There is a trend in discussion of Nabokov's return to Russia to frame the success through the sheer volume and range of Russian editions that have been published since the fall
of the Soviet Union. Undoubtedly, Nabokov is a popular author and this has led to a wide range of Russian-language editions. I am less trusting, however, of the claims that some of the earliest Russian editions print runs were over 1 million.
From what I understand, the information about print run comes from the тираж, included in the colophon. Given the cultural capital of Nabokov and the competition to establish dominance within the marketplace, this does not appear to be a reliable figure to
quote. Why would a publisher who does not have a privilege, permission from the Nabokov estate or any other number of protective mechanisms that allow them to be the sole publisher risk such a large (and costly) print run that is not guaranteed to sell or
to be undercut by a competitor selling at a much cheaper price? Surely these figures are part of an arms race between publishers to assert their publishing muscles. If you can print 500,000 copies, I can print 1,000,000, and so forth...
Is there any evidence that these publishers actually produced print runs this large? Perhaps there is an abandoned warehouse full of copies of these early spectacular print runs similar to the apocryphal pit in the Californian desert packed full of unsold copies
of the Atari ET
PhD Student and Associate Lecturer
Department of English, Creative Writing and American Studies
University of Winchester