Czech Republic – some key background facts

With its ten and a half million inhabitants, the Czech Republic is a medium-sized Central European state. After the great political and social changes at the turn of the eighties and nineties, it rapidly transformed into a parliamentary democracy with a market economy. It has been a NATO member since 1999 and a member of the European Union since 2004. In 1993 the original “state of the Czechs and the Slovaks” divided into two separate states – the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. Recent surveys show that almost two-thirds (64%) of the population of the Czech Republic consider the changes at the turn of the eighties and the nineties to have been positive, but an early 2014 survey found that only around one half (48%) are satisfied with the quality of this democracy.

Ever since the 17th century, exile has been a significant phenomenon in Czech history. The largest Czech diaspora, based on several waves of emigration, is in the USA, where around 1.5 million inhabitants claim Czech roots, whereas in Europe it is Croatia (with approximately 10,000 inhabitants). Around 70% of the population live in urban areas. Modern history has witnessed two great waves of emigration – following the Communist putsch in 1948 and the Warsaw Pact invasion of 1968. These waves have also had a great impact on book and publishing culture, as thanks to them several prominent centres of independent literature publication emerged (e.g. Toronto, Cologne, London and Zurich). These books were also smuggled into Czechoslovakia.

As for its ethnic composition, the Czech Republic is relatively homogeneous. At the last census in 2011, 63.7% of the population described their nationality as Czech (86% of those who claimed any nationality at all), 4.9% declared themselves to be of Moravian nationality, and 0.1% as Silesian; the remainder (26%) opted not to fill in any of the columns. The representation of the Moravian (and Silesian) nationality is largely due to the fact that there was a column for it in the questionnaire. Average life expectancy is 75 years for men and 81 for women. This has risen considerably over the last twenty years.

In 2013, 442,000 foreigners were living in the Czech Republic with permanent residence. Since the end of the 1980s this number has increased more than tenfold. The largest groups among them are the Slovaks and the Ukrainians.

The economy and living standards

Life quality research organized by the British Legatum Institute (2014) indicates that out of 145 world states, the Czech Republic is in the top quarter (in 29th position). Of the post-communist countries it is only surpassed by Slovenia (24th). Some of the other countries ranked include: 31st Poland, 35th Slovakia, 44th Latvia, 60th Bulgaria, 63rd Ukraine, 77th Serbia, 84th Albania, 95th Armenia. Top of the list were Norway in first place, Switzerland in second and New Zealand in third.

The living standard is 80% of the EU average (GDP – purchasing power standard per inhabitant). This percentage has not increased significantly at all in recent times – quite the reverse if anything (though in 2007 and 2009 it was actually 83%). As for distribution, there is a great difference between individual areas, particularly between Prague and the rest of the country.

No other EU country shows such a significant difference between one region and the rest of the country. On the other hand, the Czech Republic is above the EU average in its long-term employment rate.

As for domestic expenditure, its structure has fundamentally changed since the end of the 1980s, when one third went on foodstuffs and catering – now it is only one quarter. At that time two thirds of expenditure went on industrial goods, but now it is only one quarter. On the other hand, the proportion of services has risen, from one fifth to one third.

The Czech Republic has not recently exceeded the EU average rate of inflation. In 2008 inflation was indeed 6.3% (with the EU average at 3.7%), but since that time it has not gone beyond the average of 2%. One living standard criterion is the national poverty threshold as determined specifically for each country by the EU. This is the amount of income determining the poverty threshold and the proportion of the population below it. The Czech Republic comes out of this survey on top of the EU, as only one in ten of the population is below the poverty line, while for example in Romania it is one in four.


This is a key parameter with regard to attitudes towards reading. As concerns the proportion of GDP spent on education, the Czech Republic (with around 4.5%) comes in behind the EU average (of around 5.2%). Teachers‘ pay is far below the EU average and their age structure is also unfavourable. From the start of the 21st century the number of students in higher education significantly increased (with 50% of each population year enrolled), but then recently their numbers have begun to drop 10% year on year due to economic measures taken by the Education Ministry. As for the openness of Czech higher education institutes, every tenth student is a foreigner – with Slovaks predominant among them. The Czech Republic is slightly above the EU average in the number of foreign languages studied by its pupils and students (1.5). – Each citizen spends around 0.5% of his domestic expenditure on education, which is slightly below the EU average.

The group of those who have not completed the secondary level (2012) is still substantial, even though 2013 presents a fundamental structural shift as it ceases to be a majority. The number of male and female graduates has also balanced out in recent years (51 : 49); as it was still 57 : 43 in favour of men in 2005.

Over the long term the Czech Republic has spent less on research and development than the EU and OECD average. However, with its 1.9% of GDP the Czech Republic has been slightly above the EU average since 2013. Countries at the top of the research and development charts spend double the GDP percentage (South Korea 4.4%, Israel 3.9%).

Book and reading culture

As for the number of readers, as shown in the following pages, the number of titles published per head and the number of libraries, the Czech Republic ranks high even among those European countries that are well above average. It has the densest network of public libraries in the world. There are 5.1 public libraries for every 10,000 inhabitants, whereas the EU average is 1.3 libraries. This system has been in operation since the 1920s and survived two dictatorships (Nazi and Communist) without any substantial repercussions. However, the dark side of this system is that it is seriously underfunded. The Czech Republic spends 15 euro per inhabitant, whereas e.g. Denmark spends 65 euro. The following chart also presents data for recent years, which clearly shows that the number of libraries is falling, but the number of loans is not entirely going down.

Table 1. Public libraries in the Czech Republic (1995-2013). Source: NIPOS











5 533



Loans (thousands)

57 413

70 401

71 194

67 395

66 772

64 208

Registered readers per thousand






Loans per thousand







Annual book market volume (book sales revenue) is estimated to be 310 million euro, which means that it is approximately twice as small as the Polish market and thirty times smaller than the German.Its main features include undercapitalization and small capital concentration, i.e. considerable fragmentation. The five largest publishers have a 13% share of title output, while in Finland or France it is over 70%. Another feature that is often brought up is the large number of titles, as this has increased fourfold since the late 1980s.

Table 2. Titles published (1995-2013). Source: National Library of the Czech Republic







Total titles

8 994

11 965

15 350

18 029

17 054

17 876


3 214

3 281

3 340

3 929

4 447

5 190

Fiction share







Titles published per thousand







Over the last five years the rise in the number of titles has come to a halt. The table also shows the large rise in fiction publications in 1995 and their gradual stabilization. This growth is due to the fact that long into the 1990s titles were being brought out that could not be published under the Communist regime (1948-1989), either as new works or as re-editions. However, as soon as this excess pressure eased, the share of fiction stabilized to a quarter of overall output. As for the proportions of original output and literature in translation, the latter has recently made up over one third of all titles published. It is dominated by English, with a share of over 50%, followed by German and French. The share of titles in languages other than Czech comes to around 7%. Here, too, the dominant language is English (with almost one half).

The e-book market is still quite small in terms of volume and the range of titles on offer. In 2013 its financial volume did not exceed 1%, which is perhaps four times smaller than in the developed countries of Western Europe.

As can clearly be seen, the Czech book market is notablyPragocentric”. The capital produces four times as many titles as the second largest city, where three times as many titles are brought out as in the third largest Czech city. However, this trend was even more pronounced under the old regime: 75% of all titles were brought out in Prague, which was also due to the fact that all the main publishers were based here. These were entrusted with the implementation of a uniform cultural policy throughout the country. Moreover, the publishing administration system also set out departmental limitations: Czech fiction, world fiction, specialist technical literature, specialist social sciences literature and so forth. Publishers in other towns and cities were condemned more or less to the role of regional centres with a limited repertoire of subjects and titles. This departmentalism and centralism came to an end upon the collapse of the old regime and publishers have since been able to develop in line with their own capacities and creative abilities.

Table 3. Activities. Significant shifts are highlighted




Reading (read at least one book)




Shopping (bought at least one book)




Public libraries (Visited at least one public library




Number of books read per year – volumes




Domestic libraries – volumes




Number of books purchased – volumes




Money spent on books – euro




Reading (books) – minutes per day




Reading newspapers/magazines – minutes per day




Watching television – minutes per day




Listening to the radio – minutes per day




Internet use – minutes per day




Favourite author

Michal Viewegh

Michal Viewegh

Michal Viewegh

Favourite book

The Egg and I

(Betty Mac Donald)

The Egg and I

(Betty Mac Donald)


(Božena Němcová)

The table shows the following shifts: between 2007 and 2010 there was a significant drop in the number of people buying at least one book, but this has now come to a halt. Between 2010 and 2013 there was also a significant drop in the number of library visitors. In contrast the level of (statistical) readers appears relatively stable. The increase in the amount of time spent watching television is explained in Chapter 10. The ongoing increase in internet usage goes hand in hand with the continuing digitization of society.

Let us attempt to compare another three key activities (reading, shopping and public libraries) from the standpoint of attitude towards reading. Although we do not exclusively buy books just to read them, and we often don’t even just lend them out to read (i.e. ourselves), reading is still the focus for all activities surrounding books (magazines etc) within the context of reading culture. Moreover, the individual activities within reading culture and the state of the reading public are derived from reading. In other words, in a population where reading (at least one book per year) is declared by 80% of the population, a considerably higher number of people who buy books and who visit public libraries can be anticipated than in a population where only 50% state that they read.