Bologna Focus: Italy’s €283 Million Children’s Book Market

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

At Bologna Children’s Book Fair, the AIE and Bologna Book Plus will look at young readers’ growing place in the Italian market.

Young readers gather at San Francesco di Paola on the Piazza del Plebiscito in Naples, May 27, 2022. Image – Getty iStockphoto: O Kemppainen

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

Levi: ‘At the Heart of Our Mission’
In the run-up to the year’s first major international book publishing industry trade shows—Elena Pasoli‘s Bologna Children’s Book Fair in its 60th edition runs March 6 to 9—the Association of Italian Publishers (Associazione Italiana Editori, AIE) has today (February 15) released several figures about Europe’s fourth largest book market that help bring into focus the importance of the young readers’ sector to the Italian publishing industry.

In 2022, more than one-in-five books sold in Italy was “aimed at children and/or teenagers”—in physical bookstores, big-store retail settings, and digital retail.

Indeed, the young readers’ market is calculated by the AIE to be work €268.4 million (US$2878.2 million).

And that’s without comics. Add in the comics and manga content—which has been sweeping the country’s youthful book marketplace according to many publishers there—and the total value of the younger set to book publishing comes to €283 million (US$302.8 million).

In the chart below, you can see something of why Italian publishers’ eyes light up when you mention comics. Look at the jump for comics (in the beige colored elements at the top) between 2019 and 2022, comics more than doubling their market share between 2019 and 2022.

Image: Italian Publishers Association, AIE

In unit sales, the 2022 figure for overall children’s and young-adult books came to 23 million books.

This helps explain why the ragazzi of book publishing in Italy breathed a considerable sigh of relief at the new year when the conservative 68th government of the Italian Republic, led by the Brothers of Italy’s Georgia Meloni, relented on its plan to chop up the country’s “18App” this year and save that much-criticized move for 2024. The 18App is the Italian government’s innovative program that provides €500 (US$534) to each 18-year-old for use on cultural expenditures. Publishers at times have seen students spending as much as 80 percent of their 18App allowance on books.

What will make the Meloni change in 2024 all the more interesting is that it’s to be implemented in the the year in which Italy will be Frankfurter Buchmesse‘s guest of honor. This market so rightly proud of its stimulant for youthful book-buying will then have seen its new conservative government chop the 18App into two bonuses, the disbursements of which will be tied to educational performance and family-budget status.

And this year, Bologna’s trade visitors will see even more of the involvement of Italy’s powerful publishers association in programming at the trade show than in the past. For the three-year-old Bologna Book Plus program–this year centered by its director, Jacks Thomas, on “trading for general publishing”–the key partner is the AIE, which is installing at least six “professional meetings” for the trade.

AIE’s Levi: ‘What We Can Do as Book Professionals’

Ricardo Franco Levi gives an industry statistics briefing to the 40th annual Scuola per Librai Umberto e Elisabetta Mauri seated in Venice. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

For the first time, Bologna Book Plus in concert with AIE is hosting an Italian collective stand—at “BBPlus Hall 29, Mall 1—and that will become the publishers association’s spazio, its base of operation at the trade show. The International Publishers Association (IPA) and “BBPlus” are also collaborating on the presentation of the Bologna Prize for the Best Children’s Publishers this year.

“The internationalization of Italian publishing and the reading education of the youngest are at the heart of our mission,” says Ricardo Franco Levi, the AIE president who also serves as president of the Federation of European Publishers in Brussels.

“For this reason, our collaboration with Bologna Children’s Book Fair grows year after year. In Bologna, we’ll present both the new data on young citizens’ reading—so important for setting up our work with these age groups—and a survey of the impact of books in nursery schools, made possible by support from theCariplo Foundation.”

The AIE considers that focus on nursery-school reading and development critical to its search for how to better instill “the habit of reading” into the Italian population, of course. Levi speaks of the nursery-school set as “a little-known age group but one with great potential for our sector.”

In his capacity as the Eureopean federation president, Levi will also present one of the latest projects for distribution in Europe of bilingual books for refugee Ukrainian children, “a beautiful example of what we can do, as book professionals, to promote peace and free exchange between peoples.”

More Bologna Programming With AIE

Children’s books on display and the Slovenian stand at Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2022. Slovenia is Frankfurter Buchmesse’s guest of honor in 2023. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

Here are some of the highlights of professional programming that the Italian publishers are organizing with Bologna Children’s Book Fair and Bologna Book Plus in March:

March 6, 10:30 a.m.
BBPlus Theater
Accessible Illustrated Books and Where To Find Them with Fondazione LIA, the accessibility division of the Italian book sector operating as part of Aldus Up, a program funded by the European Union.

March 6, 11:30 a.m.
BBPlus Theater
The Italian Book Market: Facts and Figures, a presentation which this year will include a brief look at the publishing market of Greece, Bologna’s guest of honor.

March 6, 3 p.m.
BBPlus Theater
Tales of EUkraine: Sharing Stories, presenting the project mentioned above in which bilingual books are provided to Ukrainian refugees in Europe. This one has input from the Federation of European Publishers, the Ukrainian Book Institute, Creative Europe (an AIE partner).

March 6, 2 p.m.
Sala Suite
The Impact of Books in Nursery School, as mentioned above and sometimes rather charmingly translated as “The Reading of the Very Small”, presented by AIE,the Fondazione Cariplo, the University of Bologna, Nati per Leggere, and #ioleggoperché, Italy’s annual independent publishers’ book fair.

March 7, 9:45 a.m.
Sala Suite
Reading in Italy From Birth to 14 Years, with the AIE Observatory on reading and cultural consumption, investigating “how much and how children and young people read in Italy.” Data in this one is to come from surveys made this month, February.

March 9, 12 p.m.
Illustration Café
The Comic Book Professions: How To Present the Portfolio, organized by the AIE Comics and Graphic Novels Commission in collaboration with Lucca Comics & Games as part of Aldus Up. The meeting is part of a series organized to explore the publishing professions related to the comic genre.

There’s also an exhibition, A Dive Into the Sea of ​​New Italian Comics, 2019-2022, reflecting, of course, that major bounce in comics-driven readership in Italy mentioned early in our article today. This program is supported by the Italian Trade Agency and the ministry of foreign affairs and international cooperation.

On the HP stand at Bologna Childrens Book Fair 2022 near the Bologna Book Plus Theater. Image: BBPlus

More from Publishing Perspectives on publishing and book awards in the international industry is here. More on Bologna Children’s Book Fair is here, more on children’s books is here, more on the Italian market is here, and more on world publishing’s trade shows and book fairs is here.

Publishing Perspectives is the world media partner of the International Publishers Association.

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.