Thursday, March 22, 2012

Buying Books in English in Poland


I am an American living in Poland, Wroclaw specifically, and if you can’t tell by my blog, I read extensively.  In the two years I’ve been here, I’ve tried to avoid paying the exorbitant prices asked by retail bookstores in Poland for English language books, including making orders in the US and asking my family to ship the books.  Though the final cost ends up roughly the same, I’ve since found alternative channels in Poland which require significantly less time.  The following is the result of my search to find cheap, English language books in Poland. (Note: If you scroll toward the bottom you will find specific locations in Wrocław to find books, otherwise all are Poland-wide.)

1. Allegro.pl – If low price is your aim, then without a doubt Allegro is the best source for English language books in Poland.  The Polish ebay, titles appear and disappear quickly, but most often prices can’t be beat.  Also, as many Polish booksellers use Allegro as their shop window, it makes the site great one-stop shopping.  English language books can often be found for 20, 10, and sometimes even 5 zl, though the high prices do also exist.  As sellers are interested in maintaining high ratings, service is usually top-notch.  I’ve never had a problem with any of the sellers, all delivering goods within 7 days after payment.  The drawback of Allegro is that selection is unpredictable, random, even.  New releases exist, but usually for the same price as a shop.  For some, the other disadvantage might be that the books are used, though the ones I’ve purchased have always been in fair condition at minimum.  The last potential disadvantage is that the website is available only in Polish.  However, if you have somebody to help you navigate (what is actually an intuitive interface), contact with the sellers can be done in English.  Having a Polish bank account to speed transactions doesn’t hurt either. And lastly, allegro makes you sign and agreement before you can begin buying/selling.  So, if this is a game breaker, find a friend with an allegro account!

2. Englishbooks.pl – Underrated and underused, this great site offers a very large selection of overstock and used books for great prices.  Anywhere from 8-30zl, the selection tends toward books which have had numerous printings, for example older, mainstream titles like Agatha Christie, Stephen King, Dan Brown, etc.  This is not to say other titles are not available as well; a quick search using their engine will let you know if they have what you’re looking for.  The site available in Polish/English, non-Poles will have no problem navigating the site and making transactions, the proprietor, Anna, speaks great English.  She offers wonderful service, as well.  The orders I have made have been processed quickly, the books in hand a week or less later.  So, before searching the other sites below, this site comes highly recommended as a great starting point.  If what you want happens to be available, it’s almost guaranteed to be the cheapest, though probably used. 

3. Tradebooks.pl – Due to market concerns and society's ongoing transition to ebooks, Tradebooks.pl had to close its doors in Poland, unfortunately.  Updated August 30, 2012)

4. American Bookstore –This website (for bookstores of the same name located in Cracow) tends to have higher prices (35-55zl), but service is top notch, not to mention the website is available in Polish/English.  The selection is quite good and I have found myself ordering from them a couple of times when the title I sought was unavailable on the previous sites.  They even offer COD.* Going to the shop, however, will give you better prices.

*At least they did last time I ordered.  Worth checking beforehand.

5. Amazon.co.uk – At first it may seem like ordering from a foreign supplier would be an expensive option compared to the other choices, but Amazon UK’s international shipping is not that bad ( £4.00 per delivery + £0.40 per kg), making mass orders more reasonable.  Needing several books for my Master’s thesis, I found it was actually cheaper to buy a couple of the more obscure academic titles through Amazon.co.uk rather than the other channels mentioned here.  Having received the books eight days after ordering them, time also is not an issue, and I have tucked this site away in memory as an option for those times I’d like to order several books that aren’t so easy to find.  (It’s possible that Amazon.de also offers a similar service for English language books, I’ve just never checked it out.)

6. Massolit – Though their lovely used books store/cafe in Cracow offers a larger number of titles, what’s offered on their website is not shabby either.  It's not up to date, however.  If you see a title online, be sure to write and ask whether it actually exists.  With regards to non-fiction, it's difficult to beat them for used books available in Poland.  My only complaint is that prices most often hover too close to the price of new books even though almost their entire stock is used.  On average, expect to pay 20-30zl for fiction and 40-60zl for non-fiction.  The website is available in English, and though I’ve never ordered anything from them (preferring to visit their shop for a better selection), I imagine the competency of the staff extends to delivery. 

7. Empik – I have a love/hate relationship with Poland’s version of Amazon.  As they have good business ties with a few European book suppliers, often the only place I can find the book I want in Poland is Empik.  Furthermore, titles newly available in the UK are almost immediately available on Empik.  Seemingly aware of this, prices are most often quite high, new books usually beginning at 45zl and going higher.  Despite this, my sheer desperation for a new release has on a couple of occasions made me bite the bullet and pay an exorbitant price.  Consoling me is that Empik offers free delivery to any of their stores if the buyer is willing to make the pick up in person, which saves 8-10zl.  My other complaint is that the listings on their website (available in English) can’t be trusted.  Though they do once or twice per year go through and remove titles no longer available, on a couple of occasions I have ordered books only to be informed 30 days later that it was no longer being stocked.  If money’s no object, than Empik’s your place.

8. Merlin.pl is also another Polish website which offers English language books, however, I’ve found the selection extremely limited, prices high, and therefore not worth mentioning here.  Their selection of Polish language books, however, is really great and reasonably priced. 

9. Book City is a relatively recent site on the web (at least I only discovered it recently).  I would call them empik+. There prices are on average better, the selection is slightly better, and the one time I ordered from them, the shipment was made promptly and correctly.  The thing that keeps me checking their site is that 1 time out of 10 the book I'm looking, if available, is priced relatively reasonably (e.g. 20-30 zł, instead of the unreasonable 35zł+ on empik.

In conclusion, these websites are the result of my travels and excursions on the web – by no means exhaustive.  If I have overlooked a website, by all means comment on this post or write me an email and I’ll be glad to check it out.  I’m interested in cheap, good books too, and would love to see the availability of English language offerings expand in Poland!

Places to find English language books in Wrocław:

I have now lived in Wrocław for more than 6 years, and in that time I think I've scouted out all of the nooks and crannies around the city where even one or two novels in English are for sale.  So, if you live in Wrocław and are looking for reading material, here you are:

1. Szarlatan - tucked just behind Plac Grunwaldski, Szarlatan is a quirky, esoteric little shop.  They sell a wide variety of curios, inlcuding old postcards, vinyl records, and other trinkets.  But mostly they have books.  If you walk through the leaning stacks all the way to the back (i.e. as far as you can walk into the store), you'll find a back corner filled with random novels sold REALLY cheap, typically in the 3-12zł range.  The proprietors are quiet but friendly (like most Poles) and don't seem to mind me poking around for an hour through the disorganized stacks.

2. That little shop in the Fenix building whose name I don' know - All I know is that in the southeast corner of Wroclaw's main market is the Fenix building.  Entering through the front (to the left of the McDonalds) there are elevators and stairs.  Go to the first floor, turn right, and walk all the way to the end into the bookshop.  After entering the shop, turn right, and in the corner is a small selection of English language books.  The proprietor of this shop purchased the stock of Tradebooks.pl (see above) when they went out of business, and every once and a while will update what is available on the shelf.  The books are priced 12-25zł, which makes a quick look worthwhile.

3. Columbus - One street north of the main square is Igielna Street.  Close to its intersection with Kużnicza Street is a small language bookstore called Columbus. After entering the shop, on the left wall is a selection of English language novels.  This shop can also supply most any language learning material you may want or need.  Prices are between 15-30zł, so not bad.

There used to be other shops, but slowly they are drying up.  I did not mention empik above, as this is obvious, and they are located around the city.  It's perhaps more difficult to avoid an empik shop than find one.  If money is no object, than empik's selection of recent titles may be what you're looking for.

7 comments:

  1. Hey,
    Good text. For everybody who needs help in purchases form Poland or in Poland: check www.try-poland.com
    Feel free to ask your questions and you will surely get the answers.
    Peter.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the post and I am really glad I came across it. I am also living in Poland coming from the US and the prices when you want to order from the US are completely outrageous! Now let me ask you one more thing...are any of these polish companies willing to order a book for you at a reasonable price even though they don't have it? Or will I be better off buying it myself from the US and pay the $30 shipping fee?

    Thanks once again

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Michael, thanks for stopping by. I guess it depends what type of book you're interested in. Novels, etc. are usually easy to get in Poland, especially if they come from a big name publisher or are popular. Textbooks and other academic material can be significantly more difficult. Regarding book stores/websites in Poland, I don't know if any of them are willing to order for you if what you want is not in stock. I've never tried.

      What I sometimes do is buy a few books from US book sellers and have them shipped to my mother, who repackages them and ships them standard mail to me in Poland. You pay twice, but the cost is usually lower than having the book seller ship direct to Poland. I don't do this often. The other thing I do is buy a few books a couple of weeks before I visit the US and have them sent to my mother. When I visit her, I pick them up and carry them to Poland in my luggage. Otherwise, if you're desperate, you may just have to pay the high cost.

      I don't normally pander, but in the comment from Peter above is a site you might try.

      Delete
  3. OMG thank you so much, it's just what i need.

    ReplyDelete