Polish Book Chains Re-imagine Stores, Expand to Small Cities

In Europe by Jaroslaw Adamowski

Matras Store

Matras is adding coffee and events to its store’s mix of services and will rapidly expand, says the chain’s new owner.

Poland’s two largest bookstore chains, Matras and Empik, are adding new services and plan vast expansions, amid a shrinking number of independent bookstores.

By Jaroslaw Adamowski

The recent takeover of Poland’s second-largest bookstore chain Matras could define the direction in which the country’s book market will move over the next several years. Two rival chains, Empik and Matras, are experimenting with new store formats and expanding into smaller cities to reach out to readers.

The takeover of Matras by businessman Jerzy Kowalewski marks the end of a long saga for the bookstore chain. Rumors of its potential acquisition by a new investor date back to at least 2012 when local publisher FK Olejesiuk declared interest in purchasing Matras. A year later, another offer was placed by a group of Polish publishers, but eventually, the deal did not go through.

Matras’ new owner is reportedly planning to dominate the Polish market and edge out rival Empik, which operates the largest bookselling chain in Poland. 

Although no figures were disclosed following the takeover, industry observers estimate the acquisition was worth at least PLN 50 million (US$17 million). While this might seem insignificant, the chainss new owner will need to allocate significant funds to modernize the 174 bookstores as it did on Warsawss Nowy Swiat street. Matras bookstores have a space of between 50 and 500 square metres, offering a range of between 5,000 and 35,000 titles, according to data released by the chain.

“We plan to return to the period when [Matras] was opening 20 to 30 new bookstores per year,” Mariusz Rutowicz, the chainss chief executive, told local daily Gazeta Wyborcza following the acquisition.

To achieve this level of fast-paced growth, Kowalewski says he’s is also planning to build a franchising network in the Polish market. 


Expanded lounge areas have been added to Matras stores.

Adding Coffee and Book-related Events

Matras operates small, single-story outlets which focus on bookselling and aim to lure customers with a more cozy atmosphere where they can flip through new releases over a cup of coffee. This is innovative in Poland, where small bookstores are predominantly reluctant to cross the line between operating a store and a coffee house.

The flagship Matras store on Warsawss prestigious Nowy Świat street, the main shopping avenue of the Polish capital exemplifies this strategy. The recently refurbished outlet was fitted with a large coffee machine in the center of the store and a small platform was placed near the shelves to allow the store to host book-related events

Bringing Bookstores to Smaller Cities

All said, Empik is continuing to expand its operations in Poland. By the end of 2014, Empik aims to operate at least 215 outlets in the Polish market, according to Olaf Szymanowski, the company’s chief executive. “These outlets will be located both in large agglomerations, such as Warsaw and Krakow, and in smaller cities where Empik has not been present, including Mlawa, Brodnica, Grojec or Kutno,” Szymanowski said.

For small municipalities such as Brodnica, a city with a population of about 28,000 located in Poland’s northern region, the opening of an Empik store could significantly increase the access of its population to new book releases, of which a large part is likely to never reach the shelves of local libraries.   

In contrast to Matras, aims to attract mostly avid readers, for Empik, books are just one product line, which also includes music, movies and video games, which generate a significant share of the chain’s revenues. The company even avoids calling its stores “bookstores,” and most of the signings and other events hosted by Empik are non-book-related.

As Chains Expand, Independent Stores Close

According to a report released by the Polish Chamber of Books (Polska Izba Ksiazki), in Poland, there is only 0.48 bookstore per 10,000 inhabitants, compared with the ratio of 1.29 bookstore per 10,000 inhabitants in the Netherlands, and 1.69 bookstores per 10,000 inhabitants France.

Outside Empik and Matras, which are the two dominant bookstore chains in Poland, the country’s bookselling industry is largely fragmented. It is noteworthy that the Polish Bookselling Association (Izba Ksiegarstwa Polskiego), an umbrella organization designed to represent the interests of Polish bookstores, has just 107 members in Poland.

And despite the expansion plans outlined by Empik and Matras, Poland’s bookselling industry is continuing to shrink. Between 2008 and 2012, the number of bookstores operating in the Polish market decreased from 2,580 to 2,250, down 12.8%, according to data released by the PIK.

“We are carefully observing the market of available retail space. We want to reach out to even more  people who are interested in culture,” the chief executive said. “We are looking for locations which have a large customer volume, such as shopping malls, city centers, as well as train stations. In the forthcoming months, we will launch an Empik at the Warsaw Central train station and also at the Wrocław bus terminal.”

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.