Germany’s 2016 Book Market Report: ‘Stable Amid Transformation’

In News by Porter Anderson

Even as German booksellers see their online efforts pay off, overall consumption patterns are weakening, says a new report: ‘A truly distressing drop in customer frequency.”

Image – iStockphoto: Golden Brown

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

German Bookshops ‘Also Sell Books Online’
German Internet bookselling revenues jumped 5.3 percent. This took the revenue share of Internet business up to 18.2 percent, over 2015’s 17.4 percent. And this represents some €1.69 billion (US$1.91 billion).

And the 2016 report from the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels, has more useful insights into that country’s market, characterizing the nation’s publishing industry as “stable in an era of major media transformation.”

The Börsenverein’s rationale for that positive picture is this: “Online businesses operated by bookshops themselves continue to gain in importance. Although declining customer frequency in the retail sector brought fewer buyers into bookshops, those customers bought more titles per capita and even spent more money on books.”

A part of that commentary, of course, points up a key difference between the bookshop communities of the UK and the States, where stores may not typically be as engaged in operating online retail efforts as their German counterparts are.

“Today, more than two-thirds of bookshops in Germany also sell books online,” says Alexander Skipis, the Börsenverein’s managing director, in a prepared statement. “Indeed, digital offers now count among the standard repertoire of publishers and are continually being expanded and developed.”

The downside? Skipis goes on: “Nevertheless, we are seeing a truly distressing drop in customer frequency–as is the case in the retail sector in general today–which is also reflected in declining numbers of book buyers. The increasing disappearance of owner-operated businesses has led to decreases in the attractiveness of many inner-city areas. And this is now also having an impact on the book trade.”

Image: Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels

Pressure on Publishers

He says that publishers are “still weakened by repayments they had to make to VG Wort as a result of a ruling handed down by Germany’s Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court or BGH) earlier this year.” In this, he’s referring to the requirement that publishers return to authors copyright revenues distributed between 2012 and 2015 by the collection agency Verwertungsgesellschaft, or VG Wort. There’s more on that situation in Publishing Perspectives’ reporting here.

In addition, Skipis says, “Small- and medium-sized publishers must get ready to face yet another challenge: only a few weeks before the end of the legislative period, Germany’s federal government is seeking to push through the so-called Urheberrechts-Wissensgesellschafts-Gesetz (Copyright Information Society Act) through the Bundestag.

“This law in its current form would be a severe blow for Germany’s status as a country of knowledge and education. In order to be able to continue to publish a wide range of high-quality books and media, publishers must be adequately remunerated for their services in a manner that is both fair and in line with the market.

“For all intents and purposes, the new law would serve to expropriate publishers: it would make it possible for their textbooks and other scientific publications to be distributed digitally and published to a large extent free-of-charge.

“At the moment, thanks to the VG Wort ruling, publishers have no claim to the remuneration foreseen by the law via collecting societies. For this reason, we consider the law to be anti-constitutional. Publishers can only receive adequate remuneration through licensing agreements.”

Germany’s ebook market share, as estimated by the Börsenverein for the 2016 report. Image: Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels

Ebooks Gain With Older Readers

As the English-language markets’ debates rage on about digital versus print, we find the Börsenverein’s report on ebooks to be particularly interesting. It echoes Kobo CEO Michael Tamblyn’s frequent assertions in one regard, in terms of older readers liking ebooks–the consumers Tamblyn calls his “silver foxes.”

In its estimates of ebook activity, the association uses a different approach than the point-of-sale format used for other data. The material puts it this way: “Estimates regarding ebook sales volumes, revenues and consumer figures are taken from the GfK Consumer Panel Media*Scope Buch based on a total of 25,000 people representative of the German population over the age of ten, that is, a total of 67.7 million individuals.”

In ebooks, “while revenues in the private consumer market (excluding school books and textbooks) show only restrained growth, sales volume and purchase intensity continue to rise steadily. At 2.6 percent, revenue growth was once again weaker than in the previous year (2015: 4.7 percent, 2014: 7.6 percent). In 2016, the share of revenues in the private consumer market grew slightly from 4.5 to 4.6 percent.

“Last year, the sales volume rose slightly more significantly than revenues. Indeed, on the private consumer market, 28.1 million ebooks were sold, and that’s 4.1 percent more than in 2015. And while the number of buyers sank by 2.2 percent from 3.9 million to 3.8 million, the purchase intensity of consumers grew: in 2016, each consumer in Germany bought an average of 7.4 ebooks, which is 0.4 more than in the previous year.

“In 2016, the share of ebook revenues generated by children’s books was 8 percent, which was double the number in 2015; this was primarily because of the Harry Potter volume published that year.

“Interestingly, ebooks are also becoming increasingly popular among older purchasers. Twenty-one percent of buyers in 2016 were over 60, while in 2011 this age group made up only 10 percent of ebook customers.”

Brick-and-Mortar Leads in Sales

“Stationary” or brick-and-mortar bookshops in 2016, the Börsenverein reports, “remained the industry’s largest distribution channel, generating revenues of €4.39 billion,” or 0.8 percent less than in 2015. The shops’ share of the overall market dropped from 48.2 to 47.3 percent, even as those Internet revenues, as reported above, increased by 5.3 percent.

Catalog, direct-mail and phone sales in mail-order saw a big move forward, rising 37.5 percent to €162 million (US$183 million).

Another bright spot was bookselling in department stores, which showed an increase of 16.3 percent to €131 million (US$147 million).

Book Buyers Decline in Number, Gain in Spending

Book buying consumers in Germany totaled 30.8 million in 2016, the Börsenverein reports.

That’s a 2.3-percent decline from 2015.

The “purchasing intensity” of this slightly smaller consumer base grew, however, says the report. meaning that customers reportedly bought 12.2 books per capita in 2016, over 11.5 books per capita in 2015. This was reflected in a rise in consumer per-capita spending, too, the spending on books in the consumer market coming in at a 9.4-percent increase, from €122.78 per capita in 2015 to €1.34.29 in 2016.

Germany’s average book price went up by 2.6 percent in 2016.

Image: Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels

Category Highlights

The Börsenverein reports that the children’s sector had the biggest bump in 2016, a 9-percent rise to a 16.5-percent share of the market.

More growth:

  • Schoolbooks and textbooks: up 6.1 percent;
  • Fiction: 31.5 percent (down 0.5 percent); and
  • Nonfiction: 9.8 percent (down 2.7 percent).
Output Down

In an interesting part of the report, the association writes of the industry’s shrinking level of output.

“Title production has been shrinking over the past ten years,” says the report.

“The decline over the previous year was largely due to the category of specialist literature. There were significantly fewer titles in the segments of:

  • Arts and entertainment (2016: 9,918, 2015: 11,659);
  • History and geography (2016: 6,488, 2015: 7,532);
  • Social science (2016: 12,997, 2015: 14,144); and
  • Technology, medicine and applied science (2016: 12,164, 2015: 12.815).

“Titles published in the literature category rose slightly from 29,685 to 29,706.”

Translations Up

“In 2016,” the Börsenverein reports, “the share of translations of first editions increased again.

“While there were 9,454 translations in 2015 (a 12.4-percent share of all first editions), that number rose to 9.882 last year (a share of 13.6 percent).

“The main reason for this increase is a particular rise in literature translations, which had declined significantly in the year prior (2016: 5,737, 2015: 5,400, 2014: 5,847).

“The most important languages continue to be English, French and Japanese.”

Rights Action

“The sale of licences was somewhat weaker than in the previous year,” writes the Börsenverein team, “with 7,310 transactions in 2016 (2015: 7,521).

“The most important category here is children’s literature, which continues to gain in significance. A total of 2,883 licences were sold in this segment (2015: 2,677 licenses), and its share rose to 39.4 percent (2015: 35.6 percent).

“By far the top purchaser of licenses is the Chinese-speaking world (782 licenses). The second strongest category is fiction, with 1,157 licenses sold (15.8 percent).

“After the sharp increase in license sales overall in the Chinese-speaking world in 2015, the number declined again in 2016. At 1,425, there were indeed fewer licenses sold in 2016 than in 2015 (1,514). However, Chinese publishers remain in the No. 1 spot in terms of license purchasers.

“Those Chinese publishers are followed by the English-speaking world with 481 licenses (2015: 574) and the Spanish-speaking world with 441 licenses (2015: 439).”


For more data from the Börsenverein’s 2016 report, a summary is to be available in August here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

Facebook Twitter Google+

Porter Anderson is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. Prior to that he was Associate Editor for The FutureBook, a channel at The Bookseller focused on digital publishing. Anderson has also worked with CNN International, CNN.com, CNN USA, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media.