In response to the request for information on the situation in Belarus as regards authors’ revenues, the Union of Belarusian Writers can say right at the outset that no one in this country has ever examined this topic in detail. This is primarily due to the fact that Belarusian writers do not in practice receive any financial reward for their books or whatever they publish in literary journals or other publications.
In the Republic of Belarus book publishing is carried out via state-owned and private institutions that both operate in the following way:
– The author pays for publishing a number of copies in advance and then hopes for a small percentage of the money that comes from sales;
– By way of payment the author receives a certain number of copies that he/she can sell or give as a gift.
The print run of books is usually small – 300-500 copies. Even if all copies are sold, the money obtained is insufficient to cover publishing and printing costs. Even a five-volume collection of the writings of Nobel Prize winner Svyatlana Alexievich could be published only by means of crowdfunding, and the author received no emolument.
Most periodical publications do not pay any honoraria to their contributors, although the law stipulates that payment should be made.
There are no significant financial rewards attached to any of the literary prizes that exist in modern Belarus. When it comes to Public Lending Right – it simply does not exist in Belarus in any form. Writers do not receive payment of any kind.
We should add that the main factor adversely impacting the situation in Belarus is the complete disarray in the kind of authors’ rights legislation that serves elsewhere as a tool to regulate relations between authors and publishers, and – where necessary – the state. Although the concept of authors’ rights does exist in Belarusian legislation, it does not actually function on a day-to-day basis. We can observe compliance with the existing laws in the fields of music, design and visual arts, but when it comes to literature, those laws exist de jure, but not de facto.
The second factor that affects the income of writers in Belarus is the existence of two separate writers unions: a pro-regime one and an independent one (the Union of Belarusian Writers, a civic organisation).
The former enjoys state support for all its activities, eg presentations, meetings with readers, unrestricted publishing and book distribution. On the other hand the independent union is subjected to pressure and restrictions. Its members are blacklisted by the government and hence are forbidden from any form of public activity, including presentations and readings in properties owned by the state (which owns most of them). Such meetings as can be held are not advertised by the state-run media, which have a monopoly over the spread of information. One more factor that affects bookselling and possible revenues from it is the monopoly of the state on the distribution of books. Books of independent writers do not get to appear on the shelves of the state book stores.
Public libraries in Belarus also form part of the unified state-run system, and do not add books of independent writers to their collections. A recent unpleasant instance involving books by Sviatlana Alexievich demonstrates the workings of the library system. A private bank funded the publication of a number of her books that were to be given away free to Belarusian libraries. In the process of transferring the books, half of the libraries refused to accept them even though they were free of charge.