How have Czechs taken to the audiobook?

The audiobook is enjoying record popularity around Europe at the moment - sales are thought to be rising by 15% on average each year. The growth of the medium might be slightly slower in the Czech Republic than say, in neighbouring Germany, but both publishers and booksellers here are getting in on the action. And an increasing number of Czech household names are stepping up to read from the Czech literary canon.

One famous name that you’ll find on an audiobook is that of actress Jaroslava Adamová, she reads from Karel Jaromír Erben’s classic poetry collection Kytice. Kytice is a best-selling book in this country, both in print and in audio.

Sales of audiobooks have been enjoying something of a boom around Europe in recent years, and the Czech Republic is no exception. But as head of one of the country’s biggest bookstores, Jan Kanzelsberger Jr. explains, the Czech Republic still has some way to go:

“Definitely there is growth on this market. It isn’t, however, anything major. But, we see that customers are interested in this field, and so it is starting. Publishers are preparing more and more interesting titles, and so people are more and more interested.”

Jan Kanzelsberger Jr
To create more interest, Mr Kanzelsberger’s bookshops hold an event called ‘Dny audioknih’ or ‘Audiobook Days’ each year. Listening stands, the sort you would find most often in a record shop, are set up in-store, and audiobooks are sold at reduced prices. Mr Kanzelsberger explains how it all began:

“We liked the idea of promoting this developing field in the market. And so we agreed on cooperation with the publishers Popron, who organized this audiobook festival. Different branches of our bookshop in different cities hosted a road show, at which people promoted audiobooks, and the response from our customers was really very positive.”

But audiobooks are nothing new. Jindřiška Nováková was the first person to produce such recordings in the Czech Republic. She has been in the business since 1991:

“The idea came from English-speaking countries, like the UK and America. And because there was definitely a gap in the market for it, I tried to make my own Czech version of these audiobooks. That means I tried to record things that would resonate with Czech listeners, especially people who listened to Czech radio. So, these first audiobooks were very much in the tradition of storytelling for radio.”

According to Mrs Nováková, the most popular titles in this country include Jaroslav Hašek’s The Good Soldier Švejk, and Erben’s Kytice, which was mentioned before. Another best-seller is Winnie the Pooh, read in Czech by the TV presenter Marek Eben.

But can the experience of listening to an audiobook really compare to that of good-old reading? Here’s Jan Kanzelsberger:

“Audiobooks and classical books are not in competition with each other. Interest in ordinary books increases interest in audiobooks and vice-versa. From my point of view, audiobooks reflect people’s new lifestyle. People are traveling by car much more, and it is great to listen to audiobooks during long car journeys.

“And from the point of view of publishers, they are always looking for new possibilities, because the book market is quite conservative - there are not many new things to develop - and for them, audiobooks are one of the few fields left to develop.”