Germany Sees 1.2-Percent Growth in First Half of Year

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Even as the German market shows higher turnover, concerns include fewer consumers, new titles, and international rights sales.

In Berlin, March 15 2024. New reporting from the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels indicates that while Germany’s younger readers may be a significant part of the consumer base for books, the market’s urgent struggle with a reading-skill deficit in youths has not been remedied. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Alexandros Michailidis

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

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

‘A Weakening Consumer Climate’
In its traditional early-summer 2023-2024 report on industry statistics in Germany, the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels, Germany’s publishers and booksellers association, has reported that the book business has shown “positive results in a tense economic climate.”

A new edition of Books and Book Trade in Figures is to be released by the organization on August 1.

Let’s look at some quick top-line points first, as offered by the team at the Börsenverein.

  • The association reports a growth in turnover of 2.8 percent in 2023 and 1.2 percent in the first half of 2024. (Turnover, for our international readership, some members of which may not use the term, refers to total sales made over a set period.)
  • Key drivers of this growth: fiction, children’s and young adults’ titles—and a very interesting factor the Börsenverein is pointing to: “young buyers.
  • The report indicates that “production and consumption remain subdued” and “cost pressures remain high.”
  • And while the report points to an encouraging trend toward younger book buyers forming part of the bookselling footfall, the Börsenverein remains urgently concerned about the market’s “massive deficit in reading skills” among school-aged citizens.

In its narrative for the news media, the company reports, “The book industry is holding its own in an overall difficult economic climate and has recorded a growth in turnover. At the same time, publishers and book retailers are also feeling the effects of sluggish consumer spending, inflation and persistently high costs.”

Karin Schmidt-Friderichs

Karin Schmidt-Friderichs, very familiar to Publishing Perspectives readers as the chair of the Börsenverein, is quoted, saying, “Overall, the book market is doing well despite difficult economic times. Books are still relevant and in demand—as a compass in a complex world, a basis for forming one’s own opinion, and as a creative pastime.

“While the older target group used to be considered a safe bet for the book market, young readers are currently boosting the book industry. Inspired by book recommendations on [various] social media such as #BookTok, books are very popular among young people.

“Bookstores and publishers are adapting their programs, product-range planning, and presentation to the needs of these young readers. Many are active on social media themselves and are making use of these channels.”

That point from Schmidt-Friderichs echoes the commentary from James Daunt, chief of Waterstones and Barnes & Noble (United Kingdom and United States), who has pointed out in his presentations at the annual Scuola per Librai Umberto e Elisabetta Mauri (UEM) in Venice that many bookselling staffers have become avidly and beneficially engaged in cultivating consumers through various social-media platforms.

Peter Kraus vom Cleff

In the new German presentation, Peter Kraus vom Cleff, managing director of the Börsenverein backs up Schmidt-Friderichs’ observations, saying, “Despite the overall positive outcome, the general economic situation is still putting book retailers, publishing houses, and industry logistics under pressure.”

And one of his comments makes it clear that while young consumers may be more amenable than in the past—and may follow the siren song of some social-media platforms to a bookstore—that youthful commercial dynamic may not be enough in prevailing market conditions.

“The book trade, much like the entire retail trade,” he says, “is experiencing a weakening consumer climate. Sales are falling overall and the number of consumers is continuing to decrease.

“Fewer people are coming into the cities to shop and consequently the footfall in stores is lower than in in the past. There’s also noticeable caution in the production of new titles, with publishing houses planning their programs more conservatively because of ongoing crises.”

Young Consumers and Lagging Reading Skills

The new report brings together two aspects of the German market that seem to stand in opposition to each other: While the book business sees that encouraging trend of  younger consumers’ interest in books, German educators and the book industry have for years been struggling to address what the Börsenverein now refers to as “a massive deficit in reading skills” among students.

“While some young people are reading more,” Schmidt-Friderichs says, “the proportion of those who are not even accessing books because they cannot read comprehensively, is growing.

“Politicians and civil society urgently need to work together to find strategies to improve the educational situation in Germany. Initiatives such as the KulturPass for 18-year-olds, which the Minister of State for Culture launched last year, have proven to be effective. Books are by far the most popular choice for young adults. Despite the tight budget situation, the KulturPass should definitely be retained in the coming year and the budget should be increased again to €200 euros [US$216] after being halved to €100 euros this year.”

Kraus vom Cleff elaborates on this point, too, saying, “Not all publishers and bookstores are benefiting equally from the young adult and new-adult boom.

“Small, independent publishers in particular, with their programs outside the mainstream, are struggling economically. They urgently need structural support, as already envisaged in the coalition agreement.

“We’re also seeing a further increase in bureaucracy because of regulations and other legislative interventions, which pose major challenges for all companies across our industry.

“How can bookstores and publishers continue to fulfil their important role for culture and society if they are hindered by obligations to provide verification and reporting, for example on supply chains, product safety, and packaging channels?

“What’s more, books need a public presence in the media to avoid being drowned out by the huge media competition. The continuous disappearance of literary broadcasts, especially in public broadcasting, jeopardizes the visibility of the diversity of the book landscape. Our urgent appeal to those responsible for broadcasting: Don’t allow literature to fall by the wayside in the upcoming reforms.”

Germany’s Book Market in 2023

The industry generated a total turnover of €9.71 billion, as compared to 2022’s figure of €9.44 billion.

Title Output in the German Market’s Output

The number of first editions by publishers is continuing to decline, the Börsenverein reports, having already fallen significantly in 2021 because of the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus crisis and then stabilizing at this lower level in 2022. It now has fallen from 64,278 (2022) to 60,230 (2023).

Similarly, the number of translations also has been reduced, from 9,403 titles to 8,760 titles. At 14.5 percent, the share of translated titles in all new publications remained roughly at the previous year’s level (2022: 14.6 percent).

International Rights Sales

German publishers’ sales of translation rights suffered what the association calls a “significant decline” in 2022 (-14.4 percent).

  • In 2023, the number of book rights sold abroad by German publishers continued to fall slightly by 1.9 percent to 6,527 contracts.
  • “The global political situation continues to be reflected in this development,” the report reads. “Russia, to which 608 licenses were sold in 2019, only had 368 in 2023. China is still the largest buyer of German book rights, but the number of licenses sold has fallen from 1,363 to 754 in the past five years.
  • “License sales to Ukraine, on the other hand, have seen a significant increase: from 91 in 2022 to 317 in 2023. The focus here is on books for children and young adults with 256 licenses.”

In this chart from the new market report from Germany, new release publication is seen as being down 6.3 percent; translations into German are down 6.8 percent; and translation sales into non-German languages are down 1.9 percent. Image: Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels

Physical and Digital Retail

Both physical bookstores—which remain the largest sales channel for books—and online book retail increased compared to the previous year. Compared to 2022, revenue from physical stores rose by 2.6 percent to €4.05 billion, giving the retail book trade (excluding e-commerce) a 41.8-percent share of total industry turnover.

The online book trade—around half of which is attributable to the online stores of physical bookstores—rose again by 5.5 percent to 2.40 billion euros in 2023 after a decline in 2022.

The online book trade accounted for 24.8 percent of turnover in the overall market in 2023, according to the new data. In a five-year comparison, online trade is clearly benefiting from the boost gained by the pandemic: compared to 2019, online sales were 29.5-percent higher last year, while sales in the retail book trade were 5.5 percent lower in the same period.

Product Sectors

  • Fiction, the largest product group, accounts for 35.5 per cent of turnover. In 2023, fiction recorded an increase in turnover of 7.7 percent compared to the previous year.
  • Turnover for books for children and young adults increased by 2.5 percent, the school and learning segment by 5.0 percent and nonfiction by 2.7 percent. In particular, over the last five years, fiction (+17.0 per cent) and books for children and young adults (+8.6 percent) have seen increased turnover.
  • These product groups also include young-adult and new-adult titles, which are in high demand among the young target group.
  • Fiction is also the only product group in which sales have increased, by 1.1 percent compared to 2022 and 2.9 percent compared to 2019.

Trade for ebooks has leveled off at a stable but rather low level since the temporary increase during the pandemic. At 3 million, the number of buyers of digital books on the consumer market—excluding school and reference books—is at the same level as in 2022, while the turnover remains almost unchanged at 6.1 percent (2022: 6.0 percent).

After a slight decline in the previous year, turnover picked up again in 2023 (+5.2 percent)

Audiobooks

In this chart, the new report indicates increasing levels of consumer interest in digital audiobooks between 2014 and 2023 in the German market, the bulk of the increases seen between 2017 and 2021. Image: Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels

Greater momentum can be seen in the audiobook market of Germany. Turnover grew by 39.4 percent compared to 2019, most recently by 3.1 percent from 2022 to 2023.

Digital business is the key growth driver: 3.4 million people bought digital audiobooks in 2023, compared to 1.8 million in 2019.

Only 9.8 percent of audio sales are still generated with audiobooks on CD, with downloads accounting for 48.8 percent and streaming for 41.4 percent. The latter has seen the strongest increase in turnover since 2019, namely by 190.6 percent. Downloads have increased by 64.6 percent in the same period, while audiobook CDs have lost 64.9 per cent.

The Younger Consumers’ Profiles

This chart created for the 2023-2024 report on Germany’s market shows that some 33 percent of readers aged 10 to 15 become aware of new books through social media channels. The trend peaks among readers aged 16 to 19 at 38 percent. And then this effect drops to 30 percent among readers aged 20 to 29. Image: Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels

The number of people buying books continued to decline in 2023, albeit less than in the previous two years: around 25.0 million people purchased books in the German market, which is 2.8 percent less than in the previous year. In 2022, the market (2022: -5.2 per cent, 2021: -3.9 percent).

Related article: Reading Skills in Germany: New Study Results Concern the Market. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Egoitz Bengoetxea Iguaran

Among younger consumers aged 10 to 15 years is increasing by 3.9 percent from 2022 to 2023; by 2.6 percent from 2021 to 2022; and by 13.1 percent from 2020 to 2021.

In spending by and for the young target group up to the age of 19—self-purchases and books bought for them as gifts—the Börsenverein sees even more significant increases: spending by and for readers up to the age of 19 has risen by 32 percent in five years; by 65 percent among 13- to 15-year-olds; and by 77 percent among 16- to 19-year-olds.

Around a third of young readers reportedly say they become aware of new books through social media channels.

And there are signs of a change in reading socialization, the organization’s report says. While the ritual of being read to by parents or grandparents helped 77 percent of today’s 20- to 29-year-old readers to get them excited about reading, the figure is only 67 percent for today’s 10- to 15-year-old readers. At the same time, the importance of reading at school for book enthusiasm is increasing. Among today’s 10 to 15-year-olds, school is a trigger for 70 percent, while this was only the case for 60 percent of today’s 20 to 29-year-olds.

Sourcing

In terms of how the Börsenverein develops its reporting, the figures on the shares and changes in turnover of the product categories in 2023 as well as the figures on development of sales, price, and turnover in 2024 are taken from the Media Control retail panel. The development of audiobooks is based on the audiobook monitor of Media Control in cooperation with the audiobook interest group of the Börsenverein. Figures on consumers (total general public market and young target group as well as ebooks and digital audiobooks) and the data on the market development of ebooks are taken from the GfK Consumer Panel MediaScope Book.

All other figures are based on surveys and calculations by the Börsenverein.


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.

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.com, 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.