German book trade turns the corner

News - International Friday, 07 June 2019

Number of book buyers rises by 300,000 with growth seen in age groups that previously experienced strongest declines; overall sales edge up in 2019

Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels (the German Publishers and Booksellers Association) has released an optimistic assessment of the German market, pointing to stable revenues in 2018 and rising sales in the first months of 2019.

According to the organisation, in 2018, publishers and bookshops were able to win back roughly 300,000 book buyers. 'The industry maintained its 2018 revenue levels and started 2019 with a healthy display of growth.'

In 2018, the number of book buyers in Germany rose for the first time since 2012, with 29.9 million people over the age of 10 buying at least one book last year (2017: 29.6 million). The largest increases came in those age groups where the book industry had lost the most buyers in recent years: the number of buyers rose among 20-to-29-year-olds by 15.2 percent, among 30-to-39-year-olds by 15.8 percent and among 40-to-49-year-olds by 2.2 percent.

Industry turnover also stabilised: in 2018, book industry revenue came in at €9.13 billion, which was roughly the same level as in the previous year. In the first five months of 2019, revenue from the industry’s key distribution channels increased by 4.1 percent, with the volume of sales rising by 1.7 percent.

Alexander Skipis, managing director of the Börsenverein (pictured), said: "2018 marks a turning point in the German book industry. The results of the Book Buyers – quo vadis? study we issued last year prompted many publishers and bookshops to take action. The study asked individuals why they no longer bought books, and respondents all across the board answered that while they valued books and reading very highly, they had simply lost sight of them due to the stresses and pressures associated with everyday life and social media.

"Respondents noted that they lacked the time to read, had few contact points to books and felt a sense of disorientation among the large array of choices. These findings led to an increasing awareness among the book industry that a new form of approaching customers was going to be necessary. Publishers and bookshops have now started enhancing their proximity to customers and creating new ways of raising enthusiasm for books.

"These include new store concepts, creative event formats, social media initiatives, new storytelling formats and innovative publishing programs. We are also working across the entire industry on developing a modern, customer-friendly orientation system for the book trade as well as on improving the image of book reading in general."

Heinrich Riethmüller, chairman of the Börsenverein, said: "The book market remains stable despite growing competition from other media. Publishers and bookshops are helping to shape the dynamic development of media, and the online book trade is increasing in significance. Stationary bookshops continue to grapple with such issues as rising rents, detrimental inner-city developments and problems in finding a new generation of booksellers to succeed them. Bookstore owners are trying out new shop ideas and event concepts as a way of attracting potential buyers and winning them over as customers."

The Börsenverein also pointed to positive trends in e-books. Börsenverein treasurer Matthias Heinrich said: "Digital books recorded significant growth last year. The industry was also able to win back buyers in the realm of e-books, with both sales volume and revenues increasing. This proves that e-books have established themselves on the consumer market as a popular form of reading and that they hold the potential for even more growth."

But it's not all plain sailing: the book industry is 'gearing up to face important economic and social tasks in the coming year.'

Skipis said: "The entire industry is eager to see what happens after the insolvency of the book wholesaler KNV. We’re optimistic that a successful reorganisation of the company will help to preserve the German book industry’s strong and exemplary logistics. At the political level, it is essential that we work to restore remuneration for publishers as part of collecting society distributions.

"After the positive decision taken by the EU Parliament in favour of EU copyright reform, we need to see the quickest possible implementation of the law at the national level so that publishers can breathe easy again and get back to work. The book industry also sees one of its most important tasks in 2019 in the fostering of freedom of opinion and a rich culture of debate.

"Publishers and bookshops continue to make a significant contribution to the promotion of the freedom of speech and opinion building. One of the ways in which we support this task is via the Deutscher Sachbuchpreis (German Non-Fiction Prize), which seek to stimulate and maintain social debate on important themes. Local bookshops and the book trade in general play a crucial role in this realm."

The Börsenverein also released detailed sales and market data.

'With revenues of €4.27 billion and a market share of 46.8 percent, the stationary book trade remained the largest distribution channel for books in 2018. Sales at on-site bookshops fell by 0.7 percent in comparison to the previous year. Revenues for the internet book trade – including the online businesses of stationary bookshops – continue to increase: the book trade made €1.78 billion via online shops, which was 4 percent more than in 2017. The share of e-commerce in overall market revenues rose to 19.5 percent. Publishers’ direct business with companies, state institutions and others came in at €1.92 billion in 2018, just slightly below the previous year (-1.2 percent, revenue share: 21.0 percent).

'Among the various product categories in 2018, non-fiction books recorded the strongest increase in revenue (+5.5 percent), accounting for 10.6 percent of total revenues. Children’s literature was also up (+3.2 percent, revenue share: 16.6 percent). Fiction books had a 31.5 percent share of revenues – a slight 0.9 percent drop over the previous year – and continued to be the strongest product category. Likewise, the following product categories recorded losses: self-help books (-1.2 percent, revenue share: 14.0 percent) and travel books (-3.2 percent, revenue share: 5.7 percent).

'In 2018, the number of new book titles issued by publishers continued to decline. The number of first editions dropped from 72,499 (2017) to 71,548 titles. After an increase in 2017, the number of new titles in the realm of fiction decreased to 13,879 (2017: 14,273). There were more first editions in the non-fiction realm, for example in the social sciences (12,734 new titles, 2017: 12,218) and history and geography (6,956 new titles, 2017: 6,757). The share of translations of first editions was almost entirely unchanged at 13.7 percent. The number of translated titles remained in line with the production of overall titles, and at 9,803 it was only slightly under the previous year (9,890). The most important source languages continue to be English, French and Japanese.

'The sale of licenses abroad remained stable at the relatively high level of 7,844 titles (2017: 7,856 titles). Once again, children’s literature saw the largest share of licenses sold (36.8 percent), however the number of licenses in this realm actually fell (-5.0 percent to 2,886). In the realm of fiction, which accounted for 18.2 percent of deals, 10.6 percent more licenses were sold than in the previous year (a total of 1,431 titles). Non-fiction books, which made a significant jump in 2017 (+36.5 percent), were less in demand in 2018 than in the previous year (-24.9 percent to 638 titles). With 1,678 licences, the Chinese-speaking world remains the top purchaser of German licences.'

The Börsenverein overview also encompassed digital.

'In 2018, revenues from e-books on the private consumer market (excluding textbooks and specialist books) rose by 9.3 percent. This means that e-books accounted for 5.0 percent of revenues in 2018 (2017: 4.6 percent). The actual number of e-book sold also rose (+12.7 percent to 32.8 million e-books) as did the number of e-book buyers (3.6 million, 2017: 3.5 million). The purchase intensity also continued to increase: on average, each buyer put 9.2 e-books in their shopping carts in 2018, almost one entire book more than in the previous year (8.3 e-books). Meanwhile, the trend towards buying cheaper titles continued: in 2018, buyers spent on average only €6.19 per book and thus 3.0 percent less than in the previous year'

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