French Publishers: ‘A Moderate Decline’ of 2.3 Percent

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Even as Emmanuel Macron names reading the ‘great national cause’ of the year, France’s publishers are celebrating ‘book resilience’ in 2020.

June 16, in the Place Denfert-Rochereau in Paris’ 14th arrondissement. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Olivier Djiann

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

Digital Publishing Surged 13.5 Percent
France’s book publishing industry has made a number of surveys of reading habits during the still ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, including a “special containment” report in December and a “confinement report” in January, as Publishing Perspectives readers will remember.

Today (June 24), however,  in a video-conferenced general assembly, the Syndicat national de l’édition (SNE) has presented some new book sales figures to its membership, calling them proof of “an exceptional capacity for book resilience in France.”

The announcement follows by a week (June 17), Emmanuel Macron’s designation of the next 12 months’ focus in France on reading as “a great national cause,” from now until summer 2022. In France, the “great national cause’ is an annual focus of attention on issues as public interest campaigns.

The National Book Center will be taking the lead in this year’s program, and—music to any publishers’ ears—”restoring the desire to read” is one associated theme of the new campaign already surfaced.

As it happens, though, France’s booksellers are the beneficiaries of what looks to be a very healthy regard for reading, as is,

Book sales in 2020, the organization says, came to €2.74 billion (US$3.268 billion), representing “a moderate decline” of 2.3 percent as compared to 2019 figures. The number of units sold was 422 million in 2020, according to media messaging this morning.

Vincent Montagne

In a statement on the announcement, the association’s president Vincent Montagne is quoted, saying, “The figures for the 2020 edition reflect the lives and concerns of the French during this period of the health crisis: the need to read in order to learn, understand, provide schooling at home, have fun, cook.

“The closures of bookstores for three-and-a-half months could have been a disaster for our sector, but the exceptional rebound of the summer and the end of 2020 testified to the unwavering support of the French for books and booksellers.

“It has enabled everyone to realize that books and reading are essential goods and constitute social issues. All of us, authors, publishers, booksellers, librarians, readers can rejoice at the president’s decision to make reading a great national cause in 2021.”

The ‘Digital Acceleration’

As in so many markets that entered the pandemic with good e-commerce infrastructure, France reports an acceleration of adoption in digital formats. The market saw digital publishing surge 13.5 percent, digital publishing overall generating revenue of €263.3 million (US$314).

French publishers’ sales by value and units between 2019 and 2020. Image: SNE

And the SNE’s report reveals big differences in how various genres fared in 2020, including:

  • Comics: +6 percent
  • Manga: +29 percent
  • Fine art books: -36 percent
  • Tourism/Travel books: -59 percent

General literature, the key sector that holds some 22.4 percent of the market, gained by 2.4 percent in 2020.

And some more key points from today’s information:

  • International rights activity for titles from French publishing houses contracted in 2020 by 3.5 percent in comparison to 2019
  • Translation rights for 14,021 titles were sold in 2020
  • And the publishers association also points to a downturn in production in 2020, editorial output declining from 107,143 titles published in 2019 to 97,326 titles in 2020, a drop of 9.1 percent
  • Production in the number of copies fell by 11.6 percent from 516.8 to 456 million copies between 2019 and 2020, as well
  • As has been seen in other markets—to the detriment of debut works and their authors—new products in French publishing were down 15 percent compared to 2019
  • Authors’ royalties, meanwhile, increased by 1.06 percent compared to their levels in 2019
  • They represented on average 10.9 percent of publishers’ turnover in 2020, against 10.5 percent in 2019

In this research, aggregate data was carried out on a sample of some 160 publishing houses, representing more than 650 publishing brands.

A special note for those interested in audiobooks and their performance in France and other markets relative to the pandemic’s effects: The SNE reports that it did  survey publishers on audiobook sales for a fourth year, in looking at 2020. “However the number of respondents (fewer than a dozen) and the absence of certain major market players in the sample make it impossible to publish the data,” according to the report.

The organization is making a strong pitch to its publisher-members for better response in its next round of evaluations so that new information on the audiobook market in France can be gathered. It’s the report writers’ impression that “this market is booming.”

You’ll find a 24-page extract from the members’ report in PDF here, its text in French, of course.

2020 changes (from 2019) in French publishing sales, by editorial segment. Image: SNE

More from Publishing Perspectives on the French market is here, more from us on bookselling is here, more on industry statistics is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.