Italian Publishers: Bookstores Gaining on Digital Retail

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Italy’s publishers see online retail receding as physical stores reassert their prominence in the market’s book sales.

Vespas in Siena, October 25. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Footoo

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

Levi: ‘The Challenge Is To Win Over New Readers’
Catching up now on a report delayed by a few days of coverage travel: In its recent report on book retail, the Association of Italian Publishers (Associazione Italiana Editori, AIE) has found that online bookstores are seeing a drop in sales in Italy, while physical retail points are reasserting themselves as the market’s key outlet, accounting for sales of more than half of all trade books in fiction, nonfiction, and reference.

Even so, Ricardo Franco Levi—AIE president, Federation of European Publishers vice-president, and Rome’s special commissioner for the 2024 Frankfurter Buchmesse Guest of Honor Italy program—is signaling that the Italian industry faces “a difficult economic context in the post-pandemic era. The challenge is to win over new readers.”

As Elisabetta Povoledo is reporting in The New York Times, today (June 1) is the date on which much of the Italian COVID-19 spread-mitigation efforts involving tourism falls.

“All travelers to Italy will no longer be required to have a valid coronavirus pass as of Wednesday, Italian authorities announced,” writes Povoledo. “The country’s health ministry said the regulation obliging visitors to present a so-called ‘Green Pass’ — which showed proof of vaccination, recent recovery, or a negative test — would expire Tuesday.”

Against that backdrop, then, the survey made by AIE and Nielsen Bookscan these results were announced at the international book fair in Torino, in a presentation called “The Book Market in the First Four Months of 2022.” That presentation was made in collaboration with Aldus Up, which is financed by Creative Europe.

Ricardo Franco Levi

“Italian publishing has recovered from the years of the pandemic,” Levi said to the program’s audience in Torino, “but is now dealing with an economic context characterized by an increase in the cost of paper, inflation, and a decline in the confidence index of consumers.

“In the long term,” he said, “the challenge is to win over new, young readers who must be reached through the communications channels that they use the most and offering a range of editorial and cultural products with which they can always identify.”

In the first four months of 2022, the new analysis saw 32 million books sold via trade channels—physical and online bookstores and large scale distribution—for a total €469 million at cover price (US$692.8 million), a decline of 2.5 percent and 3.7 percent, respectively, as compared to the first four months of last year.

But five million more copies were sold (up 17 percent) than in pre-pandemic 2019, corresponding to a total of €65 million (US$69.7) at cover price (up 16 percent).

The cost of paper is said by the association to be having an impact, with the results seen so far this year as being driven by those paper-cost increases—Italy reports costs more than twice those of January 2021—as well as inflation of some 6.2 percent [in April data], and a decline in the consumer confidence index of families, which dropped from 117.7 in December 2021 to 100 in April 2022.

Physical Bookstores: 52.4 Percent of Sales

On the Via Toledo in Naples, May 24. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Gennaro Leonard

The trend tracked by the Aldus and AIE researchers indicates that:

  • €245.8 million worth of books at cover price (US$263.7 million) were sold in physical bookstores
  • €201.7 million in online bookstores
  • €21.6 million through large-scale distribution

With this, AIE reports, the growth of online sales in Italy appears to have been halted, despite what has been tracked as continual monthly grown since while physical bookstores continue to regain lost ground after the collapse in 2020 due to pandemic closures.

In terms of quotas, bookstores accounted for more than half of all sales with 52.4 percent, online sales settle at 43 percent, and large scale distribution drops further to 4.6 percent.

In 2022, the only genres so far detected to be growing have been international fiction (from outside the Italian market) and in comic books, the bookstore sales of which have tripled between 2019 and today. The boom in comics understood to have the market’s performance: without these, its decline as compared to 2021 would have been 5.3 percent rather than 3.7 percent.

And, as compared to pre-pandemic 2019, without comic books the market’s overall growth would have been 10.8 percent rather than 16 percent, the association estimates.

According to an AIE Observatory survey conducted by Pepe Research, in2021,  59 percent of those who have claimed to have been “very” or “somewhat” influenced by what they read or saw on social media, while in 2019 this figure was at 50 percent. The increase in this kind of influence is reflected in the Top 10 of the first four months (see attachment). But the list of the top ten most read books provides only a partial idea of the market’s activity.

For now, the Giornale della Libreria, in collaboration with Nielsen BookScan and the AIE research office, is providing a new online service every month.

It shows the T0p 100 selling books of the month and the six rankings of the Top 100 selling books divided according to genre: Italian fiction, international fiction, children’s and YA, nonfiction, reference books, and comic books.

More from Publishing Perspectives on Italy and its book publishing industry is here. More on Ricardo Franco Levi is here, more on bookselling is here, and more on industry statistics is here.

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