Publishing industry: Inspiring #Azerbaijan’s young readers

| October 31, 2018

Azerbaijan’s participation at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, where hundreds of new publications have been presented, demonstrates the country’s recent boom in the business of books.

In publishing, much has changed since the post-Soviet period, with the country making considerable progress by successfully transitioning from the Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet and republishing hundreds of titles, as well as enormously widening the scope of available literature.

One recent project, which has benefited from generous support, is the Baku Book Centre, a unique platform supporting and contributing to the development of the literature and reading culture, which started operating in 2018. These developments also encouraged the expansion of bookshop chains, especially the new Libraff shops, which have opened not only in the capital but also in the regions.

These bookshops stand as a testament to the scale of Azerbaijan’s commitment to literature and the contribution of the publishing industry, and particularly targeting and encouraging Azerbaijan’s next generation of readers. In recent years, commentators the world over have suggested that this younger generation may witness the demise of the traditional book, suggesting that multimedia technologies, which have already so drastically changed the way we work and communicate, will now change the way we read.

However, trends have showed that while newer formats, like audiobooks and e-readers, are popular, there is still a huge market for traditional books, be they fiction or non-fiction, textbooks or picture books. Indeed, a UK study in 2016 showed that an increase in sales of print books was down to younger generations’ preference for physical books over e-readers.

A number of publishing houses were opened countrywide, as well as the Azerbaijan Translation Centre and TEAS Press Publishing House. The latter was established with the aim of developing the country’s reading culture, publishing a range of books to help generate international interest in Azerbaijan, and providing younger citizens with literature which reflects contemporary global trends across all sectors. This focus on young readers, through championing the distribution of English Language Teaching materials and supporting children’s literature in Azerbaijani, Russian and English, is central to TEAS Press’s work and the vision of the countries’ publishing industry, and is supported by government initiatives.

As Tale Heydarov, founder of TEAS Press points out: “education plays the most important role for developing countries” – these are the countries where the benefits of a literate population are most pronounced. As well as the health and wellbeing impacts on an individual level, the economic benefits for the country at large are well-documented. However when it comes to an enjoyment of reading, rather than the more functional measurement of literacy, studies show that countries at all stages of development are still grappling with the question of how to instill a love of reading in young people – a 2011 study showed that only 26% of 10 year-olds in England say they ‘like reading’; compared with 46% in Portugal and 33% in Azerbaijan.

Engaging the future generation therefore boils down to three key tenets: being aware of the changes technology may bring (but not fearing that it will mean the end of traditional publishing), ensuring reading is a core part of the curriculum, and engaging young people in reading for enjoyment, not purely because their teachers demand it.

By partnering with overseas publishing houses and education companies, such as Oxford University Press and McGraw Hill, TEAS Press is bringing top-quality textbooks and online resources to Azerbaijan’s classrooms. This includes international textbooks for university studies.

As we’ve seen, the final aspect – reading for pleasure – may be the most challenging to introduce. Not all children, who spend their school days studying from textbooks, will feel enthusiastic about picking up a book when they return home. However the variety of texts which are being published currently in Azerbaijan, ranging from picture and lift-the-flap books for children through the 3 Alma brand, to world classics (both translated and in their original languages) for teenagers and adults, means that there is certainly something to suit every taste.

A number of books have already been published in English, which draw international attention to Azerbaijan’s history and culture. Additionally each year more books are translated into Azerbaijani, bringing literature, which was not previously available to the population. Upcoming publications include Azerbaijani language versions of Kazuo Ishiguro’s An Artist of the Floating World and Mikhail Bulgakov’s The White Guard. And this is just the beginning. There is a wealth of literature out there, which has not yet been translated into Azerbaijani – publishers and readers are not in any risk of running out of material.

Young people in Azerbaijan are discovering the joy of reading at a time when the range of books available is unrivalled, and the support of organisations such as TEAS Press is opening doors to world literatures which were previously unattainable. All in all, the future looks bright for Azerbaijan’s younger readers.

 

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