A Czech Second-Hand Books Boom: Knihobot’s Big Year

In News by Jaroslaw Adamowski

Knihobot, an online second-hand bookseller, is seeing increasing success with Czech consumers and plans to expand to Slovakia and Germany.

Knihobot’s offices in Prague. Image: Knihobot, Karolína Fialová

By Jarosław Adamowksi | @JaroslawAdamows

‘Helping With the Circulation of Books’
The Czech digital seller of second-hand books Knihobot reported sales of some 18 million Czech koruna (US$792,000) for the entire year of 2020, but in October of this year alone, it generated sales of 10 million koruna (US$440,000).

This month, having raised its monthly sales to a level above the 2020 total, Knihobot is looking to expand its services to neighboring Slovakia, according to company officials.

Kristýna Hladíková, who handles marketing and communications at Knihobot, tells Publishing Perspectives that the past months have brought a surge of interest from Czech readers.

“Knihobot is an online platform and e-shop that helps with the circulation of books,” she says in describing the company’s brand.

“That means we’re helping people to sell their books and to find new ones. We arrange everything around the selling, storage, and even the transportation from your home to Knihobot’s storage.

“After the book is sold, we pay a commission to the original owner.”

Kristýna Hladíková

Hladíková’s outlook in the near term is optimistic: “For this year,” she says, “we’re projecting a number of 70 or 80 million karuna. We’ll see.”

This upturn in Knihobot’s business may not indicate that Czech readers are losing interest in buying new books.

The latest available data from the Association of Czech Booksellers and Publishers (SKCN) suggests that in 2019, the country’s book market expanded by 3.5 percent to some 8.6 billion Koruna (US$379 million), reporting an annual increase for a fifth year.

Books available at Knihobot are priced between nine to 63,000 koruna—the latter being the price of a 1670 German calendar.

Asked whether it’s possible that the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has encouraged more readers to buy second-hand books, perhaps instead of using public libraries, Hladíková points to a number of factors that might explain Knihobot’s strong financial performance in past months.

“There are many reasons for this change of behavior” among consumers, she says.

“Sustainable consumer approach, a wider range of books because you can buy new and older publications in one place, better prices, and the rising online presence of second-hand bookshops overall.”

International Expansion

With a strong foothold in the Czech Republic’s domestic market—the market’s population is about 10.7 million—Knihobot is interested in expanding its presence to various international markets.

In the first phase of this strategy, the startup expects to launch some of its services in neighboring Slovakia, a country of about 5.5 million inhabitants, with more markets to be added, Hladíková says.

“Last October, we started to accept books from Slovakia,” she says.

“Our delivery person picks up your books, or you can send them via a local logistics company called Zasilkovna to Knihobot at our expense, just like our customers do in the Czech Republic. Then we add your books to our site, and you receive your commission in euros.

“Next year, we want to launch a full Slovak version of Knihobot, and export our model to Germany.”

Asked by Publishing Perspectives about the rising interest in used books and its potential impact on publishers’ and authors’ revenues, Czech publishing industry representatives have been reluctant to comment.

A Warsaw-based academic publishing executive speaking on condition of anonymity, however, tells us, “When you look at the size of the publishing market, second-hand  book operations don’t represent a big share of the industry—but it’s another factor that is trimming [publishers’] profit margins, which already are quite slim.”

From Knihobot’s sales page for ‘Slavnostní příležitosti’ (Festive Occasions’), a 2003 Anagram publication. Image: Knihobot

More from Publishing Perspectives on bookselling is here, more on the Czech market is here, and more on digital retail is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing 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.