Click here for PW's web-exclusive list of companies in Central Europe.

This bookshelf at Matras captures
the essence of Central European book market
with its mixture of originals and
predominantly Anglo-American translations.

Spend any time visiting the old towns of Central Europe and you're guaranteed to pass a street, a building or a museum named after a poet or a writer. Not surprising, of course, given a region with a publishing tradition stretching back to the 13th century and boasting many literary luminaries—Nobel prize winners Hungarian Imre Kertesz (2002); Poles Wislawa Szymborska (1996) and Czeslaw Milosz (1980); and Czech Jaroslav Seifert (1984), as well as those whose first names are superfluous in light of their international fame: Kafka, Kundera, Topol, Hrabal, Mickiewicz, Schultz, Tulli, Hartwig, Zsolt, Marai, Nadas and Esterhazy.

A lot has changed since PW last reported in depth on this region more than a decade ago. While its beginning—or, shall we say, resuscitation phase—following the 1989 collapse of the Soviet empire was rife with confusion and experimentation, the present-day Central European publishing scene is one of stability, strength and vitality.

Tomes Are a-Changin'

In a region where Christian publishing exerts considerable influence (particularly in Poland), it's interesting to see Dan Brown's titles right up on the top 10 list along with those written by or on the late Pope John Paul II. But whether it's The Da Vinci Code or the latest from, say, Wilbur Smith, Terry Pratchett, Danielle Steel or Paulo Coelho, translations are huge in Central Europe. Jaroslav Cisar, president of the Czech Publishers and Booksellers Association, says, "Translations account for one-third of the total Czech book production, with English originals about half of those, followed by German and French." The situation is similar in the Polish, Hungarian and Slovakian book markets.

On the other hand, Central European authors face a difficult passage into the English world. The validation of a Nobel Prize or induction into the hallowed hall of international classics guarantees American interest; otherwise, it's a no-win game. "American publishers generally publish few translations and American readers typically read American writers, and that's not very good for us here. Admittedly, translations are commercial risks to any publisher. For that reason, it's most fortunate that European governments generally subsidize translations, with varying amounts of grants. That has helped popularize Czech originals beyond our borders," says Dana Kalinova, managing director of the Prague Book Fair. "However, we are seeing more interest from American and British publishers in translating Central European originals. And this significant shift in mindset is becoming evident in recent years. We are also seeing more international traffic and participation at our book fair. Our counterparts in Warsaw and Budapest are experiencing the same trend."

Genre-wise, the region isn't much different from anywhere else on the planet. "What is clear is that the Central European reading list, which was revived by books from authors banned during the old regime, had progressed from serious reading to light reading and is now settled into a mixture of the two," says Cisar. "As for book production, about 20% of the registered publishers produce over 70% of the total number of titles. In terms of distribution, competition is heating up between mega-bookstores and chains and the small, independent booksellers. The situation is reminiscent of the mid-1990s market condition in the U.S. Price-wise, books are lower than those of Western Europe, but our publishers have the same production costs as their counterparts elsewhere. So Czech publishers have much lower margin, and this is compounded by the fact that our domestic market is small, only 10.5 million people. We have to look outside the borders for new markets and increase rights sales to stay profitable." Similar sentiments are echoed by his counterparts in the region.

For this report, PW visited more than 50 industry players large and small to bring you a snapshot of the book industry across Central Europe. (Needless to say, a review of this magnitude is prone to hits and misses; hence, our apologies to those we miss owing to conflicting schedules.)

The Czech Republic

The Gothic and Baroque landscape that gave us Dvorak, Smetana, Freud, Mendel and Kafka remains unchanged. Prague is home to Central Europe's first university, and its roots are deep in learning and literature. The Czechs have gone through plenty: processions of Bohemian kings, Nazi shellings, Soviet tanks and massive revolutions. Hope, hard work and a restored free-market economy provide the republic with unusual success stories and a varied book industry.

Paseka is famous for its historical/ military titles, a genre that Czechs are fascinated with largely because "our history was falsified for decades and we're now eager to know what really transpired during those 'dark' periods," explains managing director Vladimir Pistorius. "We're also known for translated fiction by John Updike, Salman Rushdie and others, and for works on Josef Vachal, a relatively unknown modern painter." Recent bestsellers include Petr Sabach's Ramon and Kveta Legatova's Jozova Hanula (Joe's Annie) and Zelary.

Unique in two ways—American-owned and its 35-title catalogue available only in English—Prague's Twisted Spoon Press has a steady readership at home but sells mostly to North America. It counts Kafka's Contemplation and A Hunger Artist, Hrabal's Total Fears and Leppin's Severin'sJourney into the Dark among its top sellers. Says owner Howard Sidenberg, "The more active titles are translations of English originals, such as Phil Shoenfelt's Junkie Love. For most translated titles, we only have the English-language rights."

Part of the Bertelsmann empire, Euromedia is the republic's largest publisher, with sales activities that extend to Slovakia and Hungary. Over 80% of its sales come from its 250,000-member book club, the rest from its distribution/wholesale networks. Last year, nonfiction, led by DK translations such as Earth and Animal, accounted for 53% of its publishing program. "Since its 2002 launch, Earth has sold 72,000 copies, and Animal, launched last year, 26,000 copies. These are relatively expensive titles, selling at 50 euro each," says general manager Andreas Kaulfuss. Euromedia's catalogue offers 400 new titles, of which 75% are translations—overwhelmingly from English. Early this year, Kaulfuss started selling a 12-title series—at 3.30 euro per title— through newspaper/magazine kiosks around Prague.

Publisher Joachim Dvorak of Labyrint did 25 titles last year and has a catalogue of about 120. "We have a strong stable of authors, such as acclaimed illustrator/author Peter Sís. His Tree of Life has sold 10,000 copies so far and his second book, Tibet Through the Red Box, has just hit the stores. We also have contemporary novelist Jaroslav Rudis, whose works are now available in German, Polish and Serbian, with negotiations underway for Dutch and English."

At Alpress, translated blockbuster fiction—think Wilbur Smith, James Patterson, Nora Roberts and Christian Jacq—represents over 60% of its catalogue; popular fiction makes up the rest. Alpress averages 100—150 new titles per year and has a backlist of more than 1,000. "We kicked off Smith's first book in 1994 with a big campaign. Since then, we have sold over 450,000 copies of his books—a rare achievement in this land of 10 million," says editor-in-chief Sarka Tulcova. "Unlike most American readers, Czechs typically avoid thrillers, especially gory ones, and much prefer contemporary adventure stories and historical romance. Our publishing program reflects such preferences. And because Czechs still remember the old regime, when books sold for under $1, we control our production cost to allow low retail prices. Rights owners need to understand that high fees simply won't work here and that the Czech market is comparatively small."

Pragma is the Czech home of Robert Kiyosaki, Spencer Johnson, Deepak Chopra, the Dalai Lama and scores of other mind-body-spirit gurus. Says owner Robert Nemec, "In recent years, Czechs have slowly moved from the intellectual Kafkaesque mindset to a more spiritually and ecologically inspired stance, hence the popularity of these titles." Building on previous successes, this year Pragma offers You Can Heal Your Life, The Art of Happiness at Work and A Short History of Nearly Everything. Recently introduced to its list are feminist writing and literary fiction, such as Women Who Run with the Wolves, The Vagina Monologues and The Feminine Mystique. Translations of American originals make up 75% of Pragma's 1,100-title list. Long translation processes aside, Nemec finds introducing new authors very challenging. "How do you promote, say, John Fante, who is among the best but is deceased? Or William Vollman, who is a great writer but so young? It's always tough to sell new authors."

Fifty-one-year-old Olympia is famous for being home to novelist Dick Francis. But, says marketing director Richard Sulc, "We are not just thrillers and fiction; we also publish picture books, nonfiction and coffee-table books. On the average, we do about 80 titles per year, with 30%—35% of them translations, mostly from the U.K., U.S. and France." Its children's list focuses on fiction for teen boys—specifically from Jaroslav Foglar, with 27 titles published so far.

At OneWomanPress, owner Marie Chribkova publishes mostly literary fiction and nonfiction by female writers. Virginia Woolf's works are among her bestsellers. "I typically choose to do translations from 'small' language territories, such as Finland, Poland, Greece and Ukraine. These countries usually have translation grants and, as a small press, I rely a lot on grants."

Part of the Brno University of Technology, Vutium Press is known for its technical and specialized literature. director Alena Mizerova says, "We started doing translations, mostly physics, organic chemistry and engineering graduate texts, five years ago. But that is still a very small part of our program, which publishes on average 300 titles per year. We plan to have three to five translations per year, titles relevant to our students and those that fill the gap left by local publications. And with the establishment of the Brno Centre for European Studies, we are looking at a more aggressive and diversified publishing program."


The Magyar literary circle—fronted by homegrown greats like Marai, Kertesz, Nadas and Esterhazy—has been very successful in a world populated by Anglo-American authors. Peter Laszlo Zentai, president of the Hungarian Publishers and Booksellers Association, says, "Contemporary Hungarian literature is currently enjoying a renaissance, both locally and abroad. Our publishing industry has benefited from a recent VAT reduction, from 12% to 5%. This concession is crucial to ensuring that people continue to read despite fierce competition from other media. Hungary is a nation of 10 million people that publishes 10,000 titles—or 35 million copies per annum—and our per-capita readership remains one of the highest in the world, comparable to Scandinavian countries." In 2004, imported titles accounted for 6.9% ($20.25 million) of the Hungarian book market. Zentai adds, "As more foreign investment flows in, the expat population will grow; so, too, will book imports. Furthermore, more young Hungarians are learning other languages, especially English, and this is reflected in the significant growth of English originals and language-learning titles."

Helikon and Sandor Marai go back a long way—to 1990 to be exact, when Embers was introduced to Hungarians. It has since published 45 titles by Marai, totaling 1.2 million copies. Although it is not the exclusive publisher of Marai in Hungary, that longstanding cooperation has given Helikon first option at any title from his estate. Helikon is also known for illustrated titles and collectible facsimile publications, along with historical nonfiction, Hungarian and translated fiction, and mind-body-spirit and leisure/lifestyle titles. "Sales-wise, having our own bookstore makes a difference. In Hungary, this is definitely unique, as not many publishers can afford it," says editor Diana Kali.

"We have two imprints: Kossuth and Ventus Libro," explains managing director Andras Sandor Kocsis of Kossuth. "The latter is smaller with mostly translations, whereas over half of the Kossuth list are originals." In recent years, Kossuth has made a name for itself in single-volume reference titles. One example is World Famous Hungarians, now available in English, French and German; it's sold more than 12,000 copies in the past year. Publishing director Jolanta Szabo has just released an illustrated seven-volume series, supplemented by a CD-ROM, on each continent. Same goes for a new travel book series on audio CDs. Then there is Kossuth's Amor Librorum collectibles, which include facsimiles of works on Hungarian culture and history as well as rare works such as Nostradamus's 1557 original publication, all owned by the Hungarian National Library. Says Szabo, "We cooperate with the library on the series and contribute 15% of the proceeds to the library fund. These expensive leather-bound titles—costing upwards of 150 euro each—are promoted through our 36,000-member book club."

Corvina is not just about Gundel's Hungarian Cookbook series, which has been translated into eight languages and sold over 200,000 copies in the last 10 years. Says managing director Laszlo Kunos, "Locally, we are known for our secondary school Final Examination series. Our language textbooks, especially English and German, are equally popular. In fact, these two categories combined have made us the #3 textbook publisher in Hungary." But its publishing program is diverse. "Our illustrated art books have been published in various languages; and one particular title, Anatomy for the Artist by Jeno Barcsay, is a perennial bestseller, with English rights sold to Little, Brown."

Part of the Lira es Lant Group, which also has Corvina and Athenaeum in its fold, Magveto is home to two of Hungary's most famous contemporary authors: Imre Kertesz and Peter Esterhazy. "Kertesz's Sorstalansag [Fateless] has sold 330,000 copies since 2002, 22,000 of them in the past 12 months," says publisher Geza Morcsanyi. Besides being the favorite publisher of many homegrown talents—among them Adam Nadasdy, Laszlo Bertok and Anna Szabo—Magveto is also the exclusive publisher of Gabriel García Márquez, Michel Houellebecq and Ludmilla Ulitskaya. Last year, Morcsanyi launched the Magveto Classics series, which offers five new titles every six months. "Our goal is to ensure such classics—which are sometimes not available even in secondhand bookstores—once again can be enjoyed by everybody."

Managing director Andras Rochlitz of Park is a trendspotter. He notes, "Before we published the Everyday Psychology series in 1989, there wasn't any self-help/self-improvement title in Hungary." Park publishes about 65 titles annually, 80% of which are translations from English. Its nonfiction list is dominated by DK and Lonely Planet titles. Of late, Rochlitz has turned to other countries for fresh ideas, beginning with the 16-volume Inspector Maigret series from France and an art encyclopedia from Italy. Four years ago, Park introduced Jamie Oliver the author to an audience already familiar with Jamie the British celebrity chef. Rochlitz adds, "We were also the first to publish works by a local TV celebrity, whose two books sold upwards of 100,000 copies each." The latest is Why Me?, in which the journalist writes of her depression, and its current bestseller status is rivaled only by Dan Brown's titles.

Managing director Andras Kepets of Ulpias-Haz has published 20 local authors, most of them under 21 years old, in the past 16 months. "Our biggest discovery so far is Gerloczy Marton, whose AbsenceJustified sold 25,000 copies and became our 2004 bestseller. The rights have been sold to Italy, and negotiations are underway for five other territories. His second novel, Waiting Hall, sold 7,500 copies in three months." But translations are the company's bread and butter. "These include fiction by Peter Mayle and Joanne Harris, biographies such as Clinton's My Life and the memoir of Queen Noor of Jordan, and the forthcoming Arturo-Perez Reverte's Club Dumas and Orhan Pamuk's Snow."

Voted Publisher of the Year in 2004 and Taschen's Partner of the Year, family-owned VinceBooks is known for highly illustrated titles and museum-quality editions. Not surprising, considering that three of the five bookstores it owns are museum shops. "It's a very competitive market, but copublishing with Taschen and Konemann means we can offer great quality at affordable prices," explains rights manager Eszter Vince. Its publishing model of developing co-editions itself further differentiates Vince. "Take for example Culinaria Hungary: we published it in English and sold its world rights to Konemann. It is now available in 13 languages. Recently, Barnes & Noble bought two of our Budapest series for their New York stores' Hanukkah display." Vince is now working with Parragon on a preschooler's series and an illustrated Bible stories co-edition. Another title being negotiated with American distributors is Fateless: A Book of the Film, which is riding high on the publicity generated by the film based on Kertesz's book.

Alexandra has 400 titles planned this year, but this staggering number would contribute only 20% to its total sales. The bulk comes from its bookselling activities through its 54 stores and two wholesale centers spread out in 30 cities. This independently owned company grew from a humble street stand to become one of Hungary's largest publishers in just 14 years. And it did so without any genre specialization, opting instead to publish well-chosen Hungarian literature titles, stories by popular TV reporters and ordinary people, coffee-table editions, cookbooks and children's titles. "Our varied program is reflected by our recent bestsellers: Angelic Stories from Hell, which sold 60,000 copies; Human Tests in Nazi Camps, 10,000 copies; and Norbi's Secret: The Update Method, 120,000 copies," says marketing manager Dora Kehl. As bestselling authors, Vujity Tvrtko reigns supreme at Alexandra. Says Kehl, "He's a well-known TV reporter, and his five titles—which have been sold to some European countries—deal with the trials and tribulations of ordinary people from all corners of the world."

One of the oldest publishers in Hungary, Akademiai has a modern portfolio, the result of a joint venture between WoltersKluwer and Scientific Academia of Hungary. Managing director Zsolt Bucsi Szabo says, "We have three major segments: dictionaries, scientific works and STM journals. Electronic versions are available for 80% of these titles. Journals remain our main products; all 46 of them—eight co-published with Springer Verlag—are available digitally and are high-level titles sold mostly online. For scientific books and dictionaries, since they do not fit the typical bookstore profile, we have set up a distribution company with five other educational publishers to sell these titles."


The strength of the Polish publishing industry is most obvious in its triumph over past political traumas. Underground or above ground, Catholic or contemporary publishing, children's books or graduate-level texts, the Poles have the most developed publishing industry among the countries reviewed in this report. And they have the largest market (population: 39 million) and a far more decentralized book market. But it is not spared the declining reading habit. "However," says Grzegorz Guzowski, managing director of ARS Polona (Poland's bookfair organizer and an import-export company for academic libraries and government institutions), "recent research shows that about 58% of our population read more than one book in 2004—a much better picture than before. We certainly hope to keep the momentum, going especially among the younger generation." As for the flood of translations, "I won't say that translated titles have eclipsed local originals, but there are certainly a lot of translations in the marketplace. However, we are also exporting more rights than before. What is certain is that import of English originals is on the rise, and special bookshops offering only English titles are becoming more common."

In Cracow, the Book Institute's challenge is to promote Polish literature overseas. Says director Andrzej Nowakowski, "We are at some 22 book fairs around the world and intend to increase our presence even more. We're also trying to prepare the translation side to support the industry. Our first-ever Congress of Translators, held last May, was a huge success. The more immediate concern is to ensure we have quality translators who are familiar with the publishing process. We now have a program called Translators' Collegium to train and support new and established translators and a Translation Program that provides publishers with funding for translations."

Meanwhile, the Warsaw-based Polish Chamber of Books tries to tackle distribution issues. It recently organized and chaired the European Booksellers Federation conference to promote cooperation between distribution players across the region. Says director Slawomir Paszkiet, "One major task this year is to compile the book-in-print catalogue. This will provide a real picture of the book industry. Presently, such a database is not available, and most figures are suppositions and estimates. With real data, foreign investors would feel more confident about joining our book industry."

Physics textbook specialist ZamKor is busy creating a range of experiment/ laboratory sets for students and teachers. "The idea came from our experience in teaching physics: no experiments equal no understanding of the concepts," says co-owner Piotr Sagnowski, whose physics teacher mother founded this publishing house. "But schools normally don't have funds for the usual elaborate and expensive sets. Our sets are simple and affordable, even for teachers. The first set, for demonstrating electromagnetic induction, sold 1,500 copies and we are now at set #10." This year, ZamKor will publish 55 new titles and launch a guided problem-solving Web site with multimedia demonstrations.

Established in 1989, Wydawnictwo a5 is wholly devoted to nonfiction, in particular poetry. Its list includes top Polish poets Wislawa Szymborska, Zbigniew Herbert and Adam Zagajewski and author Hanna Krall. Owner/poet Ryszard Krynicki says, "We did only 70 titles so far, but they are well chosen to represent poets from various generations. Poetry basically does not have big print runs like those of fiction." The adoption of Hanna Krall's Shielding the Flame: An Intimate Conversation with Dr. Marek Edelman, the Last Surviving Leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising as a school text provides a5 with steady annual sales of about 15,000 copies and spreads Krall's reputation far beyond the Polish borders.

With Matthew Pearl's Klub Dantego selling over 22,000 copies within three months of its release and fast climbing the bestseller list, Wydawnictwo Literackieis anticipating reaching 70,000 by the end of the year. "Other translations, such as Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and Garth Nix's titles, are doing very well, too. We intend to buy more rights and introduce more foreign authors to Poland," says trading director Grzegorz Glodkowski. "But original fiction remains our forte, accounting for over 80% of our sales. We are also quite successful in selling the rights to our originals—especially those by Jerzy Pilch, Dorota Terakowska and Michal Glowinski—to Western European countries."

WAM boasts an unbroken publishing program since its establishment in 1872 by the Jesuits. Says publishing director Zbigniew Iwanski, "Up till four years ago, WAM's top management had been Jesuit priests. The change came when they decided to expand the management team to rejuvenate its publishing activities to become more mainstream." Now its catalogue has how-to books, children's titles and even cookbooks. Its bestsellers, not surprisingly, are the works of Pope John Paul II and of the Jesuit founder, Ignatius Loyola. Saleswise, Iwanski is looking outside of Poland, specifically at emerging markets like the Czech and Slovak republics and the Baltic States, where the demand is strong for religious publications banned under past regimes.

The day Andrzej Kurylowicz picked up the Doubleday catalogue in 2002 was the day Dan Brown arrived in Poland. As owner of Albatros, Kurylowicz struck a creative partnership with another publisher, Sonia Draga, for Brown's titles. "We have exclusive rights to some of his titles, while Sonia has a few others. So it makes perfect sense to co-publish the titles and split the development costs." Since then, The Da Vinci Code has sold over half a million copies, Angels and Demons over 200,000 and Digital Fortress nearly 150,000. DeceptionPoint was launched recently with a print run of 180,000 copies. For the Polish market, these are record numbers; only Harry Potter manages to do more. Albatros also has exclusive rights to authors like Harlan Coben, Greg Iles, Nicholas Sparks, Mario Puzo and Wilbur Smith. Same goes for new titles by Stephen King, James Patterson, Tom Wolfe, Frederick Forsyth and many others. But the house isn't just blockbuster translations. Kurylowicz explains, "We started publishing original Polish fiction this year. Two titles are already out and four new books have been signed." Meanwhile, sightings of four to six Albatros titles—even seven—on the bestseller lists are becoming rather normal.

"When you think of encyclopedias in Poland, you think of PWN," says president Barbara Jozwiak. "It's our trademark. Take our 30-volume Great Encyclopedia for example: no other title can match its length and breadth of coverage. The entry on the U.S. alone fills 40 full-color pages." Over the years, WN PWN has built an enormous corpus of Polish words and is now leveraging its database. "About 7.5 million of the total 70 million words are now offered free online. Subscription to the larger database—mostly by universities, linguists, students and journalists—costs $2 per day, $15 per month or $105 per year. And we're planning a campaign targeted at overseas universities. We are also creating more products—printed and multimedia—from our database. For example, we partnered with the largest daily here, GazetaWyborcza, to produce a 20-volume encyclopedia. We have also greatly expanded our range of online services especially for students. Our Web site is now ranked #50 in terms of hits." Meanwhile, WN PWN Group's distribution arm, Azymut, has started an Internet bookstore hosting print-on-demand capabilities.

In Warsaw, Madeleine Albright took center stage during PW's visit: posters of her autobiography—published through Bertelsmann's book club Swiat Ksiazki—adorn bookstores big and small. Since its May publication, over 10,000 copies have been sold. Says CEO Heike Rosener, "Nonfiction such as Albright's makes up 30% of our list, with the current bestseller being Applebaum's Gulag, with over 70,000 copies sold. Fiction takes up the rest, with 70% translated mostly from the U.S. Judging from the numbers coming in, the biggest translation this year will be Elisabeth Kostova's The Historian. But original Polish fiction—which we started two years ago—is the fastest-growing segment. Our recent bestsellers include Janusz Glowacki's Out of My Head and Jerzy Pilch's City of Affliction." With such a varied list, it is not surprising that Bertelsmann lays claim to almost 25% of the titles on Poland's bestseller list. Its distribution is mostly through the 600,000-member club, but it also sells through its own bookstores and, as of two years ago, third-party networks such as the Matras and Empik chains. "Increasingly, ordering through the Internet is becoming the norm. We have also started soliciting orders from our members via SMS. Current orders via this channel represent 15% of our club sales," says club president Piotr Wtulich.

Established 60 years ago, WSiP releases about 800 titles per annum. "Our publishing program is built on general subjects, which reach out to a wider audience and allow us to sell outside of Poland," says foreign rights manager Michal Kabata, who has sold to neighboring countries like the Czech and Slovak republics, Germany, Russia and Lithuania. WSiP is currently holding firm to its 30% market share, which effectively makes it the #1 school and reference book player in Poland. Part of its market penetration is no doubt assisted by wholesaler WKRA, which is the largest among the seven wholesalers in the WSiP group of companies. Acquired by WSiP in 2001, it now competes with Matras and PWN in the educational retail and wholesale segments. "As a privately owned company, we also serve other publishers—about 200 of them—to push their titles out to retailers across Poland. But, of course, our main cooperation is with WSiP," says CEO Artur Pawlowski. During the peak school season, WKRA moves four million books per day."

At Zielona Sowa, children's titles, Polish and international classics, and reference materials are the staples. And reference works feature prominently in its 2004 bestseller list: TheNew A—Z Encyclopedia, which sold 54,000 copies since its 2003 launch, Spelling Pocket Dictionary(12,400 copies) and Practical Foreign Words Dictionary (11,500 copies). Says promotions manager Agata Aleksander, "Development cost for reference titles is high. That's why we choose nonspecialized subjects, as such titles generally have a bigger audience and sell better. In addition, we operate our own printing facility to keep costs low." It's not surprising, therefore, to hear that Zielona Sowa intends to capitalize on its strength and is planning more single-volume dictionaries and encyclopedias.

At WAB, Kuczok Wojciech's novel Gnoj—or Muck in English—is a real winner in terms of sales and literary prizes: it grabbed both the Polityka and NIKE prizes last year. Says WAB president Adam Widmanski, "Gnoj has sold over 90,000 copies since its 2003 launch, and rights have been sold to eight countries, including the Netherlands, France and Germany. Wojciech has a new book, Assorted Tales, which will be published this November. We also have Sugar Level Normal by 2005 Polityka winner Slawomir Shuty and Ultra Montanaby Witold Horwath in the works." Half of WAB's 500-title list is translations, chiefly from Europe and some from the U.S.

It's all about audiobooks and radio rights with Krzysztof Wisniewski, owner of Mozaika. "Audiobooks had a very difficult birth in Poland—it took us four years to build up our reputation and customer base." Mozaika's 120-plus titles include fiction (by John Grisham and Jeffrey Archer), classics (Homer, Shakespeare, Agatha Christie), core literature (Kafka, Dostoyevsky) and a small selection of children's titles. "Besides selling directly to the public, we also work with local radio stations across Poland. Theater on radio, à la BBC programming, is quite popular here," says Wisniewski. At the same time, he offers Polish versions through online bookstores, specifically aimed at Polish speakers iin North America.

Memory and Identity by the late Pope John Paul II has been good to its exclusive publisher, Znak. "We have sold over 1.1 million copies, and even though we don't have exclusive rights to his other works, we have been publishing the majority of his titles since 1962," says editor-in-chief Jerzy Illg. Meanwhile, Znak's children's division, established in 2001, has been very successful. Its extensive backlist contributes 40% to it's the house's 2004 sales, with the top three bestselling titles—Janusz Poniewierski's collection of anecdotes from the life of the late pope, Norman Davies's God's Playground and Leszek Kolakowski's LittleLectures on BigIssues—in multiple printings. Madame by Antoni Libera has been sold to 22 countries.


With only 5.4 million people, Slovakia is a small market. Its past history—being under Hungarian rule for over 1,000 years and then a part of Czechoslovakia—means its people read Hungarian and Czech books.

Says Juraj Heger, owner of Slovart, "An estimated 20% of the books sold in Slovakia are in Czech. That means Czech publishers have a ready export market, which the Slovaks do not have. Additionally, Czechs have a long publishing and reading tradition, which we also lack." Slovart operates in Bratislava and Prague, along with a small branch in Warsaw. "We published 134 new titles last year, mostly trade books. Sales-wise, 15%—20% of our revenue comes from imported books—predominantly English—and 5%—10% from co-editions." Heger signed Dan Brown before the buzz started. "His name is obviously on our bestseller list for the past 12 months. We'll surpass the 100,000 mark for The Da Vinci Code by year-end. Tolkien still sells reasonably well; same with Douglas Adams and children's author Jacqueline Wilson." Heger's bestsellers also include titles by Maxim E. Matkin, one of Slovakia's most popular authors. Another bestseller, The Big Home Cookbook, is included in the direct-selling catalogue of Reader's Digest. Its forthcoming first-ever Slovak edition of The Guinness Book of World Records is also sure to be a hit. On his English bestsellers, Heger says, "Harry Potter heads the summer list, while art titles from Taschen—for which we are the exclusive distributor in the Slovak and Czech republics since 1990—are constant bestsellers."

PW would like to thank Dana Kalinova (managing director of Prague Book Fair), Grzegorz Boguta (president of the Polish Culture Foundation) and Peter Laszlo Zentai (president of the Hungarian Publishers and Booksellers Association) for making this report possible.

For a list of companies in the region with contact information, please click here

On the Rights Track With translations comprising one-third of Central European publications, rights agencies are busy peddling titles, inking deals and testing out new genres. PW talks to three such players for their views.
While Warsaw-based Graal handles all genres, its special niche is academic/PTR titles. "We have sold over 2,000 titles, and this segment represents 25% of our contracts," says co-owner Zbigniew Kanski. Philip Kotler's Marketing Management, which netted $20,000, is his biggest academic contract in the past year. It also represents three recent bestsellers: The Question of Honor, Gulag: A History and The Devil Wears Prada. Kanski thinks that Polish publishers are becoming more selective. "It used to be that any titles on the New York Times or PW bestseller lists were considered good and salable here. Nowadays, publishers are more selective and cautious with their research and estimates."
Kristin Olson of the Prague-based agency bearing her name says, "There's no rule saying that whatever works in the U.S. would automatically do well here. Take chick lit, for example: I have a difficult time with it. The picture book market is an almost exclusive domain of Czech creators, but I've been licensing more translations for older readers, specifically those aged 12 and above." Olson represents Eragon, the reissued Chronicles of Narnia, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and the Spiderwick Chronicles. She adds, "Czech publishers are increasingly niche-oriented and more competitive in bidding for 'big' titles. It makes targeting submissions, selling or auctioning titles so much easier!"
Oxford Agency specializes in nonfiction/literature and mostly academic titles, and also represents big Czech names like Tomas Halik, Kveta Legatova and Jiri Suk. Owner Hana Whitton is trying to introduce Czech children's books to British publishers but faces an uphill battle because such titles are of unknown quality to the British, as well as translation issues. Ditto Czech novels: "Foreign publishers usually wouldn't consider them unless the authors are lauded. Presently, the local market is still enamored with translated fiction."
Of Stores and More There is a new era of book retailing in Central Europe.
"Buying books has ceased to be a chore; it's now an experience to be savored," says sales director Jan Kanzelsberger. That belief led family-run Kanzelsberger chain to build a four-story, 1,000-sq.-meter House of Books on Wenceslas Square in Prague in 1998. Now expanded to 2,000 square meters, the store is an anomaly in a country populated by traditional (read: musty and cramped) outlets with limited selections. Over the past three years new Kanzelsberger stores are opening in smaller cities, with populations of about 30,000.
Libri—with a 16.5% market share through its 37 bookstores and two online storefronts—is the largest foreign bookstore chain in Hungary. Its Vaci utca outlet, situated right on the famed shopping strip, offers 11,200 titles, half of them in English. Says managing director Erika Szabo, "Recently, half of our stores expanded their services to include booking of theater and concert tickets. As a modern chain, we are mindful of the fact that Hungarians still hanker for the traditional shop, where they know the assistant personally and where they can stop for a chat anytime. But they also want a wider selection not found in a 100-sq.-meter shop. So we have to strike a balance between the old and the new without going the hypermarket way."
Backed by venture capitalist group Caresbac and estimated to take at least 10% of the market share, Matras has 120 stores across Poland and three distribution centers (which will be restructured into one) and moves 10 million copies of publications a year. Says co-founder and major shareholder Wiktor Ostrowski, "In recent years, our stores opened mostly in new mega-malls, where there are bigger and more affluent crowds." Its new Arkadia mega-mall store encapsulates this strategy. Asked about the arrival of foreign competition, he says, "At some point, WH Smith or Barnes & Noble will come in, but the Hachette collapse has proven to be a damper. The market needs to stabilize further before foreign investments pour in."
Established 15 years ago by brothers Jacek and Krzysztof Olesiejuk, wholesaler/distributor Firma Ksiegarska (FK) has exclusive contracts with 10 local publishers and normal wholesale arrangements with 600 more. "We also work with foreign publishers—about 30 of them—on different levels," says president Jacek Olesiejuk, who has exclusive distribution contracts with Parragon and Konemann/Tandem. FK is now the first or second largest Polish distributor around, educational segment excepted. At its Warsaw warehouse, where bar-coding technology expedites order processing, two digital copiers are busy churning out review/sample copies. "It's preselling at its most basic: the stores get a better idea of what they are selling, the market knows what titles are coming, and in turn we'll be better able to gauge the demand. It's additional cost to us, of course, but the advantages far outweigh the price tag."
Privately owned IPS remains one of Poland's largest distributors of foreign titles. "Books and journals, mostly scientific and technical, make up 90% of our sales. We work with library suppliers serving universities and high schools," says Grzegorz Majerowicz, president and main co-owner. "Overall, English-language science publications are in high demand here, especially now that some local universities have decided to conduct 10% of the lectures in English. The medical faculties are also seeing a significant increase in foreign students, which would necessitate greater use of English." IPS typically stocks about 5,000—7,000 titles at any given time and only several copies per title.