Germany’s Book Market: A ‘Mixed Performance’ in 2023

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Emphasizing ‘positive turnover in challenging times,’ the preliminary 2023 German book market report cites sales 1.9-percent below 2022.

In Koblenz, Germany, consumers browse books at a train-station store on December 6, 2023. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Mahmoud Mahdi

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

See also today: Germany’s ‘Buchreport’ Trade Publication Closed in Harenberg Bankruptcy

‘Many Consumers Are Still Reluctant To Spend’
In its report this morning (January 4), the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels—Germany’s publishers and booksellers association—has produced its annual early-year top-line assessment of this influential European market’s performance.

Again this year, the organization expects to produce an extensive and more nuanced report in the summer, and its information is based on data from the GfK Consumer Panel’s “Media Scope Book” or Branchen-Monitor Buch, released today. (An example of the deeper report is here, in our coverage from July.)

  • Turnover in 2023, the Börsenverein reports, showed a positive upturn of 2.9 percent “across central sales channels compared to 2022.” In the German market, those central channels include physical bookstores, digital retail (Amazon included), railway station bookstores, department stores, electrical product stores, and drugstores.
  • But sales, meaning the actual valuation of the market’s action, fell by 1.9 percent in comparison to 2022’s performance.

The average price of books rose by 4.9 percent in 2023, thus contributing to the positive turnover figure.

Local bookstores are reported to have performed in alignment with the market as a whole: physical bookstores closed the year with a 2.8-percent increase in turnover and a 2.2-percent decrease in sales compared to 2022.

Karin Schmidt-Friderichs

In her evaluative statement about the results of this preliminary market description, Börsenverein chair Karin Schmidt-Friderichs, is quoted, saying, “We are living in challenging times. The book industry is feeling the effects.

“Compared to a weak previous year, the book trade has recovered in terms of turnover. Particularly during these difficult times, people are using books to expand their knowledge, to switch off, but also to deal with the current reality—a good sign in view of major political and social issues and conflicts.”

She goes on, however to point to an unease in the German trade, a customer confidence profile challenged by uncertainty.

“Many consumers are unsettled and still reluctant to spend,” she says. “Declining footfall in city centers means that fewer people are making new discoveries in bookstores, which is bad for cultural diversity.

“In addition, the cost pressure on companies in terms of energy, procurement, and production still is subsiding, and at a slow rate. Structural support is therefore urgently needed, especially for small publishers.

“In the book trade, measures such as the Kulturpass, which was launched last year” as Germany’s answer to the Italian 18App subsidy for young-adults, “are important. Despite the tight budget situation, it should definitely be continued as it’s an excellent instrument for introducing young people to local cultural programs.”

Several Products and Trends

Looking at titles during the holiday season in a Frankfurt bookstore, December 11, 2023. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Mahmoud Mahdi

Looking at product groups, the Börsenverein sees:

  • Fiction in 2023 showing “above-average growth,” with a turnover increase of 7.7 percent over 2022, and a gain in the number of copies sold of 1.2 percent
  • Nonfiction in 2023 performing with a 2.7-percent increase in turnover
  • Children’s and YA turnover coming in at 2.4 percent over last year
  • Travel (down 1.7 percent) and guidebooks (down 0.7 percent) showing downward trends in 2023 over the 2022 figures

In terms of titles in 2023:

  • The bestselling novel in hardcover leading fiction charts was Die Einladung by Sebastian Fitzek
  • Following that, Atlas: The Story of Pa Salt by Lucinda Riley and Harry Whittaker came in second in 2023
  • Das Café ohne Namen by Robert Seethaler ended the year in third place in fiction

In nonfiction titles in hardback 2023:

  • Zauber der Stille by Florian Illies was on top
  • The British prince Harry’s Reserve was in second place
  • Der Osten: Eine Westdeutsche Erfindung was at No. 3 in German nonfiction for 2023

Publishing Perspectives also notes that in 2023, the German market equaled or exceeded per-coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic sales when sales channels are combined, which reportedly was not the case in 2022. Our colleague Christina Schulte at the Börsenverein’s Börsenblatt writes, “Compared to 2019, there was an increase of 1.6 percent. Here too, price increases play the most important role: 10.9-percent higher prices more than compensated for 8.4-percent lower sales volumes. The average price paid by customers for a book increased from €13.59 to €15.07 9US$14.77 and $16.42, respectively].”

Schulte also points out in her report, “The local bookstore has not yet been able to return to its pre-coronavirus values. The gap that opened up in 2019 is down 4.7 percent. Red flags dominate book formats” in the 2023 figures, with calendars being the only rising product category showing “a small increase of 1.3 percent.”

It appears that today’s assessment also recognizes a shorter December sales period for the holidays because of Christmas (December 25) falling on the fourth date of the Christian advent calendar. The preliminary report’s figures being reported in the German news media indicate that by comparison to December 2019, the turnover in 2023 could have been down as much as 7.1 percent with a citation of a -18.2-percent figure in volume in the 2023 December market performance over that of 2019, and with 2023 prices averaging a rise of some 13.6 percent over the 2019 prices.

We anticipate more clarity when the completed report is provided in several months.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the German book market is here and more on international industry statistics is here. More on bookstores is here and more on bookselling is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, which is flagged in today’s report, 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.

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