Italian Publishers: A Small Setback in January-June Sales

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Despite a 4.2-percent drop in book sales in 2022, Italy’s industry sees a 14.7-percent gain over the same period of 2019.

On the Grand Canal, March 25, in Trieste. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Emmeci

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

‘The Economic Situation is Difficult’
Although the Italian book publishing market has registered a 2022 first-half step-back of 4.2 percent in book sales and 3.6 percent unit volume, the comparison with 2019’s first-half performance is good, running 14.7 percent ahead of 2019 in sales and 14.5 percent ahead of 2019 in unit volume.

Today’s (July 12) report from the Association of Italian Publishers (Associazione Italiana Editori, AIE), however, includes a caution from the organization’s president, Ricardo Franco Levi, that the at the half-year point, the future looks challenging because of inflation and the ongoing international paper-supply issues.

For background, remember that the Italian market not only is shepherded by one of the most proactive publishers’ associations in the world—complete with extensive data-gathering and analysis—but that under Levi’s leadership, its 2021 performance was the fourth best in Europe, posting a 16-percentage-point gain.

Indeed, it’s worth noting that last year, almost to the day, the Associazione was proudly reporting a 42-percent gain in the first half of 2021 over the first half of 2020.

Like many of the world publishing markets that were able to find their footing and make forward progress during the first two years of the still-ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, Italy is working carefully to try to determine what lies ahead in the evolving, uncertain pathway ahead. Indeed, Angelo Amante is reporting for Reuters Rome today that Italy has seen coronavirus cases pass 100,000 last week—the first time that level of infection has been observed since February.

Ricardo Franco Levi

Following an okay from the European Union’s health authorities, Italy is getting ready to roll out a second COVID-19 booster for all citizens 60 and older.

After its record performance in 2021, the Italian book market between January and June of this year again is basing its calculations on Nielsen data from BookScan.

Its new presentation offers interesting data from other countries in Europe, as well. In the first half of this year, for example, the Netherlands is seen leading the way with a 9-percent gain over the same period in 2021. Norway arrives at the halfway mark in the year up 8 percent, Finland up 6.7 percent, Germany up 0.7 percent, Sweden down 2.8 percent, and France down 3.5 percent.

Image: Associazione Italiana Editori

The Italian market’s setback of 4.2 percent, Levi says, “is a decline caused by lower sales in online channels, only partially offset by the recovery of physical bookstores.

“The economic situation is difficult but our publishers, despite rising inflation and the continuing paper emergency, have not adjusted their prices.”

The AIE’s report provides us with several targeted observations.

Comics growing quickly: The boom in comics in Italy has been registered at 23.7 percent over the same period last year—and by a remarkable 245.4 percent over pre-pandemic levels.

  • Foreign fiction also has performed well between January and June, growing by 4.8 percent compared to 2021 and by 26.2 percent compared to 2019.
  • Among market segments with the strongest performances this year are tourist guides (registering a 100-percent gain); romance novels and women’s fiction (up 60 percent)

In this graphic, you see the 23.7-percent growth observed for comics in Italy’s market in the first six months of 2022 over the first six months of 2021. Image: Associazione Italiana Editori

Pricing remains stable: From January 2 June 19, book sales in the trade channels—both physical and online, as well as large-scale distribution—amounted to €670 million (US$673 million). That’s €30 million less than in 2021 but €86 million more than in 2019.

  • Copies sold were 46 million, which is 1.7 million fewer copies than were sold in 2021 but 5.8 million copies more than in 2019.
  • The average price of sales, equal to 14.66 euros, decreased by 0.6 percent compared to 2021 and by 1.1 percent compared to 2019.

Online retail drops, bookstores grow: Online bookstores in the first six months of this year in Italy, AIE says, sold books for €284.8 million at the cover price (US$286 million). This represents a decline of €43 million (US$43.1) compared to the previous year, largely recovered from physical bookstores which grew to €353.8 million (US$355 million), a gain of €21 million.

  • Large-scale distribution dropped to €31.5 million, a loss of more than €6 million.
  • In terms of market share, online bookstores in these first six months have seen a drop in share between 42.5 and 47 percent, while physical bookstores have seen their share rise from 47.8 percent to 52.8 percent. Large-scale distribution channels hold a 4.7-percent share.

Top 100 and catalog: The first 100 titles among Italy’s bestsellers account for 9.2 percent in value and 8.2 percent in number of copies of total sales.

Image: Associazione Italiana Editori

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.