Year’s End: Italian Comics’ Audience Approaches 9 Million Readers

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

A new study led by AIE and Lucca Crea in Italy reveals a growing readership that spans a wider than anticipated range of ages.

A comics reader at this week’s Piu libri piu liberi, the annual fair in Rome of small- and medium-sized publishers. Image: Piu libri piu Liberi

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

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During this week’s Più libri più liberithe national fair in Rome for small and medium publishing companies—the Association of Italian Publishers (Associazione Italiana Editori, AIE) released new figures on comic books and what appears to be a rising level of interest in them in the Italian market.

The research on this was a collaborative effort between AIE’s research division, ALDUS, and Eudicom—which is a project supporting comics publishers in Europe with funding from the Creative Europe Program of the European Union.

Significantly, this study also had the involvement and support of Lucca Comics & Games, the annual comic and gaming convention in Tuscany, usually held late in October in Lucca, west of Florence.

The festival at Lucca is Europe’s largest of its kind and, being set in Italy, helps to broaden the footprint of comics’ popularity and development in Europe beyond what’s sometimes thought of as focus anchored in France, at Angoulême—the second largest of these events.

Presented during the fair at La Nuvola, the study was introduced by Emanuele Di Giorgi, who is with AIE’s comics and graphic novels commission.

“The study we’re presenting today at Più libri più liberi Di Giorgi said, “demonstrates that people from every age group, especially younger ones, read comic books, and that these readers of comic books are also avid readers of other genres as well—disproving the stereotype that views comic books as a separate world from the rest of the publishing landscape, which is considered ‘noble’ culture.”

Indeed, this is one of the key elements of the media messaging provided to us by the Milan-based offices of AIE: There’s an evident effort here to communicate an embrace of comics and graphical work, a desire to close the gap.

Emanuele Vietina

Emanuele Vietina, general director of the producing body Lucca Crea, talked of “understanding the comic book ecosystem, starting with those who are at the center of it: the readers.

“The study confirms the observation of Lucca Comics & Games: graphic novel enthusiasts are  who pertain to every age group. Understanding them means understanding why comic books, today, represent one of the primary languages of the modern age.

“Lucca Crea is proud to support AIE in this first meaningful study of an industry that is increasingly important to the country’s economic and cultural life.”

Top-Line Observations From the New Study

A graphic-novel interpretation of Dante’s ‘Inferno,’ the 700th anniversary of Dante Alighieri’s death having been reached in September. Image: Piu libri piu liberi

According to the study, 8.7 million people 14 years and older read comic books, a figure representing roughly 18 percent of the Italian population of some 60 million people.

That segment represents what’s understood to be 35 percent of the total reading public.

Compared to research from 1996 on readers aged 6 and older (ISTAT) and from 2019 on readers aged 15 and older (IPSOS), there’s a considerable increase in surveyed interest. The 1996 figure was 3.96 million, while the 2019 figure was 7.28 million.

This year, a new IPSOS estimate is aligned with that of the AIE/Lucca study, coming in at 8.7 million readers of comics, with the proviso that the IPSOS number is derived from a sample of readers 15 and older, while the AIE/Lucca study is of those 14 and older.

In terms of who’s reading, per general expectations, comics and graphics work is seen in Italy to be more popular among men than women, at 21 and 14 percent, respectively.

In age demographics, the numbers may skew older than some would expect. Comic books are reported by this survey to be read by:

  • 17 percent of the population between 15 and 17 years
  • 26 percent between 18-24 years
  • 23 percent between 25 and 34 years
  • 22 percent between 35 and 44 years
  • 20 percent between 45 and 54 years
  • 13 percent between 55 and 64 years
  • 11 percent between 65 and 74 years

Of particular interest to publishers, of course, are some very high reading levels being reported out by the new survey.

The average consumer of the genre each year may read as many as 17.5 titles (including those newly released, used, and in digital formats. Indeed, 64 percent of readers surveyed said they read more than seven titles per year.

Digital and used copies play a prominent role:

  • 31 percent of readers surveyed report reading ebook editions
  • 42 percent tell researchers that they read used copies
A Potentially Lucrative Readership for Other Forms

At the 2021 Piu libri piu liberi in Rome. Image: Piu libri piu liberi

In 83 percent of cases, those who read comic books say they also read fiction, nonfiction, and other genres. This is being compared, of course, this week to figures that show a national reading average of 52 percent—meaning that the comics and graphics readers of Italy have just become perhaps more interesting to producers of other genres/formats in the book business because the comics fans may not all be as locked into their visually infused form as might have been expected.

What’s more, 48 percent of comics readers survey say they also read ebooks, while the national average is 23 percent. And 27 percent of the surveyed comics readers report that they listen to audiobooks, compared to the responses of 11 percent of the general population.

The association, under Ricardo Franco Levi‘s direction, is urging its membership to study this new survey report and consider “hiring qualified personnel and opening the doors to new professional opportunities for those who are just entering the publishing profession.”

As would be true in any market, the broader publishing industry obviously should be able to capitalize on what appears to be from this survey a new understanding of comics and graphical content’s readership to a broader base of the book business’ output.

Part of the programming at Più libri più liberi was a session called “Comic Book Professions, a seminar that looked at what a publishing house might encounter if it opted to publish a new work by a comics author, focusing on how many specialists might come into play before and during the production process. Speaking in that event, staged by ALDUS, were Caterina Marietti (Bao Publishing); Federico Salvan (Edizioni BD); and Filippo Sandri (Star Comics).

At the 2021 Piu libri piu liberi in Rome. Image: Piu libri piu liberi

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Italian market and news from its publishers’ association is here, more on bookselling is here, and more of our coverage of industry statistics is here. More from us on comics is here, more on graphic novels is here, and more on book fairs, festivals, and other events is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on world 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.