Situated alongside the Austrian Institute on one of the city centre's narrowest streets (Baštová), Cafe OI Internet is the newest of four Internet cafes which have opened up in Bratislava since the beginning of the year.
The increase in Internet cafes, however, does not necessarily mean that they are certain to be a burgeoning success. Last year the story in Bratislava was a doleful one - cafes were making no profit and the future promised little change. Nearly every Cafe in the city was launched with public funds, including the Austrian Institute's Internet cafe. Such organisations continue to cover the costs of what is the highest expense in maintaining the business - the rent.
In the face of these expenses, however, the cafes have opened to fulfil what Michaela Burgstaller, the official at the Austrian Institute responsible for the cafe's daily management, explained was a high demand from students for easy Internet access.
"While passers-by are welcome, the cafe was originally designed to be used as an aid for student courses," Burgstaller said.
Perhaps the only cafe in the city started and managed entirely by private means is Internet Club, owned and operated by Peter Horvát. A self proclaimed computer hobbyist, Horvát opened the cafe with a group of friends not primarily to make money, but to "provide a comfortable place for people to use Internet services."
The cost was not a small one for Horvát. Without divulging the exact cash needed for the club's start-up, he said that he'd had to save money for 10 years before gaining enough to launch his company. Daily running costs are around 2,000 crowns ($47), not including staff wages, and monthly connection fees run around 12,000 crowns ($279), he said.
Although Horvát dubbed these expenses 'reasonable', he still struggles to keep his cafe afloat. A flagging economy has kept many Slovaks from using what is still seen as a luxury, meaning profits for Internet cafe proprietors have not yet blossomed.
"I'm looking one year ahead," Horvát said. "Interest is peaking in already established media sources such as TV, radio, and publishing. People see a website advertised and they want to learn more about it. Owning a computer is still too expensive for most people, but they will come to us in time."
Peter Kurthy, manager of three Internet cafes, including Bratislava's first in Dúbravka and a new one in Petržalka, said that while the Internet was clearly growing in Slovakia, the fate of Internet cafés was less certain.
Kurthy was asked four years ago by the Ministry of Culture to manage Klub Internet, an Internet cafe in the museum complex of the Slovenské Národné Múzeum (Slovak National Museum), as an effort to reverse poor profits. Although he told The Slovak Spectator in an article last year that he was failing to turn a profit, he said that the financial struggle had begun to reverse.
While part of the profits were due to increased clientele, he said, most of the fiscal improvement had come from more efficient management and wisdom gained from experience. "We've connected two lines into one and we've also installed locks on the machines so staff can't invite friends to log on for free while I'm not around."
These measures have helped cut expenses from 60,000 crowns to 25,000 crowns per month, and boost earnings from 20,000 to 40,000 crowns.
Kurthy has used his experience to cross over into other related fields such as website creation and maintenance, software sales, and advising new cafes on how to get started. When advising, he tells prospective owners that Internet cafes can only sustain a meagre profit. In what may be a guarded look at the future, he said that was not relying solely on the café for his income. "My profits come from elsewhere," he said.
24. Apr 2000 at 0:00 | Jason Markowsky