Polish Publishers Face Sales Slump, Propose Fixed-Pricing, Fight Piracy

In Digital by Jaroslaw Adamowski

By Jaroslaw Adamowski

PolandIn 2012, Poland’s publishing market was worth some PLN 2.67 billion (US$805 million), a decrease of 1.5% from a year earlier, according to a market report released by publishing industry research firm Biblioteka Analiz.

In their report, analysts Łukasz Gołębiewski and Paweł Waszczyk said that, “the decrease in sales was not as severe as [in 2011], when aggregate revenues shrank by 8% from PLN 2.91 billion to PLN 2.74 billion.”

Polish publishers released 13,410 new titles in 2012, up 10% over a year earlier. As in many other markets, E.L. James’ Fifty Shades trilogy was one of the most successful book launches, reaching aggregate sales of some 557,000 copies by the end of 2012, as shown by data from Biblioteka Analiz.

But perhaps the best indicator of the industry’s state are the figures on unit sales of print books. Last year, a total of 107.9 million copies were printed in Poland, which represented a decrease of 14.5 million compared with 2011. Total sales in 2012 reached 115.5 million copies, owing to sales of discounted books printed in prior years.

Time-Limited Fixed Prices Proposed

In a move intended to mitigate the losses generated by last year’s lower sales, the Polish Chamber of Books (PIK) — the industry’s primary association — has made a proposal to introduce time-limited fixed prices for books to prevent large retailers from unlimited discounted sales and promotions. These practices, in the association’s opinion, are hurting the market in the long-term, and therefore need to be regulated.

To influence policymaking, the PIK is currently drafting a legal proposal that could serve as a basis for a potential bill, reported daily newspaper Dziennik Gazeta Prawna. Set up in September 1990 and headquartered in Warsaw, Poland, the PIK says it represents some 240 members active in the Polish publishing industry.

Some local observers agree with the association’s proposal, pointing that similar regulations were implemented in a number of Western European countries. However, critics say that such changes would effectively detach the publishing industry from the free market.

Declining Readership, VAT Blamed for Sales Slump

Asked about the current state of Poland’s publishing industry, Jan Rodzim, owner of publisher Aspra-JR, told Publishing Perspectives that smaller, specialized publishers are more likely to adapt to the evolving market than large publishing houses. Their organizational structure is less rigid, and they can focus on profitable niche markets, he says.

“But some trends are common and cannot be ignored. For instance, it is a fact that readership is shrinking in Poland,” Rodzim said.

To explain the shrinking sales, many industry representatives also point that book sales have been further weakened by the introduction of a 5% VAT on books by the Polish government in 2012. Prior to the latest increase, the rate was 0% in Poland.

“The government argued that this [new VAT] was required by the European Union, but some member states maintained a lower VAT on books,” says Rodzim. “This cost was imposed on Polish readers, all the while fostering readership should be everyone’s priority.”

Online Piracy is a Problem

As in many other countries, online piracy remains another major preoccupation of Polish publishers. As a result, the PIK is currently escalating the actions it has taken against Chomikuj.pl, one of Poland’s largest online file hosting services, in a bid to combat what it describes as massive violations of authors’ rights.

Following a class action lawsuit filed by 15 Polish publishers which are members of the PIK against the controversial website in 2012, the industry association launched a new campaign targeted at Chomikuj.pl and similar online services this year. While the court still has not given a verdict on the case, the PIK aims at mobilizing publishers to influence Google to delete Chomikuj.pl from its search records as a way of combating online piracy.

Chomikuj.pl responded to the amplifying criticism by the PIK with a lawsuit of its own. The hosting service requested that the industry association issues an apology for calling Chomikuj.pl a website which uses piracy practices and illegally publishing works which are covered by authors’ rights protection in a statement that the PIK published on its portal and pulls down the statement. However, in February 2013, a Polish court decided to dismiss Chomikuj.pl’s lawsuit.

The website remains highly popular in Poland. According to the latest figures from the Alexa.com website ranking service, Chomikuj.pl is in the top 20 of most-visited websites in the country.

“Online piracy is a threat to publishers and readers alike, and the state must take decisive steps towards safeguarding the future of bookselling in Poland,” Rodzim said.

About the Author

Jaroslaw Adamowski

Jaroslaw Adamowski is a freelance writer based in Warsaw, Poland. He has written for the Guardian, the Independent, the Jerusalem Post, and the Prague Post.