet take social media or social reading into account. This study found that while socializing with friends was the top priority leisure activity for the youth, only a few respondents received or exchanged information about book-related topics from their peers.57 Despite the buzzword of ‘interconnectivity’ often associated with social reading in research literature, there is a growing communication gap between the public library and commercial reading networks that operate separately from each other in Russia today. Despite the misleading name, the ‘social’ reading networks do not carry any particular social responsibility of promoting reading, much less servicing or sustaining a cohesive reading public; rather, they represent a segmentation of readers into two groups—various digitally active purchasers who organize closed interest groups of ‘like-minded’ readers, and readers who don’t have sufficient purchase power or digital skills and remain outside this paradigm.

4. The image of reading as a sweet pastime

22In line with their predominantly female audience, Russian social reading sites often frame books as things to digest in domestic interiors; they prominently feature images of coffee, tea, sweets, fruits, and berries to suggest that reading is a luxurious pause from one’s busy, noisy, daily life. While the multifunction portals LiveLib.ru and Bookmix.ru both maintain a neutral graphic interface, Anatolii Lavrin’s more minimalist social reading platform Moia biblioteka (My Library) operates with a more ambitious design created by Stanislav Bolotov. The opening page features an anonymized female torso surrounded by open books; her legs are crossed and her arms are covered by long sleeves, while her thin fingers with bitten nails encircle a warm cup of coffee. By connoting the stereotype of a desexualized bookworm, the image appears as a striking antidote to the oversexualized exposure of the naked female body that users encounter elsewhere on the RuNet. Instead, it invites new users into an alternative sphere, an intimate, safe space for reading where time stands still for a moment.

3. Screenshot of entrance page to Moia biblioteka (My Library), http://my-lib.ru/​ [link not available] (accessed July 4, 2018).

3. Screenshot of entrance page to Moia biblioteka (My Library), http://my-lib.ru/​ [link not available] (accessed July 4, 2018).

23Bookmix.ru has extended the metaphor of reading as a self-rewarding sweet pastime in some of its many user-engaging reading riddles. Hence, in the reading game “Literary Compote” (Literaturnyi kompot), around 80-100 literary quotes are mixed together, and participants compete by guessing from which works the quotes originate.58 The social reading sites’ occasional cooperation with advertisement partners outside the book industry may increase the metaphorical link between digesting literature and enjoying food. In autumn 2015, Bookmix.ru launched a literary “ChocoCompetition” (ShokoKonkurs) in cooperation with a local company specializing in personalized chocolate gift boxes.59

4. 5. Advertisement for the joint ShokoKonkurs campaign by BookMix.ru and Shokobox.ru.

4. 5. Advertisement for the joint ShokoKonkurs campaign by BookMix.ru and Shokobox.ru.
  • 60   S. Aison, “BookMix.ru i kompaniia Shokobox ob’’iavliaut ShokoKonkurs!” October 1, 2015, https://b (...)
  • 61   C. Kiaer, “Rodchenko in Paris,” October, 75 (1996), 3-35.

24During the marketing campaign, a BookMix.ru jury would award readers for the best reviews of books, related to chocolate topics (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the like). The winners would receive a chocolate box featuring a cover portrait of Dostoevskii, Oscar Wilde, or Balzac with quotes of these writers printed on the wrapping paper of the nine Swiss milk chocolate pieces in the box.60 In contrast to the early Soviet revolutionary ideal of a collective reading space—as expressed, for example, in Aleksandr Rodchenko’s famous 1925 workers’ club interior, in which modern, pure wooden furniture disciplined enlightened workers’ bodies by forcing them to keep their spines straight while reading —61 here, a century later, the ideal of social reading removes reading from the institutionalized, public sphere of the school and the library, in which foods, drinks, and greasy fingers are all prohibited for the sake of proper book handling, and into a new social space of comfortable, ‘luxury’ consumption.

5. The image of reading as sport and the gamification of reading

25An opposite strategy is to frame reading as a fitness or extreme sport activity. The editors of social reading sites organize games and competitions to stimulate and increase user activity, borrowing their incentive systems from the technologies of online multiplayer computer games to optimize readers’ virtual achievements.62 Some game activities involve reading groups, and others individual readers; some organize different thematic readings and literary riddles, and others quantitatively measure reading activities.63 Among the most popular games, LiveLib.ru hosts an annual “Book Challenge” (Knizhnyi vyzov) during which close to 60,000 readers sign up with the goal of reading and ranking a personally defined number of books, the average challenge being 49 books per year.64 The LiveLib.ru team coaches the readers by monitoring their individual statistics, and updating lists of the participants according to their progress and plan fulfillment. Hence, while readers rank the books, the social reading platform ranks the readers. In doing so, they combine a rhetoric of sport, victory, struggle, and (over)fulfillment, all of which perhaps echoes the Stakhanovite encouragement to Socialist competition, but is defined primarily by digital technology—for example, wearable, lifelogging fitness trackers. After only 6 months of competition, an unemployed male Muscovite with the nickname “Ivan2K17” led the reading race, with 1,699 books done out of the 1,675 he planned to read during a full year. For his astonishing achievement, he obtained the virtual status of “guru.”65 Despite the honorable guru title, the reading challenge encourages fast scrolling, rather than spiritual-meditative contemplation as the most suitable, competitive reading mode.

6. “The book is the best exercise machine / And power is in knowledge” Parodic, “demotivational” poster, blending the concept of reading and fitness, posted August 2, 2013 in the self-organized VKontakte group “Knizhnyi marafon, klub chteniia, knigi”, https://vk.com/​knigomarafon?z=photo-51310303_308066104%2Falbum-51310303_00%2Frev (accessed July 4, 2018).

6. “The book is the best exercise machine / And power is in knowledge” Parodic, “demotivational” poster, blending the concept of reading and fitness, posted August 2, 2013 in the self-organized VKontakte group “Knizhnyi marafon, klub chteniia, knigi”, https://vk.com/​knigomarafon?z=photo-51310303_308066104%2Falbum-51310303_00%2Frev (accessed July 4, 2018).

26Similarly, BookMix.ru organizes an annual “Book Marathon” (Knizhnyi marafon) with more than 1,000 participants who sign up for different “distances;” the “light” distance consists of reading and reviewing 10 books, “medium” is based on a half-marathon of 21 books, “hard” of a full marathon of 42 books, while “super-hard” breaks the limits of the marathon metaphor with 50 books. Readers select books according to their own preferences within broader, predefined categories, which might include lists of “book titles consisting of one word” to “Nobel Prize winners.”66 Though electronic texts are often accused of depriving readers of the haptic, bodily experience of touching, smelling, and flipping through a physical book, social reading networks reframe reading as challenging physical exercise. From being perceived primarily as a mental activity with potentially damaging effects on the back, neck and eyesight, reading is here virtually enchanted as a dynamic movement, which ensures that the reader remains of sound mind and body. The social reading sites gamify reading with ranks and scores and add the rhetoric of quantified self-improvement and self-tracking systems of the health industry. Whereas mass sports of the Soviet period aimed to become high culture by ‘cultivating’ the worker’s body and mind, and was correspondingly conceptualized as “physical culture” (fizkul’tura), today the social reading sites turn such value hierarchies upside down, transforming the culture of the book (kul’tura knigi) into a “physical culture of the book” (fizkul’tura knigi).67

  • 68   For a further discussion of the negatively loaded term “gamification,” see Walz, Deterding, “An I (...)
  • 69   B. DeKoven, “Position Statement. Monkey Brains and Fraction Bingo: In Defense of Fun,” in Walz, D (...)

27However, to dismiss social reading sites as mere exploitation-ware, to regard the ‘gamification’ of reading as another confirmation of the self-optimizing reader’s lamentable fate within global performance society, or to mourn the dehumanization of reading in the hamster wheels of the Web 2.0, will still not explain why users retain their profiles.68 Leaving aside the critical concerns of the humanities and turning to the pragmatic side of the game industry itself, we might consider the simple but vital observation of game designer Bernard DeKoven: “We play games because they are fun. When they stop being fun, we stop playing them.”69

6. Volunteer offline reader initiatives

  • 70   Interview with A. Tananaeva, June 9, 2018.

28Dividing the registered users of the platform into three main groups, BookMix.ru estimates that approximately the upper 10% are “active users” who frequently visit the site, organize groups, exchange recommendations with other users, write reviews and comments, etc. The middle group consists of “passive” users (approximately 40%), who maintain a personalized bookshelf, read recommendations, but do not publish reviews themselves, while up to 50% of the users are inactive profiles, “dead souls” (mertvye dushi) who once registered but soon left (presumably because it stopped being fun).70 Despite virtual points and other incentive systems, users of social reading sites are far from loyal readers, as reflected in the high fluctuation of the platforms’ use. In addition, a high degree of social mobility characterizes the main age group of users, the 20-40 year olds, and rather than being a fixed habit, the prioritization of reading may change with a new life or work situation.

  • 71   Ibid.

29To the editors of the social reading sites, the competitions are important because they are capable of turning the “passive” bookshelf-keepers into “active” review writers. Tananaeva explains the popularity of reading competitions not in neo-liberal terms but by their socializing and psychological functions. For newly registered users, who are inexperienced in writing reviews and not necessarily highly educated, it is, in fact, intimidating to publish one’s opinion about a literary work to an unknown community. The game rules of the competition welcome and include newcomers into the social group and provide a clear, instructive framework for the users to overcome their initial shyness.71

  • 72   Kaplin, “Bol’shie dannye v pomoshch’ chitateliam,” 2016, 68.
  • 73   See reportage from annual LiveLib event, O. Barabash, “Nachinaetsia obsuzhdenie, nachinaetsia zhi (...)

30While Goodreads’ algorithms are capable of generating refined, tailored recommendations to individual user profiles based on accumulated big data, the Russian sites do not yet have the necessary investments and data volume to work at this level of precision. “I have ranked 19 books within the genres of fantasy and children’s literature, and the recommendation service handed out Viktoriia Tokareva. How can that be?” journalist Roman Kaplin wonders in a 2016 interview with the LiveLib.ru managers.72 Hence, the users of Russian social reading sites rely more on the direct recommendations by their friends and group communities than on computer-generated dysfunctions. At LiveLib.ru, the most active users are promoted to “favorite librarians,” “LiveLib experts” and “coryphaei,” and receive extended “rights” to edit permanent content, such as author descriptions. The site administration is largely maintained by a general staff (genshtab) of volunteer (i.e. unpaid) representatives, who also answer questions and guide inexperienced users. At LiveLib.ru’s annual “live” event, hundreds of devoted members, from all over Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus gather offline in Moscow to attend the award ceremony of the best users.73

31Such active users also organize offline meetings at a local level. In several Russian cities, user-organized monthly book club meetings take place, and readers agree online which book to discuss and then meet up in parks or other public places.74 Another example, which gives the now extinct person-to-person concept of pen pals a second life, is LiveLib.ru’s “Book Surprise” (Knizhnyi siurpriz) campaigns, during which members sign up and, seemingly altruistically, send each other anonymous book gifts, packed with small surprises such as tea and chocolate. The campaigns are not limited to the Russian postal system, since users have also initiated the gift exchange of Russian and foreign language books with Russian language readers living abroad.75 Furthermore, users organize gatherings without any reading or book-related purpose but rather for sheer pleasure.76 Indeed, the virtual books of the social reading sites seem to yield real friends and real fun.

7. A disenchanted anarchy of reading and mutual aid

  • 77   See menzel, “From Print to Pixel,” in the present volume.

32Like all global social reading networks, the Russian platforms establish an enchanting world with a virtual plentitude of books. However, at the same time, a distinctive feature of the Russian social reading groups is that they also provide fora for disenchanted readers, and partly frame themselves as micronetworks that compensate for weaknesses in contemporary Russian macronetworks of public libraries and physical bookstores.77

  • 78   O. Kostiukova, “Nepravil’nyi chitatel’: Kakikh knig nam ne khvataet?” and “Defitsitnye knigi,” Kn (...)
  • 79   Kostiukova, “Defitsitnye knigi” (2012), 1 and 4.

33In 2012, LiveLib.ru and the book branch journal Book Review (Knizhnoe obozrenie) conducted a non-representative reader survey of around 2,000 respondents (who were primarily among the younger users) of the social reading site, asking the non-neutral question: “According to your opinion, which books are lacking in the Russian book market? And in the shops of your city?” and presented the results under the header “Deficit books” (Defitsitnye knigi), thus alluding to and reintroducing the Soviet shortage economy discourse of “book hunger.”78 Both the highly suggestive question of the ‘survey’ and readers’ responses seemed to imply that supply/demand equilibrium does not exist in the contemporary Russian book market, and contributed to a (re-)establishing of an online reader community based on a common perception of a contemporary book shortage. Hence, only 24% of respondents indicated that they found bookstores sufficiently equipped and only lacked space on their bookshelf. In general, readers found the bookstore chains to be well stocked with bestsellers and newly published fiction books, but respondents—especially students—complained about the difficulties of obtaining textbooks and academic literature, foreign language books in the original and quality translations, and high-quality editions of the classics.79 Thus, today’s perceived “deficit” completely inverts the Soviet supply situation, which was characterized by a shortage of popular fiction and a surplus of annotated academic editions of certain classics.

34Not surprisingly, the current supply situation appeared most difficult in the peripheries. Maria from Irkutsk, under the username “VolchicA19,” wrote: “Earlier (1999-2005) there were many small shops in our city with a good selection and pleasant prices. Then the small shops closed, large bookstore chains appeared … and after all this, it became terrible to shop there [given the] wild prices and mediocre selection…”80 Another user from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii in the Far East, a pedagogue named Anastasiia who posted under the username “kamrakurs,” complained: “In our place, books are very expensive, presumably due to their cost of transportation; because of this, I don’t buy anything any longer, but use library services and read electronic books.”81 In response to this ‘deficit’ situation, which has worsened since the 2014-2016 Russian financial crisis, the niche of ‘book crossing’ services on the social reading sites has grown increasingly popular, enabling readers to offer and request secondhand books online and subsequently exchange these physical print books, either face-to-face or via the postal system.82 In the LiveLib group “Help to the Libraries” (Pomoshch’ bibliotekam), village librarians post calls about the catastrophic lack of books (especially children’s books and schoolbooks) to cover the changing syllabi, and active users respond by sending voluntary book donations.83 Not merely a case of exploitative, digital prosumer capitalism, which sustains the system of an increasingly monopolized and centralized book industry, the Russian social reading networks thus also support mutual aid among reader ‘anarchists,’ who insist on book redistribution despite the challenging conditions of an ailing, unfunded public library system. When local libraries are no longer capable of providing their readers with books, readers provide the libraries with books.

  • 84   A. Dolgin, Ekonomika simvolicheskogo obmena (Moscow, 2006). Now inactive domain: http://imhonet.r (...)
  • 85   See hundreds of users’ frustrated comments on the news article, A. Khabibrakhimov, “Vladelets rek (...)

35However, readers’ rights are far from secure when they must rely on fluctuating social reading networks as virtual replacements for physical public and commercial reading channels, as has been demonstrated by the case of online recommendation service Imhonet.ru, a site maintained by Aleksandr Dolgin, a professor of economics and author of a book on economic symbolic exchange.84 After its founding in 2007, Imhonet (its name derived from the English acronym of the phrase “In My Humble Opinion”) quickly expanded from book reviews to a broad recommendation system of films, TV, theater plays, concerts, and the like, and experienced an explosive growth in the number of registered users. However, because of increasing difficulties with a stricter anti-piracy legislation and users’ illegal sharing of film and book downloads, as well as investor problems, Dolgin decided to close down Imhonet in 2017. Overnight, users lost their entire personal archives, such as book and film collections, personal annotations, and reading logs, all without warning or any protection against copyright infringement of readers’ user-generated data.85

8. The future of social reading and rebus

  • 86   Interview with A. Tananaeva, June 9, 2018.
  • 87   V. Bolotin, (@eretik), “Knizhnye seti Runeta: Vzgliad pol’zovatelia,” Geektimes.ru, September 24, (...)

36Social reading sites take advantage of books that evoke a maximum of emotions, positive or negative, without requiring longer, rational arguments, because such books prompt the highest number of instant user responses. On the negative end of the emotional spectrum, communities of disenchanted readers gather around the reader-generated version of the bad literary review subgenre. The amateur ethos of ‘everyone can write,’ supported by reader reviews written ‘from below,’ rather than by authoritative, educated literary critics, contains a certain anti-establishment protest potential that frequently leaps into direct ‘book-bullying,’ or online mocking of unpopular reviewers. The tone of the unedited, largely self-organized and self-sustained groups may represent a challenge to the administrators of social reading sites, who sometimes experience users deleting or exporting their profiles due to personal harassment.86 Furthermore, educated literary critics like Vladimir Bolotin, a graduate from Maxim Gorky Literary Institute who wrote extensively on and about social reading networks under the user nickname “eretik” before embarking on a professional writing career at the newspaper Rossiiskaia gazeta (The Russian Newspaper), has experimented with a negative Russian version of the Twitter-based reading log I’ve Read @ivread. In 2011 Bolotin launched the short-lived (and now blocked) Fucktionbooks.ru. If readers did not like a book, he invited them to send it to hell by addressing it, symbolically, to this simple Twitter-based ‘service’.87

37After ten years of existence, the traditional Russian social reading networks must now compete with the popularity of Twitter and the new generation of social media mobile apps for sharing photos and videos via instant messaging. The change of device formats from laptop and iPad to cell phone screens requires a further compression of content. Hence, while the length of an average reader review at BookMix.ru is currently around 500 characters, it is likely to decrease in the future, when readers stop using the keyboard-operating ten-finger system, and shift to their thumbs.

38Especially Instagram (which mimes the old-fashioned media of telegrams and the square format of instant camera Polaroid photos for the sake of retro fashion) enjoys a high popularity among Russian users. It is far more successful than the app Snapchat, which by default deletes text exchanges and has recently experienced problems with Roskomnadzor, who requires the service to store user data for at least six months.88 In 2015, a popular and active user, with the nickname “Apel’sinka,” declared her entire literary life had moved to Instagram, and BookMix.ru thus had to respond to users’ changed reading mode patterns and virtual migration by launching BookMix.ru at Instagram.89 Here, BookMix.ru posts picture series, for example, of modern, user-friendly glass cathedrals of library architecture from metropolises around the world. Such library buildings that take up a function as public prestige objects abroad prompt envious comments by Russian readers and users, whose government prioritizes investments in soccer stadiums and Olympic game infrastructure instead.90 BookMix.ru has also invented new rebus puzzles that ask users to decode four linked Instagram picture fragments, each of which hinting at the title, protagonists, or content of a famous literary work.91 An illustrative example is the remediation of Nikolai Gogol’s nineteenth-century novel Dead Souls (Mertvye dushi), which requires slow and lengthy reading, into four compact pictures for instant sharing.92 This does not per se confirm a reduction of reading, but rather an addition of meaning to the work, and testifies to the preservation of the classics in Russian reading culture as a common point of reference. Without such a framework the game would not work.

Conclusion: enchanted and disenchanted reading

39As demonstrated in the two cases of BookMix.ru and LiveLib.ru, Russian social reading networks seek to re-enchant reading by establishing user communities around a self-generative but simulated plenitude of books. They appeal to individual users’ pleasure and competitive instincts by linking the non-contemplative and non-solitary reading experience to friendship and fun, the digestion of luxury food, and domestic entertainment, but also gamified self-optimization and self-education. While ideally bringing readers together, social reading platforms also—not surprisingly—exploit prosumers by targeting these user-deliverers of unpaid reviews, site activity, and content with tailored social media marketing from investors and advertisement partners of the publishing industry. That being said, Russian social reading networks are not as advanced in harvesting readers’ user data for marketing purposes as major international players such as Amazon.com and Goodreads.com.

40Instead, Russian social reading networks prove successful in reaching reader segments whose demands public libraries and governmental reading campaigns do not address. Rather than a broad reading public, the social reading networks form reading groups of ‘like-minded’ individuals, especially female users in their twenties to forties. However, these groups do not depart from reality when browsing the social reading sites’ enchanting virtual book shopping windows; rather, they demonstrate a disenchanted awareness of the limitations of actual access to or possession of physical print books beyond the seemingly transparent but impenetrable world of illuminated screen reading. Hence, in their ‘deficit book’ survey, LiveLib.ru actively framed a critical discussion among its users about which books were missing. Several of the social reading sites facilitate ‘self-help’ groups, enabling readers to exchange second hand books or redistribute books by voluntary, solidary donations to unfunded local libraries in the remote areas. These digital compensation strategies for the unavailability or inaccessibility of books in public libraries and private bookstores continue a long Russian tradition of sharing reading materials through self-organized networks. Likewise, Russian social reading networks testify to a continued interest in and social valuation of reading among population segments whose reading demands are not met by the Russian book market and public library system today.

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Notes

1   J. A. Cordón García, J. A. Arévalo, R. G. Díaz, D. P. Linder Molin, Social Reading: Platforms, Applications, Clouds and Tags (Oxford, 2013); for a broader understanding of ‘social’ reading practices and contemporary, literary event culture, see D. Fuller, D. R. Sedo, Reading beyond the Book: The Social Practices of Contemporary Literary Culture, Routledge research in cultural and media studies 49 (New York, 2013); D. Pleimling, “Social Reading – Lesen im digitalen Zeitalter,” Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte 41-42 Theme issue: “Zukunft des Publizierens” (2012), 21-27. http://www.bpb.de/apuz/145378/social-reading-lesen-im-digitalen-zeitalter (accessed February 8, 2018).

2   N. M. Richards, “The Perils of Social Reading,” Georgetown Law Journal, 101 (2013), 689-724; B. Wassom, “Navigating the Rights and Risks in Social Reading,” Pub Res Q, 31 (2015), 215–219.

3   L. Koepnick, “Concepts of Reading in the Digital Era,” in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature, August 2016. https://oxfordre.com/literature/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190201098.001.0001/acrefore-9780190201098-e-2 (accessed February 12, 2018).

4   N. S. Baron, Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World (New York, 2016).

5   More than half of 17 Russian social reading sites, categorized by Ekaterina Krylova in a research survey, based on 2011 data, are today closed down or inactive, while new sites have appeared. See E. V. Krylova, “Sotsial’nye seti knizhnoi tematiki kak osobaia kommunikatsionnaia sreda dlia sub’’ektov knizhnogo rynka,” Trudy Sankt-Peterburgskogo gosudarstvennogo universiteta kul’tury i iskusstv, 201 (2013), 131–140, see list 139-140. Irina Lizunova provides a chronological list of some of the major Russian social reading services. I. V. Lizunova, “Sotsial’nye seti knizhnoi tematiki - innovatsionnyi trend populiarizatsii chteniia,” in E. B. Artem’eva, O. L. Lavrik (eds.), Biblioteka traditsionnaia i elektronnaia: smysly i tsennosti: Materialy mezhregional’noi nauchno-prakticheskoi konferentsii (Novosibirsk, October 4-6, 2016), 12, 2 vols. (Novosibirsk, 2017), II, 5-18, see list 8-14.

6   G. Ritzer, N. Jurgenson, “Production, Consumption, Prosumption: The Nature of Capitalism in the Age of the Digital ‘Prosumer,’” Journal of Consumer Culture, 10, 1 (2010), 13-36.

7   The social reading sites are accessible at: https://www.goodreads.com/; https://www.livelib.ru/about/; https://bookmix.ru/about/ (accessed May 23, 2018).

8   On a ‘decline’ discourse, for example V. E. Barykin uses the expression “padenie kul’tury knigi” in Idem, “O nekotorykh aspektakh kul’tury knigi v sovremennykh usloviiakh,” Kniga: issledovaniia i materialy, 74 (1997), 81-82. B. B. Pristed, The New Russian Book: A Graphic Cultural History (London, 2017), 75-78. On the internet as a vehicle for the humanities that sustain readers’ gramotnost’, see for example, Roman Leibov’s analysis of expert-user dialogue sites such as gramota.ru, R. Leibov, “Expert Communities on the Russian Internet: Typology and History,” in H. Schmidt, K. Teubener, N. Konradova (eds.), Control + Shift: Public and Private Usages of the Russian Internet (Norderstedt, 2006), 98-100.

9   See Schmidt, “Virtual Shelves, Virtual Selves,” in the present volume.

10 M. B. Remnek (ed.), The Space of the Book: Print Culture in the Russian Social Imagination (Toronto, 2011).

11   K. M. Sukhorukov, “Statistika knigoizdaniia: pliusy i minusy 2009 g.,” Bibliografiia: nauchnyi zhurnal po bibliografovedeniiu i knigovedeniiu, 366, 2 (2010), 3–12; E. I. Kozlova, K. M. Sukhorukov, “Statistika knigoizdaniia Rossii za 2010 g.: itogi i problemy,” Bibliografiia: nauchnyi zhurnal po bibliografovedeniiu i knigovedeniiu, 373, 2 (2011), 22-35; L. A. Kirillova, K. M. Sukhorukov, “Knigoizdanie Rossii v 2011 g.,” Bibliografiia: nauchnyi zhurnal po bibliografovedeniiu i knigovedeniiu, 379, 2 (2012), 10–19; L. A. Kirillova, K. M. Sukhorukov, “Knigoizdanie Rossii v 2012 g.,” Bibliografiia: nauchnyi zhurnal po bibliografovedeniiu i knigovedeniiu, 384, 2 (2013), 9–17. K. M. Sukhorukov, “Knigoizdanie Rossii v 2013 g.,” Bibliografiia: nauchnyi zhurnal po bibliografovedeniiu i knigovedeniiu, 390, 1 (2014), 3–14; K. M. Sukhorukov, “Knigoizdanie Rossii v 2014 g.,” Bibliografiia i knigovedenie, volume not indicated, 1 (2015), 4–13; K. M. Sukhorukov, “Knigoizdanie Rossii v 2015 g.,” Bibliografiia i knigovedenie, 402, 1 (2016), 19–30; K. M. Sukhorukov, “Knigoizdanie Rossii v 2016 g.,” Bibliografiia i knigovedenie, 408, 1 (2017), 3–17; G. V. Perova, K. M. Sukhorukov, “Knigoizdanie Rossii v 2017 g.,” Bibliografiia i knigovedenie, 414, 1 (2018), 4–29.

12   L. A. Kirillova, K. M. Sukhorukov, “Vse vyshe, i vyshe, i vyshe…: Rekordnye statisticheskie pokazateli rossiiskogo knigoizdaniia v 2008 godu,” originally published April 4, 2009 on the website of The Russian Book Chamber: https://web.archive.org/web/20090612042252/. The article is no longer online available, but recoverable at: http:/www.bookchamber.ru/content/stat/stat_2008.html [link not available] (accessed June 26, 2018).

13   See Menzel, “From Print to Pixel,” in this volume.

14   Perova, Sukhorukov, “Knigoizdanie Rossii v 2017 g.,” 6 and 13, table 2. In recent years, Russian title output seems impressive even by international standards, but such figures must be read with some caution due to the widespread Russian publishing practice of issuing the same book in several different book series, with different ISBNs and cover designs, all in diminutive print runs, and without identifying these as reprint editions.

15   V. P. Chudinova, “Chtenie ‘tsifrovogo’ pokoleniia: problemy i perspektivy,” in I. V. Lizunova (ed.), Kniga: Sibir’ - Evraziia: Trudy I Mezhdunarodnogo nauchnogo kongressa: Tom 3 (Novosibirsk, 2016), 349.

16   On the censoring role of Roskomnadzor and the recent so-called “anti-piracy” and “anti-extremism” internet laws, see I. Kiriya, E. Sherstoboeva, “Russian Media Piracy in the Context of Censoring Practices,” International Journal of Communication, 9 (2015), 839-851, esp. 845-846.

17   The Scientific Technical Center Informregistr. Depozitarii elektronnykh izdanii, http://catalog.inforeg.ru/ (accessed June 26, 2018).

18   According to recent amendments to the federal law on depository copies, Russian publishers (since 2017 ) have been obligated to deposit electronic copies of all printed publications (not to be confused with e-books) in the Russian State Library and Russian Book Chamber, but due to the obvious risks of copyright infringements, publishers are very reluctant to do so. See Perova, Sukhorukov, “Knigoizdanie Rossii v 2017 g.,” 4-6.

19   One such source is Rossiiskii knizhnyi soiuz and the Moscow government’s Monitoring moskovskogo knizhnogo rynka, which includes development trends of the digital book market, annually published from 2012 to present, online available at: https://bookunion.ru/analytics/monitoring/ (accessed June 26, 2018).

20   Rossiiskii knizhnyi soiuz. Monitoring sostoianiia moskovskogo knizhnogo rynka (2017), 56. Online available at: https://bookunion.ru/analytics/monitoring/ (accessed June 27, 2018).

21   A. V. Gerasimova, “Ob odnoi spetsificheskoi praktike: otzyvy na knigi v internete,” Monitoring obshchestvennogo mneniia: Ekonomicheskie i sotsial’nye peremeny, 1 (2018), 226.

22   Cordón García et al., Social Reading: Platforms, Applications, Clouds and Tags, 143. Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenline define “social media” as a “group of internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content.” A. M. Kaplan, M. Haenlein, “Users of the World, Unite! The Challenges and Opportunities of Social Media,” Business Horizons, 53, 1 (January-February, 2010), 59–68, esp. 61.

23   B. Stein, “A Taxonomy of Social Reading: A Proposal,” The Institute for the Future of the Book, 2010 http://futureofthebook.org/social-reading/matrix/index.html (accessed June 28, 2018)

24   G. Genette, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation (Cambridge, 1997). Genette’s examples of ‘epitexts’ are authorized by the writer, e.g. in the form of author interviews, responses to a literary critic, or author diary entries, and do not refer to ‘ordinary’ readers’ responses to literary works. For a discussion of how digital reading technologies challenge precisely this authorization of the paratext by enabling reader additions in and around the text, see D. Birke, B. Christ, “Paratext and Digitized Narrative: Mapping the Field,” Narrative, 21, 1 (2013), 65–87, esp. 78-79.

25   Cordón García et al., Social Reading: Platforms, Applications, Clouds and Tags, 2.

26   Readers of twentieth-century capitalist consumer societies, of course, also participated in ‘social reading’ in formal and semi-formal networks, such as the classroom and book club.

27   On wall newspapers, see M. S. Gorham, “Tongue-Tied Writers: The Rabsel’kor Movement and the Voice of the ‘New Intelligentsia’ in Early Soviet Russia,” The Russian Review, 55, 3 (1996), 412–429; J. Hicks, “From Conduits to Commanders: Shifting Views of Worker Correspondents, 1924-1926,” Revolutionary Russia (2006), 131–149; C. Kelly, “’A Laboratory for the Manufacture of Proletarian Writers’ The Stengazeta (Wall Newspaper), Kul’turnost’ and the Language of Politics in the Early Soviet Period,” Europe-Asia Studies, 54, 4 (2002), 573–602. For a comparison of the 1920s readers’ diaries and contemporary readers’ online reviews, see Gerasimova, “Ob odnoi spetsificheskoi praktike,” 227-230. On reader letters of the 1950s and 1960s, see D. Kozlov, The Readers of Novyi Mir: Coming to Terms with the Stalinist Past (Cambridge, MA, 2013), and also his chapter in the present volume.

28   On Soviet self-publishing practices, see Zitzewitz, “Reading Samizdat” in the present volume. On the continued post-Soviet, digital uses and redefinitions of the Soviet term “samizdat,” see H. Schmidt, “Postprintium? Digital Literary Samizdat on the Russian Internet,” in F. Kind-Kovács, J. Labov (eds.), Samizdat, Tamizdat & Beyond: Transnational Media During and After Socialism (New York, 2013), 221-244.

29   The groups are available at: https://vk.com/bookpower; https://vk.com/knigijizn; https://vk.com/1poetry (accessed June 29, 2018). For a more detailed description of the popularization of Russian reading in the large, general social media networks, see I. V. Lizunova, E. M. Lbova, “Prodvizhenie knigi i chteniia v sotsial’nykh setiakh,” in I. V. Lizunova (ed.), Kniga: Sibir’ - Evraziia: Trudy I Mezhdunarodnogo nauchnogo kongressa: Tom 3 (Novosibirsk, 2016), 388; and I. V. Lizunova, “Sotsial’nye media kak interaktivnaia tsifrovaia sreda populiarizatsii knigi i chteniia,” Ibid., 92–108, esp. 95-99.

30   The right sidebar of the VKontakte site “Luchshie stikhi velikikh poetov” includes the menu point “Vashi stikhotvoreniia,” which encourages members to upload their own verses (“Let us hear your personal poetry here. No cursing or flooding”) https://vk.com/topic-38683579_28127274 (accessed June 29, 2018).

31   N. V. Tokareva, “Knizhnye sotsial’nye seti kak populiarizatory chteniia i knigi, proekty kompanii Pocketbook,” in K. V. Ovsiannikova, N. V. Tokareva (eds.), Kniga i sovremennom mire: Krizis logotsentrizma i / ili torzhestvo vizual’nosti: Materialy mezhdunarodnoi nauchnoi konferentsii, VGU, filologicheskii fakul’tet, 28 fevralia - 2 marta 2017 goda (Voronezh, 2018), 197–204.

32   Krylova, “Sotsial’nye seti knizhnoi tematiki,” 131.

33   Cf. also the title of Katharina Lukoschek’s recent study of German social reading networks, “I love to share with you,” K. Lukoschek, “ ‘Ich liebe den Austausch mit euch!’ Austausch über und anhand von Literatur in Social Reading-Communities und auf Bücherblogs,” in A. Bartl, M. Behmer, M. Hielscher (eds.), Die Rezension: Aktuelle Tendenzen der Literaturkritik, Konnex Band 22 (Würzburg, 2017), 225–52.

34   R. Kaplin, “Bol’shie dannye v pomoshch’ chitateliam” (Interview with LiveLib managers Nikita Petrushin and Roman Ivanov), Universitetskaia kniga, March (2016), 68. http://www.unkniga.ru/bookrinok/bookraspr/5701-bolshie-dannye-v-pomosch-chitatelyam.html (accessed June 27, 2018).

35   A. Gromov, “Uspeshnym chelovekom mozhet stat’ tol’ko mechtatel’” (Interview with LiveLib founder Aleksei Vasenov), Banki i delovoi mir, January-February (2014), 135, http://www.bdm.ru/zhurnal/bdm-1-2-2014#/134/ (accessed June 28, 2018).

36   Ibid., 135.

37   A. Sukharevskaia, “Krupneishii knizhnyi onlain-magazin v Rossii vpervye stal pribyl’nym,” RosBiznesKonsalting (May 31, 2016). https://www.rbc.ru/technology_and_media/31/05/2016/574d80249a7947f0d8b20888 (accessed April 29, 2019).

38   H. Schmidt, “LitRes: Elektronischer Buchhandel zwischen Business und Piraterie,” Digital Icons: Studies in Russian, Eurasian and Central European New Media, 5 (2011), 76. http://www.digitalicons.org/issue05/henrike-schmidt/ (accessed June 27, 2018).

39   In her 2011 study, Ekaterina Krylova found that only eighteen out of the hundred largest Russian publishers used social media; E. V. Krylova, “Ispol’zovanie sotsial’nykh setei v PR-deiatel’nosti krupneishikh izdatel’stv Rossii,” Vestnik Sankt-Peterburgskogo gosudarstvennogo universiteta kul’tury i isskustva, June (2011), 111–113.

40   E. V. Tsykina, “Knizhnye sotsial’nye seti v kontekste sovremennykh chitatel’skikh praktik,” in E. B. Artem’eva, O. L. Lavrik, O. N. Al’shevskaia (eds.), Biblioteka i chitatel’: dialog vo vremeni: Materialy mezhregional’noi nauchno-prakticheskoi konferentsii, 24-26 sentiabria 2013 g., Novosibirsk, 7 (Novosibirsk, 2014) 691.

41   Interview with A. Tananaeva, editor and PR representative of Bookmix.ru, on June 9, 2018.

42   See Pleimling, “Social Reading – Lesen im digitalen Zeitalter,” on the transparent reader (“gläserner Leser”), 24-25.

43   Cordón García, et al., Social Reading: Platforms, Applications, Clouds and Tags, 175-176.

44   Ritzer, Jurgenson, “Production, Consumption, Prosumption,” 13–36.

45   Kaplin, “Bol’shie dannye v pomoshch’ chitateliam,” 70.

46   Interview with Tananaeva, June 9, 2018. The rather large topic of Russian booktubers deserves a separate investigation; for a brief survey of currently popular profiles, see A. Stolbova, “Ia - bukt’iuber,” Ponedel’nik (May 17, 2017), https://ponedelnikmag.com/post/ya-buktyuber (accessed June 29, 2018).

47   Lizunova, Lbova, “Prodvizhenie knigi i chteniia v sotsial’nykh setiakh,” 388.

48   Federal’noe agenstvo po pechati i massovym kommunikatsiiam, “Chtenie 21,” http://chtenie-21.ru/heroes (accessed June 29, 2018).

49LiveLib.ru, “Reklama,” 2018. https://www.livelib.ru/advertising (accessed June 29, 2018); BookMix.ru, “BookMix.ru: Sotsial’naia set’ liubitelei knig: Prezentatsiia dlia partnerov i reklamodatelei,” 2017. https://bookmix.ru/partners/ (accessed June 29, 2018).

50   Interview with Tananaeva, June 9, 2018.

51Ibid.

52BookMix.ru, “BookMix.ru: Sotsial’naia set’ liubitelei knig…”; LiveLib.ru, “Reklama,” 2018. https://www.livelib.ru/advertising (accessed June 29, 2018). A 2015 general reading survey, carried out by The Levada Center, “Rossiiane o chtenii”, confirms this pattern of a gendered imbalance in Russian reading: http://www.levada.ru/sites/default/files/chtenie.pdf (accessed June 29, 2018).

53   Interview with Tananaeva, June 9, 2018.

54BookMix.ru, “Obrazovanka,” https://bookmix.ru/groups/index.phtml?id=284 (accessed June 29, 2018); “Chtenie i deti,” https://bookmix.ru/groups/index.phtml?id=300 (accessed June 29, 2018).

55LiveLib.ru, “Biblioteki,” https://www.livelib.ru/groups/filter/category:0000000001/~2 (accessed June 29, 2018). Interview with Anastasiia Tananaeva, June 9, 2018.

56   Tsykina, “Knizhnye sotsial’nye seti,” 687 and 694.

57   J. Melentieva, “Reading Among Young Russians: Some Modern Tendencies,” Slavic & East European Information Resources, 10, 4 (2009), 304–321.

58Bookmix.ru, “Literaturnyi kompot,” https://bookmix.ru/groups/index.phtml?id=351&uid=125928&action=add (accessed July 4, 2018)

59Shokobox.ru, “Kvatro: “Fedor Dostoevskii”,” http://shokobox.ru/chocolate/vse/mini-nabor-fyedor-dostoevskiy/?page=732&rm=bookmix (accessed July 4, 2018).

60   S. Aison, “BookMix.ru i kompaniia Shokobox ob’’iavliaut ShokoKonkurs!” October 1, 2015, https://bookmix.ru/groups/viewtopic.phtml?id=3668 (accessed July 4, 2018).

61   C. Kiaer, “Rodchenko in Paris,” October, 75 (1996), 3-35.

62   S. P. Walz, S. Deterding, “An Introduction to the Gameful World,” in S. P. Walz, S. Deterding (eds.), The Gameful World: Approaches, Issues, Applications (Cambridge, MA, 2014), 2.

63   Gerasimova, “Ob odnoi spetsificheskoi praktike: otzyvy na knigi v internete,” 232-234.

64LiveLib.ru, “Knizhnyi vyzov 2018,” https://www.livelib.ru/challenge/2018 (accessed July 4, 2018).

65LiveLib.ru, “Vyzov uchastnika Ivan2K17,” https://www.livelib.ru/challenge/2018/reader/Ivan2K17 (accessed July 5, 2018).

66   M. I. Nova, “Pravila Knizhnogo marafona 2018,” https://bookmix.ru/groups/viewtopic.phtml?id=6355 (accessed July 4, 2018).

67   On the origin of the Soviet concept of fizkul’tura, see S. Grant, “The Fizkul’tura Generation: Modernizing Lifestyles in Early Soviet Russia,” The Soviet and Post-Soviet Review, 37 (2010), 142–165.

68   For a further discussion of the negatively loaded term “gamification,” see Walz, Deterding, “An Introduction to the Gameful World,” 6.

69   B. DeKoven, “Position Statement. Monkey Brains and Fraction Bingo: In Defense of Fun,” in Walz, Deterding (eds.), The Gameful World, 297–299.

70   Interview with A. Tananaeva, June 9, 2018.

71   Ibid.

72   Kaplin, “Bol’shie dannye v pomoshch’ chitateliam,” 2016, 68.

73   See reportage from annual LiveLib event, O. Barabash, “Nachinaetsia obsuzhdenie, nachinaetsia zhizn’,” God literarury, April 4, 2015. https://godliteratury.ru/events-post/nachinaetsya-obsuzhdenie-nachinaetsya-zh (accessed July 6, 2018).

74LiveLib.ru, “Blizhaishe meropriiatiia,” https://www.livelib.ru/events (accessed July 5, 2018).

75LiveLib.ru, “Mezhdunarodnyi knizhnyi siurpriz,” https://www.livelib.ru/game/ks-world (accessed July 5, 2018).

76   Interview with A. Tananaeva, June 9, 2018.

77   See menzel, “From Print to Pixel,” in the present volume.

78   O. Kostiukova, “Nepravil’nyi chitatel’: Kakikh knig nam ne khvataet?” and “Defitsitnye knigi,” Knizhnoe obozrenie 384, 16 (2012), 1, and 4; 13. On restricted book access and intentional shortage in the late Soviet era, see menzel“From Print to Pixel” in the present volume.

79   Kostiukova, “Defitsitnye knigi” (2012), 1 and 4.

80   Ibid., 4.

81   Ibid., 13.

82   Kaplin, “Bol’shie dannye v pomoshch’ chitateliam,” 2016, 70.

83LiveLib.ru, “Pomoshch’ bibliotekam” https://www.livelib.ru/group/425-pomosch-bibliotekam (accessed July 6, 2018).

84   A. Dolgin, Ekonomika simvolicheskogo obmena (Moscow, 2006). Now inactive domain: http://imhonet.ru/ (accessed July 6, 2018).

85   See hundreds of users’ frustrated comments on the news article, A. Khabibrakhimov, “Vladelets rekomendatel’nogo servisa ‘Imkhonet’ zakryl proekt iz-za resheniia sosredotochit’sia na drugom biznese,” vc.ru, April 28, 2017. https://vc.ru/23539-imhonet-theend (accessed July 6, 2018). For a general discussion of the copyright question of reader-generated content, see Wassom, “Navigating the Rights and Risks in Social Reading”, 215–219.

86   Interview with A. Tananaeva, June 9, 2018.

87   V. Bolotin, (@eretik), “Knizhnye seti Runeta: Vzgliad pol’zovatelia,” Geektimes.ru, September 24, 2008. https://geektimes.ru/post/40589. Idem, “Fucktionbooks.ru - samoe mesto dlia plokhikh knig,” Piat’ stranits o…, January 27, 2011. https://5pages.net/2011/01/27/fucktionbooks-ru/. See also, https://twitter.com/ivread (accessed July 6, 2018). A similar site for negative book reviews was vtopku.ru. I thank the anonymous reviewer for this information. The domain is now closed or blocked, but its title, referring to the internet slang expression “into the oven” (“ftopku,” i.e. alluding to the crematoria of the Nazi extermination camps), suggests the level and style of review argumentation.

88   Roskomadzor, “Roskomnadzor vnes kompaniiu-vladel’tsa prilozheniia Snapchat v reestr organizatorov rasprostraneniia informatsii,” press release from August 10, 2017, (accessed July 6, 2018).

89   Apel’sinka, “Bukmiskchane v Instagram,” September 26, 2015, https://bookmix.ru/blogs/note.phtml?id=14481; #bukmiks at Instagram, https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/букмикс/?hl=en (accessed July 6, 2018).

90   #bukmiks at Instagram, “Kak vam takaia biblioteka?” https://www.instagram.com/p/BkzbWg1AIeA/?hl=en&tagged= букмикс (accessed July 6, 2018).

91   Interview with A. Tananaeva, June 9, 2018.

92   #bukmiks at Instagram, Gogol’’s Mertvye dushi https://www.instagram.com/p/BhYcwiAA_WI/?hl=da&tagged=букмикс (accessed July 6, 2018).

List of illustrations

Title 1. 2: Both tables are generated on the basis of the Russian Book Chamber’s annual statistics and do not include periodicals and newspapers.11
URL http://books.openedition.org/ledizioni/docannexe/image/13104/img-1.jpg
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Title 3. Screenshot of entrance page to Moia biblioteka (My Library), http://my-lib.ru/​ [link not available] (accessed July 4, 2018).
URL http://books.openedition.org/ledizioni/docannexe/image/13104/img-2.jpg
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Title 4. 5. Advertisement for the joint ShokoKonkurs campaign by BookMix.ru and Shokobox.ru.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ledizioni/docannexe/image/13104/img-3.jpg
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Title 6. “The book is the best exercise machine / And power is in knowledge” Parodic, “demotivational” poster, blending the concept of reading and fitness, posted August 2, 2013 in the self-organized VKontakte group “Knizhnyi marafon, klub chteniia, knigi”, https://vk.com/​knigomarafon?z=photo-51310303_308066104%2Falbum-51310303_00%2Frev (accessed July 4, 2018).
URL http://books.openedition.org/ledizioni/docannexe/image/13104/img-4.jpg
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