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Polish Bookstores Disappearing as Debts Rise

COMMERCEPolish Bookstores Disappearing as Debts Rise

Every three days, a bookstore closes in Poland. These are most often small, local, owner-operated establishments. This implies that the country’s bookselling market shrinks by 2-3% every year. The growing overdue debt of booksellers, listed in the BIG InfoMonitor and BIK databases, also attests to the sector’s poor health. By the end of 2023, following an increase of 1.3 million PLN, it reached 14.3 million PLN. Industry organization members have decided to once again battle for improvements.

According to the National Library’s report, “The State of Book Reading in Poland in 2022” roughly one third of us read at least one book per year. One in ten Poles reach for seven or more books. These percentages have maintained at the same level for years. A slight increase was only visible at the start of the pandemic in 2020. Importantly, most book readers typically buy or receive books as presents, and higher-income individuals most often proclaim a love of reading. So why have nearly 1000 bookshops, nearly every third one, disappeared from the Polish market since 2010? Experts believe the main reason is the uneven competition created by cheap online bookstores.

Large networks and online discount stores can afford to sell books at substantial discounts. Publishers favor bookstores with their online sales channels, giving them discounts of up to 50% off the cover price. As a result, an individual customer often buys a book online for less than a local bookseller pays wholesale. It’s hard to run a business under these conditions, explains Szymon Szwajger, former bookseller and graduate of the Polish Academy of Bookselling.

By the end of 2023, according to Dun & Bradstreet data, there were 2.2 thousand bookstores operating in Poland. 95% of these are micro and small businesses, often single-owner operations. Small bookstores can’t compete in price with large chains, but they can compete in “cult status”, service quality, visual appeal, and unique business concepts, says Justyna Wydra, a writer and editor at a large publishing house.

Bookstore owners are calling out for help. In light of the difficult book market situation in Poland, booksellers and industry organizations have decided to take action. They have sent an open letter calling for discussions on how to save Polish bookstores and reading habits. They propose changes in the law to regulate the market in the form of a Books Act, a solution that successfully functions in many countries. This is not the first time booksellers have proposed such a solution, but so far it has not met with adequate attention from legislators.

Financial troubles are not only affecting booksellers, but also book authors. According to BIG InfoMonitor and BIK databases, their overdue liabilities have been increasing at a rate of several percent per year. At the end of last year, liabilities surpassed 10.8 million PLN.

The proposed changes would not only positively impact the situation of local bookstores, but also should result in lower book prices. Temporarily freezing book prices would allow publishers to immediately set rational and lower prices than before, which will mainly benefit readers.

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