The 23rd Kraków International Book Fair is underway. It’s one of the biggest publishing industry events in Poland, with 572 exhibitors from 20 countries this year. 70,000 are expected to turn out for the fair.

The event runs October 24-27 and can be followed on twitter: @BookFairKrakow.

For Anglophone authors and publishers Poland often tends to be dismissed as a publishing backwater, even for print, and of course we all know digital hasn’t reached East Europe yet.

Good old urban publishing myths. Where would we be without them?

Well, probably a lot more globally engaged is the answer.

Marking the Kraków International Book Fair, let’s take a snapshot of Poland’s digital books market.

Poland has a population of 38 million, and almost 30 million online of them are online, making this a potentially exciting digital books market, if only the country could catch up with us in the west, right?

Actually, Poland is already far more “caught up” than we might think.

This from Statista’s summary of the Polish ebook market (“ebook” here used loosely to capture all digital books):

• Revenue in the eBooks segment amounts to US$49m in 2019.
• Revenue is expected to show an annual growth rate (CAGR 2019-2023) of 7.6%, resulting in a market volume of US$65m by 2023.
• User penetration is 10.4% in 2019 and is expected to hit 11.6% by 2023.
• The average revenue per user (ARPU) currently amounts to US$12.31.

Statista doesn’t lay out its sources for this data, but while we can’t take this as gospel we should see it as indicative.

A digital books market worth $49 million in Poland? Who knew?

For many of us it’s the Kindle factor at play. If there isn’t a Kindle store in a country then, ipso facto, there are no ebooks.

Another urban publishing myth, of course.

While Amazon has chosen not to open a Kindle store for Poland and KDP/KEP does not support the Polish language for either ebooks or print, Kindle devices are widely available, thanks to many Poles working or living in Kindle countries like Germany and the UK. For this reason many Polish publishers offer mobi files of their books alongside epub.

Apple and Google Play both have semi-localised Polish ebook stores, but neither have made any great effort to engage with Polish publishers, and Kobo, while available in Poland, offers Polish titles only through the US store, at US prices and in US currency.

So how on earth does Poland have a digital books market worth $49 million?

The answer is simple and elegant: like many countries, Poland has not sat on its digital options hoping a big western ebook retailer would come and grace the country with their digital infrastructure.

They’ve gone ahead and built their own vibrant digital books infrastructure, leaving the western players out in the cold.

There are countless smaller ebook players. Here’s just a few:

Empik; Ebook Point; UpolujeBooka; Publio; Virtualo; Woblink.

All these ebook stores also support digital audiobooks.

Wait, what? They have audiobooks in Poland too? Time for another urban publishing myth to bite the dust.

Leading the audiobook show is Audioteka, which provides audiobooks in Polish, Czech, Slovak, Lithuanian, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Turkish.

Audioteka has over one million subscribers. Not content with serving those languages from Poland, Audioteka is expanding beyond the Polish border. It has localised satellite stores in Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Sweden, Lithuania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, and earlier this year it launched in Turkey.

Storytel is also in Poland, where it has partnered with telco T-Mobile Poland.

and earlier this year added podcasts to its Storytel Poland site.

Russia’s digital books giant LitRes has been in Poland for some time with a holding site, but this year launched a full Polish service. When Poland’s VAT rate dropped from 23% to 5%.

The LitRes Poland site offers a reading app, Czytaj, and an audio app Sluchaj.

The other key player in Poland is the digital books subscription service Legimi, which saw 60% growth in 2018.

Legimi has an IPO set for Q4, and will use the funds to finalise its takeover of the Germany digital books operation Readfy, as part of its plans to expand into Germany,

Far from being a digital publishing backwater Poland is a vibrant and fast-growing digital market, enjoying the freedom that not having to compete with Amazon brings.

A look at Poland’s print books market another time.