Part of the Around the World in 8 Hours virtual conference. Flying over to Linkedin at 9am, we go from New Zealand all the way up to Poland to learn about key developments in the book business with publisher Wlodek Albin (Wolters Kluwer, PL, and president of the Polish Book Chamber), and Grzegorz Gauden, head of the Polish Book Institute.
The first question centres on stats: can they introduce us to some key figures on the polish book market? The “Polish market is small,” begins Wlodek.”2013, it was less than 700 [million] Euro and during last years drop[ped] almost 20%. Trend is not good. Reasons for such [a] situation is most level of [sic] readness, decrease of sales channels (bookstores) and government policy.”
“All expect that [the] ebook will be cheaper than paper.”
Though the 20% drop in five years seems very steep, he says, “I wouldn’t say that it is steep. [It] is about 6% every year.”
Grzegorz adds, “Market trends are not too good, over the past few years. One of the reasons for it was [the] introduction of the VAT tax for books. This happened in 2011, and we have seen negative trends since then. The factors mentioned by Wlodek are also true.”
“From the other side, [there’s] a lot of new things,” adds Wlodek. “Despite wrong tax regulations (VAT), audiobooks and ebooks are growing, a lot of new initiatives. Ebooks are still on low level. No more than 3-4% of the market. Because of 23% VAT for publishers, rather unprofitable. But all of us have them in portofolio. For paper: 5%, for ebooks: 23%. And all expect that [the] ebook will be cheaper than paper.”
It’s noted that it’s very interesting that Polish books could seem to be doing so badly when there is a growth in their luxury goods market. “I think that [the] professional sector performs OK,” notes Wlodek. “Education going down. But general fictions starts to grow in my opinion. Independent bookstores going down [rapidly]. In last years, almost 30%. Big nets (EMPIK, Matras) not growing and have cashflow problems. Price war [we’ve had for a few years] destroys market.”
“The drop perceived in the first decade of the 21st century does seem to have stopped.”
“General fiction does seem to grow,” adds Grzegorz. “The same goes for children’s literature. There has been some developments in non-fiction writing, but educational sector is going down, partially due to recent government regulations (free books for schools supplied by the Ministry of Education). MoE publishes them, unfortunately. This was not a happy decision for both publishers and bookshops, particularly the ones in smaller cities and towns. At the same time books produced by the MoE have not been well received by schools/teachers.”
“Professional market in legal (my field) performs well,” adds Wlodek. “But also we are on the process of concentration. Others – for example, medical – also well. But business and finance, rather bad.”
“As far as [the] appetite for luxury goods not being mirrored by book sales,” returns Grzegorz, “I think that this can be explained by overall low readership, which is at 40% nationwide. However, the drop perceived in the first decade of the 21st century does seem to have stopped.”
While there does seem to be many battles in Polish publishing, there are some great things going on. “Polish children’s book illustrations have always been one of the great artistic value,” begins Grzegorz. “Classic artists such as Szancer, Stanny, Butenko and others, established high standards that generations of illustrators that followed have looked up to.
“This is just a tip of the iceberg!”
“Over the past decade there is an unprecedented explosion of creativity that, luckily, has been assisted by a very fortunate market changes: a number of new publishing initiatives focused on children’s literature exclusively.
“This phenomenon has been noticed abroad, with books by such authors/illustrators as Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielnsscy (ex. “Maps” translated into 27 languages, 2 million sold copies, huge success in USA and China), Iwona Chmielewska, Paweł Pawlak, Jan Bajtlik. Exceptional artistic quality of these works has been awarded many prestigious prizes (also at the Bologna Bookfair). However, this is just a tip of the iceberg!”
While the Ministry of Education’s practice in schools monopolises much of the market without wiggle room, there’s more of this in other areas. “One more question that worries us are the distribution practices,” Grzegorz notes, “which tend to steer toward oligopolic practices. Large distributors have a significant leverage on the market, and are able to do as they please with smaller players, and often take over smaller publishers. That is one of the reasons that Polish publishers and independent booksellers (mainly small and mid-size) have been struggling to get the fixed price on books regulations passed by the parliament.”
As for international plans, Wlodek says: “A lot of activities to increase [the] level of reading is necessary, mostly from state and schools. We need also stabil[ise] situation for bookstores, specially outside of big cities. Polish Chamber of Books prepared project of legal act which introduce in Poland one price for new books. This is crucial in our opinion.”