Italian Publishers’ Report at Frankfurt Book Fair: Focus on Readers

In News by Porter Anderson

Even as ebooks show some gains along with the number of publishing houses operating in Italy, the AIE names low readership as its ‘problem of problems’ and vows to address the country’s shrinking readership.

Visitors at the Frankfurt Book Fair (Image © Peter Hirth / Frankfurter Buchmesse)

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

A ‘Why I Read’ Campaign Starts Saturday

Trade visitors to Frankfurt Book Fair last week had a chance to catch up on the Italian publishing market’s status when the Italian Publishers Association (Associazione Italiana Editori, AIE) issued its Report on the State of Publishing in Italy 2017.

According to this report, there’s a fairly courageous effort underway to address a difficult fact, which Italian publishers refer to as their “problem of problems”: Italians are not reading enough.

“Statistics show that there are profound differences in relation to parents’ reading habits.”Ricardo Franco Levi, AIE

One bright spot in the report shows that, the financial crisis and its effects on Italian publishing appear to be easing.

“There’s a sigh of relief concerning the market,” says AIE president Ricardo Franco Levi, “but there’s still a long way to go. A lot of work is needed to recover pre-crisis levels. This is particularly true of a worrying decline in reading, some 10 percent of readers falling away since the crisis.

“For this reason,” says Franco Levi, “publishers are concentrating on the theme of education. It’s starting from there, from childhood onward and then, progressively, at every subsequent level, that books and reading must become daily companions. The statistics show that there are profound differences in relation to parents’ reading habits.

“Parents are obviously decisive: an important step would be to help families through tax deductions for books, thus giving practical recognition to the central role of the book.

Artwork for the #ioleggoperché (Why I Read) campaign

“Publishers are actively doing their part. With the #ioleggoperché project (Why I Read),” which runs from  from Saturday (October 21) to October 29, “we invite the whole of Italy to work as a team to strengthen school libraries. Let’s start from there, bringing books back into the everyday lives of children, asking schools to make them part of teaching programs and educating children in the pleasure of books and reading.”

In its report summary, however, AIE is looking at a daunting shortfall in its population’s readership. Compared to many other leading nations of the world, the publishers report, Italy has the lowest percentage of readers, per 2016 figures at some 40.5 percent.

Since the strongest impact of the financial crisis, which AIE dates to 2010, “the market has been reduced by about €242 million (US$285 million) in trade channels” that face the public market in bookshops, online stores, and large retail outlets. Even including estimates of Amazon’s sales, at some €120 million in 2016 (US$141 million), AIE reports, the market was reduced by €122 million (US$143 million) compared to 2010.

The report is not without good news. “Italian book publishing has clearly come out of the years of crisis looking more international,” write association administrators in their synopsis for the media, “with a greater ability to offer and sell the rights of Italian authors on foreign markets–not only books for children and young people, but also fiction titles–and to create international coeditions, especially in the art and children’s sector, which together account for 76 percent of the titles in co-editions.

“The ebook market, despite having grown less than expected, is now worth more than 5 percent of the total, while the digital market as a whole is 13 percent, while in 2011 it was 5 percent.”

Here’s a selection of indicators from the report.

A comprehensive graphic accompanies the Italian publishers association’s report at Frankfurt Book Fair. Image: AIE

Growth in Ebooks, Digital Publishing

As mentioned in our editorial for the October 13 Publishing Perspectives Show Daily at Frankfurt, one of the most interesting data points from Rome and Milano is that Italian publishers are seeing something of the format stability that Markus Dohle of Penguin Random House mentioned at the opening press conference at the Frankfurt Book Fair, but the Italians also report growth in the ebook sector:

“In 2016 Italian publishing houses produced 66,000 printed titles, with new titles and new editions of miscellaneous adult and children’s books in addition to educational titles and excluding ebooks. This was in line with 2015,” the association writes.

“Looking at the 62,573 new titles published in 2016,” the AIE identifies these features:

  • Stability of fiction ( up 0.3 percent, including Young Adult fiction)
  • Growth of practical nonfiction (instruction manuals, up 3.9 percent) and a dropoff for the first time in years in children’s books, down 4.5 percent
  • Readers can find more titles from small as well as large publishers, more extensive catalogs and a greater variety of prices and formats to choose from

The “live” catalog of paper books on sale—commercially live titles—for the first time exceeds 1 million, reaching 1,032,799, up 13.9 percent over 2015.

Ebook titles were up a striking 29.6 percent in 2016, and in terms of revenue, ebooks turned some €63 million (US$74 million), a 5.2-percent share of trade channels at the end of 2016, up 23.5 percent year-over-year.

“Digital is not just ebooks,” the AIE writes. “It represents almost 13 percent of the total market. In 2016 digital products including both ebooks and dtabases and Web services for businesses and professionals were worth €323 million (US$379 million), up 15.8 percent over 2015.”

The category in 2011 represented 5.2 percent of the market.

Rising Numbers of Publishing Houses, Rights Trades

A total 4,877 publishing companies produced at least one title each in 2016 in Italy, representing a 5.8-percent rise, year-over-year.

“A lot of work is needed to recover pre-crisis levels. This is particularly true of a worrying decline in reading, some 10 percent of readers falling away since the 2010 crisis.”Ricardo Franco Levi, AIE

“In 2016, Italian publishers sold a total of 6,565 publishing rights (transactions) abroad to their foreign colleagues and bought rights for 9,552 titles,” the AIE report tells us. “Compared to 2015, sales abroad grew by 11 percent over 2015, and purchases by 10.6 percent. As always, it’s through medium-long term trends that we can best appreciate the transformations in relation to this particular aspect of the highly complex processes connected to the dynamics of internationalization.

“Sales of rights abroad rose from the 1,800 titles recorded in 2001 to the present 6,565, up 264.7 percent, with an average annual growth of 17.6 percent.

“The acquisition of publishing rights, on the other hand, went from 5,400 titles in 2001 to 9,552 in 2016,” last year’s total being somewhat behind 2015’s number of
10,685 titles.

The AIE also sees is membership as becoming more capable on the international publishing scene, writing, “In 2016, there were approximately 7,400 new titles and new editions published in translation from foreign languages, compared with 11,500 in the previous year, including classics and titles from authors for whom publishing houses were already in possession of translation rights. This was thus a drop from 17.6 percent of titles translated in 2015 to 11.8 percent in 2016.

“These figures highlight the slow but constant growth in the proportion of Italian authors in the total number of publications: it’s worth recalling that in 2002/2003 translated titles represented 23-to 24 percent of the total.”


The AIE organizes Italy’s National Fair of Small and Mid-Sized Publishers in Rome, which has its 16th iteration December 6 to 10 at the Cloud Center in Rome, designed by Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas. More information is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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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.