Poland’s ‘Fashionable’ Book Fairs: ‘Building Book Readership’

In Feature Articles by Jaroslaw Adamowski

Literature festivals in Poland may be enjoying a certain fashionable appeal among the 40 percent of Poles that surveys indicate are regularly reading.

At Poland’s Nadmorski coastal parkland Open Air Reading Room festival in Gdynia, which runs Friday through Sunday (July 19 to 21). Image: Murator Expo

Editor’s note: On Friday (July 19), Poland’s Murator Expo opens the eighth annual seaside Nadmorski Open Air Reading Room, a festival at the Baltic seaport  Gdynia. Its program is here. The flagship Warsaw Book Fair, produced by the same company, is held in late May and is a 10-year-old public-facing event that opens with two days primarily for the trade. –Porter Anderson

By Jaroslaw Adamowksi | @JaroslawAdamows

‘More Than 800 Exhibitors From at Least 30 Countries’

This year’s edition of the Warsaw Book Fair drew the event’s second highest attendance.

Jacek Oryl, director of the fair—and CEO and board chief of Murator Expo, the fair’s producer—tells Publishing Perspectives how changing the event’s venue helped boost its popularity, which countries’ authors are attracting the most interest from Polish readers, and how smaller cities and towns can use book fairs to promote readership.

We start our exchange with Oryl by asking how the Warsaw Book Fair is commercially structured and how it has evolved in its first decade.

Jacyk Oryl

Jacek Oryl: We organized the Warsaw Book Fair for the first time in 2010. The event was created as a cooperative effort of a group of Polish publishers. A broad consortium of publishing houses and their associations—totaling about 60 entities—joined forces to create a book fair that would allow them to present and promote their books.

A company was created, Book Fair Ltd., and a group of fewer than 20 publishers joined it in the beginning. The shares in this company were divided between the publishers, who took over a 60-percent stake, and Murator Expo acquired the remaining 40 percent of the shares.

For the first three years, the event was held at Warsaw’s Palace of Culture and Science.

The event was immediately successful, filling the site with visitors. But our analyses showed that the palace could only accommodate about 40,000 visitors, and exceeding this threshold could be dangerous. During our last edition there, we were forced to temporarily block new visitors from entering the fair for safety reasons.

So for the fourth year, we moved to Warsaw’s newly-built National Stadium. We’ve remained at this location, which gives us 35,000 square meters of space, allowing the fair to grow exponentially. The stadium is now a new symbol of Warsaw’s development, and we’re glad to benefit from its modern architecture.

The Warsaw Book Fair’s setting at the National Stadium. Image: Murator Expo

‘35,000 Square Meters of Space’

Publishing Perspectives: Has the move to a new location benefited the fair’s attendance?

We’ve seen rapid development over the past three to four years. We’re annually attracting more than 800 exhibitors from at least 30 countries, and the year 2018 brought a record attendance of 83,500 visitors.

This year, our attendance was slightly lower, at 80,500, but we managed to bring a record number of 1,038 authors to attend the fair.  This included authors from Romania, which was this year’s Guest of Honor. We also had a record attendance among librarians and booksellers, at 2,000 visitors.

In general, the first two days of the show, Thursday and Friday, are intended for industry representatives. We invite publishers, translators, booksellers, and librarians to take part in workshops and panels on various issues.

We also invite schools to organize trips to the fair. Those initiatives are important for building book readership among youths. So every year, the first two days of the fair are open free of charge to between 6,000 and 9,000 children accompanied by teachers under organized visits.

Entering the National Stadium for the Warsaw Book Fair. Image: Murator Expo

‘It’s Become Fashionable for Readers’

PP: Over the years, have Polish readers shown special interest in authors from any countries in particular?

One of Poland’s most widely recognized authors, the Booker International winner Olga Tokarczuk signs books at the Warsaw Book Fair. Image: Murator Expo

JO: There are certain countries whose authors are especially popular with Polish readers. One is the Czech Republic. In terms of rights sales for Czech literature, Poland ranks second, preceded only by Germany.

In terms of bestselling genres such as thrillers and crime novels, authors from the Nordic countries are particularly popular among Polish readers.

Being a guest of honor at the fair significantly raises authors’ profiles and recognition in the Polish market. The presence of Catalonian writers such as Jaume Cabré allowed that market to  raise the visibility of writers from that region. Before his visit to Warsaw in 2018, one of novelists, Fernando Aramburu, the author of Patria, was virtually unknown in Poland.

Romania’s Varujan Vosganian, who visited Warsaw this year, already had a certain recognition in Poland, because he’d been awarded the Angelus Central European Literature Award in 2016, but his presence at the last book fair further strengthened his popularity.

PP: Earlier this year, Poland’s National Library published a report that said more than 60 percent of Poles responding to a survey said they didn’t read a single book in 2018. Despite these worrying statistics, the Warsaw Book Fair is enjoying an increased popularity.

JO: We see this not only at the Warsaw fair but also at literary festivals in Szczecin, Gdynia, and the Silesian Book Fair, and in other parts of Poland.

There’s a growing interest in book fairs among readers. They’ve grown used to seeing their favorite authors live, debating about the books they love. You could say it’s become fashionable for readers to attend such events.

More on the coming weekend’s seaside event at Gdynia is here.

At the 2018 Warsaw Book Fair. Image: Murator Expo

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Polish market is here, and more from us on book fairs is here.

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.