fter the difficult period that followed the end of Communism in 1989 and the transition to market economy, the Hungarian book market had by now consolidated. Those publishers that survived the past seven problematic years achieved good results in 1997 and in 1998. In these two years, book publishing and retailing reached a nominal growth of 20 percent. Sales rose from 20 billion HUF (204 million DEM) in 1996 to 30 billion HUF (250 million DEM) in 1998 (using the exchange rates of the years respectively). This progress is even more remarkable if we take into consideration the slump in the volume of production from 120 million pieces in 1989 to a mere 50 million in 1998.
This seemingly paradox situation can be explained by the extraordinary boom in prices: between 1990 and 1998 the price of fiction rose eight-fold, for professional and scientific books the Hungarians had to pay ten times as much as in the beginning of the 90's. This, apart from increasing raw material prices and production costs, is also connected to the rising value-added taxes imposed on books. The Pre-privatisation Act of 1990 is also said to be responsible for soaring prices: two thirds of bookstores, approximately 400-500 firms, privatised in 1990, changed profile. Many book sellers moved to the streets, and shortly after that 40 percent of all books were sold on the pavement and in underpasses. This way, the street vendors saved costs and were able to sell the books well under their real value - obviously illegally... By now many participants of the black market of that period have legalised their activity and keep the game rules of the book market. There are again around 700 bookshops around the country. The newly established free market shows its advantages by providing a more creative and diverse supply and by appearing in the form of colourful bookshops. However, in the meantime, the price of this transformation has been asked for in many respects.
There were significant changes at the publishers, too. Until the mid-80's, the Hungarian book market was ruled by 26 state-owned publishers. Today as much as one thousand firms operate in book publishing, but surely, the five biggest out of those have a market share above 36 percent while their 21 followers account for another 55 percent.
28 percent of the total sales in 1998 was accounted for by professional books and popular scientific works. The share of fiction in the same year reached 20 percent and approximately one fourth of that went to literature of high artistic level and quality. The demand for professional and scientific works is still great in Hungary: 15 percent of last year's sales went to this area while imported books took another 8 percent.
Amongst the 10,000 new publications of 1998, scientific works and professional books took the lead with 4020 new publications; there were 2377 fiction, 1517 professional and 1696 textbooks.
The sales of textbooks exceeded that of fiction. Textbook publishers achieve 7 billion HUF of annual economic profit (54 million DEM) which is equivalent to 28 percent of the total sales in 1998. With the lift of state subventions the prices of textbooks rose sharply. According to the analysis of the Napkönyv Ltd., primary school textbooks now cost 62 times, high school textbooks 60 times, while university course books 50 times more than in 1990. The support given to the Hungarian system of schoolbook publishing deserves some attention. The 'Foundation for the Hungarian Book' distributes approximately 80 million HUF (ca. 600,000 DEM), the State provides 460 million HUF (ca. 3,5 million DEM) in subsidies for primary school textbooks and another 450 million HUF (ca. 3,4 million DEM) for high school and university course books. These sums added together are quite significant for the textbook publishers. These intensive supports, supplemented by last academic year's lift of the value-added tax of textbooks resulted in a considerable slowdown in the pace of rise in price of textbooks.
Great publishers from abroad - Bertelsmann, Springer or the Dutch Wolters Kluver - welcomed the appearance of undercapitalised Hungarian publishers with mixed emotions. Many experts feared that the foreign giants would soon dominate the Hungarian market. These worries proved to be unjustified. To the contrary, despite that foreign firms dispose of lucrative branches of nowadays’ Hungarian book publishing, their market share is still less than 25 percent. In Hungary, distribution is not conducted merely by locally established joint ventures. They carried out an income of 2,3 billion HUF (approximately 18 million DEM) by importing books in 1998.
The stabilisation of the market and the positive economic results, owing mainly to the readers, who in the meantime accepted higher book prices, give validity to optimist forecasts. According to Péter Zentai, chairman of the Hungarian Association of Book Publishers and Distributors: 'There is hardly any area of the economy - not to mention culture -that can look back on such a dynamic progress. Therefore, it can certainly be stated without exaggeration that Hungarian book publishing gives permanent impulses to the entire cultural development of the country.'
To support an increased appearance of Hungarian books abroad, a translation-fund was established three years ago that would surely survive after the Book Fair, too. In 1999, the foundation provides funds from its 40 million HUF (ca. 330,000 DEM) budget for the translation of Hungarian works.
The foreign recognition of the progress is not without reward. The Hungarian Association of Book Publishers and Distributors was accepted as a member of the European Association of Book Publishers and Merchants, being the first to achieve that honour in Eastern Europe.