By Jaroslaw Adamowski
WARSAW: Prior to the democratic transformation of 1989 which paved the way for free market economy in Poland, Znak, the Krakow-based publisher, focused on religion-related books. However, over the past two decades Znak has emerged as one of the leading Polish publishers of foreign and Polish literature in market, owing much of its success to unconventional marketing activities which target the country’s rapidly rising urban middle-class of young professionals.
The publisher’s portfolio of authors includes Paul Auster, Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, and J.K. Rowling. Asked about the reasons of its success in acquiring some of modern publishing’s biggest names, company representatives explain that Znak’s team focuses a significant share of its efforts on securing a strong foothold at industry events in various parts of the world and building a network of contacts.
“A good way to acquire publishing rights for foreign authors is to participate in international book fairs which allows us to reach out to publishers, agents, and authors. Each year we are present at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and also in London, Paris and New York,” says Monika Bartys, a spokesperson for Znak. “Of course, we also carefully follow the developments in foreign press and on bestseller lists, we scan through the catalogs, but nothing can replace direct, personal contact. In Poland, Znak is often called the stable of Nobel prize-winners, and we take pride in the fact that we have been publishing Patrick Modiano, Mario Vargas Llosa and J.M. Coetzee. In addition to this, books by Zadie Smith and Arturo Perez-Reverte are also major bestsellers here.”
Origins in Catholicism, Evolving with the Internet
Set up in 1959 by some of the leading representatives of Krakow’s Catholic but also open-minded intelligentsia, the publisher had been associated with the weekly Tygodnik Powszechny (Popular Weekly), which served as one of the few liberal media outlets in then-Communist Poland, and started its operations by publishing its own monthly publication, Znak. The aim was to preserve the work of the authors who wrote for likely-minded media outlets, and also to familiarize Poles with foreign books which could not be published by state-run publishers. Znak says its existence was enabled by the money collected from some 900 donors who responded to an appeal for donations.
More than 60 years later, with Poland’s literary life gradually shifting from print media to the Internet, Znak is making efforts to secure a strong presence online for its marketing activities, although it also continues to publish its monthly print magazine.
“We are increasingly focusing on promoting our books online, which is why, in 2015, we have moved the focus of our marketing activities to the Internet. We are not resigning from some traditional forms of promoting books, but the Internet provides us with great opportunities to be creative and effective,” Bartys said. “We will surely be using Facebook, and we will be also launching dedicated websites for our authors, fanpages, promotional short movies and trailers. We try to relate our promoted books to what is currently occupying the minds of Polish readers, benefitting from the tools provided by real-time marketing.”
Other means at the disposal of Znak’s marketing team include launching joint projects with bloggers and vloggers whose online activities are centered around books and arts. These efforts are particularly important in the publisher’s effort to boost readership in Poland, where local analysts point to its continuous decrease.
Looking for More Polish Readers
“Unfortunately, the readership level is dwindling in Poland, and programs aimed at promoting reading books are virtually nonexistent, or very poorly financed,” Bartys says. “You could say that the Polish bookselling market is quite tough. This said, since we publish books by local novelists, such as Wieslaw Mysliwski and Marek Krajewski, we know how popular they are, and how much emotion and feedback is generated by their launches. We are also satisfied with their sales.”
Asked about the publisher’s bestselling genres and perspectives for 2015, Znak says it has a diversified portfolio which is dominated by literary fiction and pop-lit, but it is also aiming to develop other segments which are increasingly popular with Polish readers.
“There is much sales potential in the broad non-fiction segment, including biographies and travel books. Readers are also looking for how-to books from particular fields, such as staying fit, health, parenting or infertility. The self-help segment is also hugely popular among readers,” according to Bartys.