Selling Ebooks in Prague

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Shakespeare and Sons bookshop in Prague. Photo credit: Jeremy Greenfield

I recently had the pleasure of spending a few days in Prague* and found myself in a lovely little English-language bookshop there called Shakespeare & Sons. I was about to leave in search of more Pilsner Urquell when I decided to ask the store owner about business.

After all, indie bookstores in the U.S. and the UK, where ebooks are booming, are under pressure to adapt to a world where more people get their books online or through the ether of Amazon’s Whispernet.

He told me that business is getting “better and better.” The shop has been open for 10 years and 2012 has been its best yet. Apparently, according to the bookseller, more Prague natvies are interested in reading English and there are more tourists each year who come and want to buy English books.

In addition, he’s started selling ebooks through his website, shakes.cz. He told me that he’s selling about 100 ebooks a month this way, which is dwarfed by how many print books he sells but it’s growing.

According to the U.S. governement’s assessment, Czechs are among the most avid readers in the world with one of the highest rates of books published per 10,000 inhabitants. The industry is rather small, however, at $200 million a year. Learning that doesn’t surprise me, as there were plenty of bookstores in Prague and I saw many people reading in cafes.

One thing I saw little of, however, was people using e-readers or tablet computers. The only one I saw my entire time in the country was in line in the airport — an iPad used by a British child to play games.

On my way out of the store, something caught my eye: a shelf of Philip Roth books. He’s one of my favorite authors so I took a moment to see the stores selection. I stumbled upon a Roth title that I had never seen before, The Prague Orgy. I love old-fashioned book discovery.

Prague is Franz Kafka territory:

A statue honoring Prague native son Franz Kafka. Photo credit: Tamara Weg

* Including Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving and was not happy about missing it but made the sacrifice to travel. Suffice it to say, the goulash feast we ate for our Thanksgiving dinner was good, but not as good as my mom’s turkey. (=shout-out to my mom’s turkey)

Jeremy Greenfield

About Jeremy Greenfield

Jeremy Greenfield is the editorial director of Digital Book World. Opinions presented here are his own. Read more of his work here.

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3 thoughts on “Selling Ebooks in Prague

  1. Jeremy,
    Had you spent some time on the pubic transit system, you would have seen plenty of e-readers, tablets and “pads”. I have lived here for nine years and until this past January, I saw few of these devices. Now, a lot of people are using them during their daily commute. And, I do mean A LOT!!!!

    The problem has been the silly games publishers are playing with digital rights. I couldn’t buy English e-books here until Shakespeare & Sons began selling them. Try to buy from a U.S. site while outside of the U.S. and see what happens. Oh, the hardware is sold here but not the rights to the books.

    R.D. Prague

    • Really interesting. Unfortunately, we didn’t take mass transit while there. The center of town is so walkable and we love walking so we walked everywhere. We spent many hours walking. We almost hopped on the tram to Zizkov at one point for a cheap meal and to see the tower, but we didn’t have time.

      So, first, apologies for this lapse in my reporting. I thought about it in the back of my mind and it’s an oversight.

      Second, I feel doubly bad because I LOVE mass transit. I was in Moscow a few years ago and was loving all the amazing Soviet-era transit stations. I’m guessing Prague’s are comparable?

      Third, to your knowledge, what else is going on in CZ with ebooks? Don’t feel like writing it all here? Email me: jeremy [dot] greenfield [at] fwmedia [dot] com

  2. Actually, when I was in Prague in late spring and summer (I go there every year for a few months) I saw few e-readers, a few more than the year before, but very much the exception. Also, I didn’t see any in use at the National Library’s reading room (a good place to survey as some two hundred people are in there at any given point, many using laptops, but none using ereaders). Regarding the Czech book industry, there is little presence of ebooks. You must remember that they are still quite resistant to even paperbacks with their tradition of \beautiful\ books, and so I would expect e-readers to only ever have a niche presence there. Last year ereaders were being pushed big time at the Svet knihy (Prague Book Fair), but this year they were less of a presence.

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