LAST year the magazine Krásy Slovenska, or Beauties of Slovakia, celebrated its 90th anniversary. Daniel Kollár, director of Dajama, the company that has published it since 2004, believes that the magazine – whose primary aim is to promote the natural, historical and cultural beauty of Slovakia – was able to celebrate its anniversary only thanks to the selflessness of those who wrote and published it for those many decades. Kollár sees the internet and e-publishing, as well as synergies that come from publishing both books about Slovakia and the bi-monthly magazine under the Dajama roof, as the best answers to the challenges facing his publishing house.
Krásy Slovenska was launched in 1921 by a group of nature enthusiasts from Liptovský Mikuláš led by Miloš Janoška, the doyen of tourism in Slovakia who also wrote the first tourist guide to the High Tatras, Kollár said in recalling the magazine’s history. Since then the magazine has gone through many turbulent periods and financial droughts. Dajama began publishing the magazine in 2004 after the Club of Slovak Tourists came to him with a proposal to do so. Dajama was already an established publishing house offering tourist guides about Slovakia. Kollár and his staff at Dajama liked the idea of publishing the magazine even though this was a difficult period for Krásy Slovenska as it had lost its state funding after the fall of the communist regime and the magazine did not seem feasible as a purely commercial project. Kollár said he and others at Dajama believed that for the sake of the history of the magazine and the people who had created it, Krásy Slovenska should stay afloat. At first Dajama subsidised the magazine using resources from its other publishing activities but after some time the magazine began to cover its own costs.
The Slovak Spectator spoke with Kollár about the history of Krásy Slovenska, the current challenges of publishing it and his future plans for both the magazine and the publishing house.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Krásy Slovenska celebrated its 90th anniversary last year. What challenges does the magazine face with regards to the changing conditions in the print media market?
Daniel Kollár (DK): I see the uniqueness of this magazine, which has the longest history of uninterrupted publishing in Slovakia, in the fact that as far as I know there is no equivalent magazine in Europe being published for so long that is dedicated to the promotion of the natural and historical beauties of its country. Moreover, it has always been a non-commercial magazine, meaning that it has not been living from advertisements. When people ask me how it is possible that this magazine survived, I have one simple answer: only thanks to the people who wrote it, because they did it with their hearts and love when nobody was thinking about the financial benefits coming from publishing such a magazine. This is why the magazine has looked as it has looked and this is why it managed to live through those turbulent periods of the 20th century up to this anniversary.
Now the magazine is stabilised; it has found its niche in the market and, what pleases us very much, the number of its subscribers is increasing.
Now, with respect to the changing media market, one of the most important questions that magazine and book publishers face is to what extent electronic versions of their books and magazines will replace print versions. This is why we also cannot lag behind. We have prepared an electronic version of Krásy Slovenska as well as a searchable virtual library of the magazine that is accessible for all subscribers. To begin with we are only offering all the issues of Krásy Slovenska published by Dajama, but our ambition is to gradually make available all the issues published since 1921.
Since there are only several dozen subscribers to the magazine from abroad, because they pay much more for postage costs than for the magazine, we hope that the electronic version of Krásy Slovenska will have an exceptional appeal for many beyond our borders. I think that the electronic version is the most convenient and fastest way to get Krásy Slovenska to Slovaks living abroad.
TSS: You also offer the archive of Krásy Slovenska to schools…
DK: Yes. Last year, in cooperation with the Slovak Tourist Board and the Ministry of Education, we prepared a project in which we will provide free access to the virtual library of Krásy Slovenska to primary and secondary schools. With help from the ministry we sent letters to all schools, almost 3,000, during the second week of January. During the first few days since then we received requests for access from over 80 schools.
We believe this could make subjects like homeland study, geography, history, the Slovak language and others more modern and interactive and make the education more colourful.
TSS: You are a supporter of tourism, which is about modesty, and with regards to hiking and nature about humbleness. How do you see the direction of Krásy Slovenska in this respect when tourism seems to be more and more about business and commerce?
DK: Maybe I’m a bit strange in this respect and I’m in some way an optimist. I think that the whole world around us will change so radically because of all the crises that will come, that more and more people will understand what real life is about and more and more people will choose to, and some might be forced to, live in a much more sparing way than now and will learn to enjoy small things more so than now.
Many people have already satisfied their appetite for spending a holiday abroad; that was a boom in the 1990s and at the beginning of this millennium. People are beginning, at least based on my observations, to discover Slovakia. For some of them this is a necessity because they cannot afford a more expensive holiday, but for others it is a question of getting to know Slovakia better. I’m convinced that a stay in the countryside and nature, agro-tourism, and so on will play a role of increasing importance in modern society. I see this also in the growing number of our subscribers – people are discovering the beauties of Slovakia, maybe also with our help; they feel that we are doing our jobs honestly and I believe this will bring fruit, if not in a short term, then certainly in the long term.
TSS: Do you have any ‘electronic’ plans for your books?
DK: We launched publication of our books in electronic versions with two distributors. Since last summer we have published 10 books and so far this has been a test because the whole e-book business in Slovakia is still in diapers. Our e-books can be read on PCs, tablets and iPhones. In any case, e-books are the ‘music of the near future’ when the share of books published and sold in an electronic version will increase. I do not expect that Slovakia will reach the level of the USA, where 50 percent of book production is now sold in an electronic version, in a brief period of time. But this share will certainly grow. Nevertheless, I do not think that e-books will push out printed books. E-books will be a kind of supplement. Especially for the books we publish, i.e. non-fiction, I do not think the electronic share would be any significant amount. This may change only after a technological shock, when somebody develops something new and more comfortable for users.
TSS: How do other publishers perceive e-books and how do they see their publishing prospects?
DK: My observation, as the head of the Association of Publishers and Booksellers of the Slovak Republic, whose members account for 80 percent of the production in Slovakia, is that especially for those large publishing houses publishing fiction this is of high importance, but for now the sales are negligible. What bothers us is the small size of the Slovak market and the low number of readers compared to countries like Poland, the Czech Republic or Hungary. But what is really unique in Slovakia is the problem with payments for books: that is, when a bookseller or distributor does not pay the publisher for books sold. This can bring many publishers to their knees. I expect that some publishers, especially small ones, will end their business for this reason during 2012.
TSS: What are your future plans for the magazine and the publishing house?
DK: There are a lot of plans. In Krásy Slovenska we will continue to publish a series about national parks followed by a series on protected areas. Our big plan is to prepare a comprehensive and live website about Slovakia, www.krasyslovenska.eu. It should replace the national information portal www.slovakiatravel.sk. Our ambition is to provide all the information about Slovak nature, culture and history; actually we already have all this information as we have published it either in the magazine or in our books, also in several language versions. We will cooperate with the Association of Information Centres on this website and update it continuously so that the website provides timely information about events in towns, villages and regions across Slovakia. Perhaps the Slovak Tourist Board may get involved in it too.
With regards to book publishing plans, as in previous years, we plan to publish some books under the Cultural Heritage of Slovakia imprint and some under the Natural Heritage of Slovakia imprint. We are also preparing some specialised books, for example about Jewish synagogues, pilgrimage places, Calvary sites and Slavonic hill-forts. But because of their very specific topics we can publish these only when we get support from the Ministry of Culture.
But certainly we will publish a trilogy this year – around Slovakia by car, bicycle and on foot. We are also working on a book about Slovakia’s lookout towers and the panoramas they provide.
While our publishing house mostly focuses on publishing tourism and travel guides, we publish some special books from time to time. Since the release of our book Genius Loci with interviews with prominent Slovak personalities like actors, writers, and photographers about places of importance for them in Slovakia, we plan to publish future books about the beauties of Slovakia as expressed in songs and poems and as presented in films and fairy tales.