Italy’s Publishers Report 44-Percent Unit Growth, First Half of 2021

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

In revenue, the Italian book market sees 42-percent growth over the first six months of 2020, per AIE.

The drive from Porta Miano to the Capodimonte Woods COVID-19 vaccination center in Naples. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Luca Mato

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

‘Like a Tide That Lifts All Boats’
Despite what’s described as lingering difficulties in “large-scale distribution,” the Association of Italian Publishers (Associazione Italiana Editori, AIE) today (July 13) is reporting strong book-sale growth in the first six months of this year, both in units and in revenue.

According to analyses conducted by AIE’s research department based on NielsenIQ data, between January 4 and June 20, some 15 million more copies of printed books were sold, a 44-percent jump over the same time period’s sales in 2020. This encompasses all trade book channels, including bookstores, both online and physical, and large-scale distribution, with the exception of schoolbooks.

Even more significant, media messaging from AIE in Milan points out, is the growth compared to 2019, prior to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic’s arrival. By comparison to the first half of 2019, 11 million more copies of books were sold January to June this year, an increase of 31 percent.

These sales have generated more than €207 million more for the industry (US$244.6 million) as compared to 2020, a rise of 42 percent in revenue year-over-year.

Compared to 2019’s first half, the sales are €156 million more (US$184 million) or 28-percent higher this year.

Italian book sales lines in the first six months of 2021, 2020, and 2018. Image: AIE

The total value of the Italian book industry in the first half of the year, then, AIE calculates, is €698 million (US$824.5).

Ricardo Franco Levi

In his commentary today on the news, AIE president Ricardo Franco Levi, is quoted, saying, “The book market is currently like a rising tide that lifts all the boats. But the results we’re seeing are not at all random.

“These results reflect the hard work of publishers and all other players in the book industry who have continued to invest and innovate even throughout the most difficult months of the pandemic, and it’s thanks to the government and parliament, which safeguarded the sector, primarily by allowing bookstores to reopen during the lockdowns, launching important measures in support of demand—the effects of which are now evident.”

Indeed, working carefully with the minister of culture Dario Franceschini and across the change in February from the Giuseppe Conte government to the Mario Draghi regime, Levi and the AIE have orchestrated with their sister organizations a compelling and successful bid for cultural support from Rome—no easy feat considering the fragility of the Italian economy overall and the demands placed on it by the first truly devastating viral assault in Europe.

Bookstores—both independent shops and chains—are reported to be growing, reaching an aggregate income of €332.9 million (US$393.3 million), “thus overcoming the difficulties of 2020 and doing better even as compared to 2019 at €313.6 million (US$370.5 million).

Online, bookstore and ‘large distribution’ sales in Italy. Image: AIE

The e-commerce boom in Italy—which hasn’t always been technologically adaptive—is also being confirmed, the publishers say, with €327.9 million in 2021 online sales (US$387 million, 47 percent of the market) as compared to €184.6 million in 2019 (US$218 million). The AIE is making the point that digital-sales level is not at such a height that it overwhelms “sales from competing channels but allows the market to take a leap a forward.”

In genres, the Italian market, AIE says, is showing consistent performance across sectors “with specific spikes in books on games and free time—in which sales are up 302 percent—and in comics, which are showing gains of 214 percent.

  • As in many cultures, current affairs are strong, political books in Italy seen jumping by 99 percent in the first six months of the year
  • Literary criticism has shown gains of 94 percent, with a special focus on Dante Alighieri, the 700th anniversary of whose death is being observed this year
  • Biographies and autobiographies are up 85 percent

The average price per book in Italy is €14.68 (US$17.33), a decrease of 1.6 percent over the first half of 2020 and by 2 percent over the first half of 2019.

Image: AIE

The Top 10 titles in the first six months of this year feature a combination of new titles, longtime sellers, and diverse genres, which AIE interprets as “a testament to the vitality and importance of publishers’ choices in the selection of books to publish and promote.”

Once more, the 18App is a leading symbol of the achievements of this campaign, with its fully funded program of providing €500 (US$590) to citizens as they turn 18 for purchases in Italy’s cultural offerings.

“In the first two months of 2021,” AIE reports, “€75 million (US$88.5 million) more were spent as compared to the previous year, which established an even more positive dynamic in the first trimester, and a greater propensity for reading and purchase.”

In surveys, 31 percent of those asked said they read more than they did before getting the 18App’s funding, and 25 percent of respondents said that they purchase more than before. Only 13 percent of recipients of the aid said that they read or purchase less than before.

And lastly, the AIE reports that “the whole market is moving, not just bestsellers.”

The Top 50 bestsellers, the association says, accounted for just 7.7 percent of the total cover value, January to June, and just 6.9 percent of the total cover price, “a sign of widespread sales in a large number of titles.”

Cumulative sales trends at cover prices in the Italian book market (in millions of euros) for the first six months of 2021, 2020, and 2019. Image: AIE

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Italian market and news from its publishers’ association is here

And more from us on the coronavirus pandemic 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.