Italy’s Book Market Up 13.3 Percent Over 2019

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Presented in Venice at the Mauri School, the 2022 report from Italy’s publishers shows gains over the pre-pandemic era, amid market shifts.

The Association of Italian Publishers’ president Ricardo Franco Levi, left at the table onstage, makes his annual market-statistics report to the 40th-anniversary Scuola per Librai Umberto e Elisabetta Mauri, seated in the Cini Foundation’s Salone degli Arazzi on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

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

Levi: ‘Italian Publishing is Holding and Consolidating’
As the 40th annual Scuola per Librai Umberto e Elisabetta Mauri—the Mauri “school of booksellers”—reached its concluding conference sessions today (January 27) at the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, the Association of Italian Publishers (Associazione Italiana Editori, AIE) made its promised detailed 2022 report on the state of the Italian market.

Ricardo Franco Levi, president both to the AIE and to the Federation of European Publishers in Brussels, spoke to Publishing Perspectives about the “heavy investments” the publishers’ association is making in industry statistical research.

And then he proved it with a detailed, agile report that confirms  Italy as the sixth-ranked book-publishing market in the world after the United States, China, Germany, the United Kingdom, and France, and the fourth largest in Europe, with the UK counted as still a market in Europe.

One of the most interesting high-level looks shows us that Europe, including the post-Brexit United Kingdom, accounts for 59 percent of the international marketplace, with six of the 10 publishing groups holding European bases.

The 38.3 billion figure you see in this slide’s image comes to roughly US$38 billion. Image: Italian Publishers Association, AIE, and Ruediger Wischenbart Content and Consulting

Keep in mind, of course that those groups include Penguin Random House, the parent company of which is Bertelsmann, at No. 3 in this listing.

As provided for our preview of this 40th edition of the Mauri School program, top-line points announced by Levi included:

  • In 2022, the Italian market saw fiction and nonfiction decrease in sales revenues by 2.3 percent in comparison to 2021. When viewed against 2019, however, these combined sectors grew by 13.1 percent.
  • By unit volume, there was a decline of 2.4 percent in comparison to 2021 and a similar gain, 13.3 percent, over 2019.

Today’s much more extensive report included many highlights:

  • Book sales made at physical bookstores, online, and through major retail chains sold €1.67 billion (US$1.7 billion) at cover price, 112.6 million copies, a slight decrease of (-2.3 percent) over 2021 and 2019.
  • Compared to 2021, however, the year prior to the onset of the devastating coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic outbreaks in Italy, the 2022 figures put that year an impressive 13.1-percent above 2019’s value figures and 13.3 percent in unit sales.

The Italian Publishers Association’s and Federation of European Publishers’ president Ricardo Franco Levi at his 2023 Umberto and Elisabetta Mauri School presentation, hosted by journalist Giovanna Zucconi. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

“Italian publishing is holding and consolidating compared to the pre-pandemic,” Levi told the Mauri School audience in a session hosted by journalist Giovanna Zucconi in which he presented the AIE’s and Nielsen BookScan’s data. “But the market has to face new challenges.

“Faced with double-digit inflation weighing on family budgets,” Levi said, “publishers have kept book-cover prices stable. But the growth in paper and energy costs is drastically reducing margins, putting the most fragile operators in the supply chain in crisis, such as small publishers and independent bookshops.

“These are problems that must be addressed now that the government and parliament are preparing to discuss new policies for the book sector.”

Publishing Perspectives readers already are aware of one area in which such Meloni-regime changes are ahead, having barely retained the country’s innovative and widely admired €500 (US$531) 18App for young adults in Italy for this year, but only with a newly bifurcated structure coming in 2024.

Audiobooks Up, Ebooks Down

While many who travel to Italy may think of its artistic and archeological treasures, music, cinematic achievements, and even cuisine, the market’s trade, educational, academic, and professional book publishing industry is actually its leading cultural sector in terms of public expenditure, per the new report from the AIE. Image: Italian Publishers Association, AIE

In more points revealed by the research reported today:

  • Audiobooks went from €24 million in subscription value (US$26 million) in 2021 to €25 million in 2022 (US$27.1 million) in 2022, up by 4.2 percent.
  • The ebook market, however, dropped 8 percent, going from €86 million to €79 million (US$93.3 million to US$85.7 million).

Image: Italian Publishers Association, AIE

  • Online and major retail chains saw sales declining, according to the new report, in 2022, while physical bookstores benefited slightly, with €889 million in sales (US$964.4 million), a gain of 1 percent. Much of that modest growth for physical bookstores was seen in chain stores, train stations, and airports, benefiting from resumed footfall after lockdowns.
  • Publishers found that this gain couldn’t offset online sales, where digital-channel sales dropped by 5 percent to €705 million (US$764.5 million) and major retail chains’ decline came to a worrisome 10 percent at €77 million (US$83.6 million).

Of particular note to publishing industry guests, speakers, and executives from world markets outside of Italy, Levi and the publishers’ association are reporting that they see an interesting widening of interest in their book market—a healthy tendency for consumers to support far more offerings than the bestseller lists might tempt them with.

The 100 bestselling titles in 2022 in Italy, for example, accounted for only 8.1 percent of the total market action at book-cover value, and 7.1 percent in unit sales.

  • New releases were up in 2022 by 8 percent over 2019. Catalogues’ offerings jumped a notable 18 percent in 2022 over those of 2019.
  • As in so many world markets that our internationalist specialization focuses on, Italy in 2022 saw general nonfiction sales in some decline (8.6 percent) and professional nonfiction headed downward even more (12.3 percent), with fiction making comfortable gains (4.9 percent).
  • In the fiction numbers, it was determined that comics grew by a substantive 8.6 percent, non-Italian fiction by 7 percent, and Italian fiction by 4.9 percent.

Image: Italian Publishers Association, AIE

What to Watch For

Image: Italian Publishers Association, AIE

In a quick summation of issues holding focus for Italy’s publishers at the beginning of 2o23, these concerns are key:

  • The impact of inflation and high cost of living on Italians’ spending
  • At the industry level, rising costs, paper and energy, can drastically reduce margins and put
    particularly fragile operators such as independent bookshops and small publishers at risk
  • The overall market trend is increasingly dependent on the decisions taken by the largest player in
    the retail sector
  • New book policies are under consideration by the still-new Georgia Meloni government and parliament
  • Impact of piracy, especially on non-fiction and trade publishing

Publishing Perspectives has more coverage ahead from the Scuola per Librai Umberto e Elisabetta Mauri, which has featured a particularly strong roster of speakers and participants this year on its return to physical production in Venice.

This coverage will also make reference, of course, to the profound impact of the January 11 death of Achille Mauri, who was pivotal to the program’s first 39 years and was president of the Messaggerie Italiane group.

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 from us on the Scuola per Librai Umberto e Elisabetta Mauri is here. More from us on the impact of the still ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic—which makes this the first time in three years the UEM program has been able to take up its usual seat in Venice—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.