About us

When I recently sent my twenty-two-year-old son to help move books from the warehouse, he observed with sarcasm: “You don’t know what that labour’s like.” So I had to tell him about how I started in 1991. I lived then in a studio in a housing estate in the Prague district of Bohnice. Fortunately, it was located on the ground floor. When a truck full of books arrived (at that time, at the beginning, books were published in huge numbers), I had to unload it and take the books inside all by myself. Then salesmen, often market sellers, came and paid either right away or never. And I carried the books out for them. I also took them to some Prague bookshops myself in a backpack. At other times, I rented a van and made rounds with a driver. I wrote invoices by hand at night. Until finally the accountant of one of the bigger customers pointed out to me that invoices did not have to be that extensive and written in whole sentences. At first, I did not have a telephone line – poor socialist infrastructure did not allow for the installation of a line in all flats. I would take a handful of coins and go to a telephone box where a long queue had been forming. I later got a telephone line for the bribe of 3,000 crowns.

I was twenty-eight and from the age of six, I had been determined to become, above all, a writer. I had no experience in the field, let alone in business, for there was no one to teach us how to do business in socialist Czechoslovakia. It was a new thing to me to pay for water and electricity too.

In the first years, it was more difficult to produce a book than to sell it. (Today, it’s the opposite: you can make anything and the key issue is to sell it.) The printing houses were overloaded. In socialist times, printing was allotted: the whole year was planned and it was given in advance how many copies of which book would be issued. Even if the printing houses had wanted to exceed the quota, they would not have got the paper. Suddenly anything could be printed what could not be published before. Those who had been in the field before - editors and employees of state publishing houses - had a great advantage. Many of those started their own businesses, borrowed attractive book titles and had acquaintances in the printing houses. At first, I was just scraping the barrel. The first bestseller I published was an English textbook on English-speaking countries. Hundreds of thousands were sold. However, if I look back on how much the printing cost me at that time, even today, after twenty-five years, when the average salary is ten times higher, I would print it cheaper.

Then I got lucky. I bought the famous bestseller Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. Possibly more than hundred and fifty thousand copies have been sold up to this day. I rented a warehouse space, sold my studio on the ground floor and moved to a bigger place. The Práh publishing house soon established itself on the Czech book market. However, the nineties were stormy and turbulent. Companies emerged and disappeared, instant success often ended in a rapid fall. Práh survived it all. Although I founded it with the initial capital of ten thousand crowns, I have managed never to owe anyone. In the twenty-five years of its existence, Práh has never made a single payment late, unless by an accounting mistake. It has never been in loss by the end of the year. How is this possible? Perhaps thanks to a certain economy. I have always worked from home – I do not have to pay for an office. I do not have employees – I outsource all work. Nevertheless, Práh now publishes forty books a year and belongs, both with respect to its turnover and the number of titles published, to mid-sized publishing companies. It has published a number of famous and prestigious titles, among them Madeleine Albright’s memoirs and Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. It has also published books for children and teenagers by Renáta Fučíková, Anna Novotná, Alena Ježková, Uri Orlev, Lucie Lomová and others.

Nevertheless, I have to take into consideration that I am getting old and I would not like the company to become old-fashioned. This is why I recently welcomed new blood – student of the Faculty of Social Sciences Jakub Kadlec. Thanks to him, our website and Facebook page have come back to life. He will look after them with as much care as he will look after you, our dear and respected customers. I will thus be able to devote more time to my main mission - writing, although I continue to be and will long be indispensable for Práh.

 

Yours,

Martin Vopěnka

www.martinvopenka.cz