The Krakow City Council Says “Yes” to the Future of Literature and Readership in Poland!

We have good news for all in the world of Polish literature! The Krakow City Council has ratified the Conrad Award city resolution and has decreed the formulation of a grant programme supporting the cultural activity of bookstores. During a heated discussion in the Krakow City Hall, members of the city council also discussed a resolution asking Poland’s Parliament to proceed with the Book Bill.

Thirty-nine in favour, zero against and two abstentions; 42 in favour and zero against: these numbers speak for themselves. “Thank you for this initiative, because thanks to it Krakow will enter a higher level of development,” said city council member Katarzyna Pabian evaluating the project supporting cultural activity in bookstores. There are 78 bookstores in Krakow, one-fifth fewer than three years ago, when the capital of Lesser Poland received the prestigious UNESCO City of Literature title. Recently, many of these have become local culture centres offering a distinct selection of books along with coffee, biscuits and space for social meetings, as well as meetings with authors, slide shows and film screenings. Nearly 70 events occur in the De Revolutionibus bookstore each year, as do approximately 40 in the small Bonobo bookstore at the Small Market Square. Admission to most events is free and takes the form of collaboration with students’ associations and non-government associations.

The resolution adopted by the city council obliges the mayor of Krakow to create an open contest for subsidising such activity. This is the first programme of this sort in Poland. Additionally, the resolution featured a bequest that allows bookstores to seek preferential leasing in locales in the city. Until now, only bookstores that solely sell books could do so. The city council has decided that bookstore cafes will be eligible for one-third of the standard market price. Interestingly, the initiative came from the city council members themselves. This topic was presented by Tomasz Urynowicz, a council member from Nowa Huta, a district that has been most affected by the crisis in the book market: since the closing of the popular Skarbnica (“Treasure Trove”) bookstore, the district’s 250,000 inhabitants have only one bookstore!

The Krakow City Council’s resolution has resonated in Wroclaw as well. “Krakow has noticed this problem. Perhaps our city council members will follow in their footsteps,” the administrators of the Wrocławskie Księgarnie (“Wroclaw Bookstores”) website, an association of independent booksellers from the capital of Lower Silesia, wrote. The Warsaw municipal government has also followed these developments with interest.

The city council has also established the Conrad Award, the first Polish literary distinction directed towards debutantes in the pivotal period between the appearance of their first and second books. “The uniqueness of the Conrad Award consists of its placement within the context of the book market. We do not want to create another little trophy, but we intend on accomplishing real change in the Polish literary milieu,” Grzegorz Jankowicz, Programme Director of the Conrad Festival and one of the initiators of the Conrad Award, explained. This award intends to encourage publishers to print books by new authors and to enrich the Polish book market. The figure of Joseph Conrad, a giant of world literature who began his adventure in writing precisely in Krakow, is the most fitting possible patron of the initiative.

The Conrad Award consists of a monetary prize worth 30,000 zlotys funded by the city; a monthly residential stay in Krakow guaranteed by the Book Institute; and the promotion of the winner’s work at the Conrad Festival and in the Conrad supplements published by Tygodnik Powszechny. Authors, critics, publishers and readers may nominate their candidates. The announcement of the first winner will take place at this year’s Conrad Festival.

The city council also had a lively discussion about a resolution supporting the Bill Regulating Book Prices. This discussion was part of a nationwide debate about an important bill that the Polish Parliament will soon vote on. The resolution was presented to the city council members by Robert Piaskowski, Deputy Director of Programming at the Krakow Festival Office. Based on the positive experiences of Germany, France and the majority of European nations, this resolution would obligate publishers to establish a single, consistent price of books sold through all channels – big bookstore chains and small, independent bookstores; in supermarkets and in online bookstores – for the period of one year.

“The resolution is not an expression of economic protectionism, nor does it foresee any subsidies. It is a necessary regulation of the market, which due to its nature cannot regulate itself. It is the expression of our responsibility for the book as a cultural good,” Andrzej Nowakowski, Director of the Universitas publishing house and Plenipotentiary of the Minister of Culture for Books and Readership, said.

The resolution would allow publishers to rationally calculate a book’s market price, consequently causing it to decline. This is evidenced by much data from countries that have decide to adopt such regulations. The resolultion also would encourage publishers to compete in terms of quality and allow small bookstores to find their niche on the market as well as to supplement the inventory available online and in supermarkets.

The resolution will return to the sessions of the Krakow City Council after the summer holidays. Although it would not be the prime propelling force, it would be a very clear gesture on behalf of the Krakow UNESCO City of Literature supporting the years-long efforts of the book market to adopt the Book Bill.

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