The German Book Market in 2016: Publishers and Bookshops Remain Stable Forces in Shifting Media Landscape


Growth in sales of 1 percent / Declining customer frequency in retail sector and bookshops: Börsenverein calls on cities and communities to create effective concepts for preserving vibrant city centres / Planned copyright constraints put science publishers in grave danger / All the market facts and figures at

The business of bookselling and book publishing remains stable in an era of major media transformation. In fact, the book market even closed out 2016 with an increase in turnover; at €9.28 billion, the book industry generated 1 percent more revenue than in 2015. Also, the online businesses operated by bookshops themselves continue to gain in importance. Although declining customer frequency in the retail sector brought fewer buyers into bookshops, those customers bought more titles per capita and even spent more money on books. The Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels (German Publishers and Booksellers Association) recently presented the key economic figures for the 2016 German book industry in Frankfurt am Main.

“In spite of major changes in the media landscape, the book market has displayed a notable degree of stability and innovative spirit. Bookshops and publishers in Germany are mastering the digital transformation very successfully. Today, over two-thirds of bookshops in Germany also sell books online. Indeed, digital offers now count among the standard repertoire of publishers and are continually being expanded and developed. This allows bookshops and publishers to continue to guarantee a diversity of opinions and a vibrant cultural environment in Germany”, argued Börsenverein Managing Director Alexander Skipis. “Nevertheless, we are seeing a truly distressing drop in customer frequency – as is the case in the retail sector in general today – which is also reflected in declining numbers of book buyers. The increasing disappearance of owner-operated businesses has led to decreases in the attractiveness of many inner-city areas. And this is now also having an impact on the book trade”.

Bookshops are reacting to the changing situation by focusing even more on reaching out to customers and gaining their loyalty. “Many bookstores are in the process of perfecting their services and placing extra emphasis on customer contact and advice. Today, bookshops use multi-channel strategies to offer customers all the advantages of both on-site buying and online shopping from one convenient source”, noted Börsenverein Chairman Heinrich Riethmüller. “However, in order to make the shopping experience in downtown areas overall more attractive, cities and communities will need to step up to the plate. Indeed, if we want to retain vibrant inner cities and revitalise shopping areas, we are going to need effective concepts that generate attractive shopping environments and a balanced mix of businesses. Retail bookselling itself must become active and work on solutions to make on-site shopping more interesting again”. Revenues at retail bookshops have also declined slightly so far this year; after the first five months of 2017, retail bookselling turnover fell by 1.6 percent below last year’s number, while the overall market remained stable at -0.3 percent.

Alexander Skipis argued that publishers, too, are facing enormous pressure. Still weakened by repayments they had to make to VG Wort as a result of a ruling handed down by Germany's Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court or BGH) earlier this year, small and medium-sized publishers must get ready to face yet another challenge: only a few weeks before the end of the legislative period, Germany’s federal government is seeking to push through the so-called Urheberrechts-Wissensgesellschafts-Gesetz (Copyright Information Society Act) through the Bundestag. “This law in its current form would be a severe blow for Germany’s status as a country of knowledge and education. In order to be able to continue to publish a wide range of high-quality books and media, publishers must be adequately remunerated for their services in a manner that is both fair and in line with the market. For all intents and purposes, the new law would serve to expropriate publishers: it would make it possible for their textbooks and other scientific publications to be distributed digitally and published to a large extent free-of-charge. At the moment, thanks to the VG Wort ruling, publishers have no claim to the remuneration foreseen by the law via collecting societies. For this reason, we consider the law to be anti-constitutional. Publishers can only receive adequate remuneration through licensing agreements”, noted Skipis.

E-books remain a reliable staple for publishers and bookshops. “The demand for e-books continues to grow, as does customers’ purchasing intensity. Seeing as the number of buyers declined somewhat – with these purchasers turning increasingly towards less expensive offers – revenues rose only slightly last year”, noted Börsenverein board member Matthias Heinrich. “E-books will certainly continue to gain in importance. Publishers are working intensively on new digital formats and user-friendly distribution forms. There is a noticeable spirit of innovation in the industry today. Startups are becoming increasingly frequent and natural partners in the development of new business models”.

2016 Economic Figures

In 2016, stationary bookshops remained the industry’s largest distribution channel, generating revenues of €4.39 billion. This represents 0.8 percent less than in the previous year. Their share of the overall market fell from 48.2 percent to 47.3 percent. Internet bookselling revenues, which include those online businesses belonging to stationary booksellers, experienced a clear increase of 5.3 percent. Accordingly, the revenue share also increased to 18.2 percent (2015: 17.4 percent), which corresponds to total revenues of €1.69 billion. The traditional mail-order book trade via catalogues, mailings and telephone, which suffered major losses in recent years, showed a positive development for the first time, with revenues increasing by 37.5 percent to €162 million (share of overall market: 1.7 percent). The bookselling areas of department stores (Karstadt, Kaufhof, etc.) also showed evidence of renewed growth, with revenues increasing by 16.3 percent to reach €131 million. The direct business between publishers and companies and/or state institutions, among others, also showed slight gains: publishers generated business totalling €1.94 billion, which is 1.2 percent more revenue than in the previous year at a steady market share of 20.9 percent.

The number of book buyers on the consumer book market (for private use, excluding textbooks and specialist books) was 30.8 million in 2016. This marks a decline of 2.3 million in comparison to the previous year. By contrast, the purchasing intensity of these book buyers increased: in 2016, customers bought an average of 12.2 books per capita per year, whereas in 2015 that number was 11.5. In 2016, per capita spending on books on the private consumer market increased from €122.78 to €134.29 (+9.4 percent), and the average price per book increased here by 2.6 percent.

Sales and Production: Product Categories, Book Production, Translations, Licences

In 2016, the product category of children’s books enjoyed the largest increase on the private consumer market with a 9.0 percent growth in revenue. Accordingly, that category’s share of revenue grew from 15.3 percent to 16.5. The category of school books and textbooks also displayed noticeable growth (+6.1 percent to a share of 10.9 percent). Fiction, which is traditionally the strongest product category, remained largely stable with revenues falling slightly by 0.5 percent, leaving it with a share of 31.5 percent. There was little change in the categories of self-help books (-0.1 percent, 14.5 percent share) and travel books (+0.2 percent, 5.7 percent share). After several strong years, non-fiction books sustained a drop of 2.7 percent in 2016 with a 9.8 percent share of the overall market.
In 2016, the number of new book titles (first editions) issued by publishers dropped by roughly 5 percent to 72,820 titles (2015: 76,547 titles). This means that title production has been shrinking over the past ten years. The decline over the previous year was largely due to the category of specialist literature. There were significantly fewer titles in the segments of arts and entertainment (2016: 9,918, 2015: 11,659), history and geography (2016: 6,488, 2015: 7,532), social science (2016: 12,997, 2015: 14,144) and technology, medicine and applied science (2016: 12,164, 2015: 12.815). Titles published in the literature category rose slightly from 29,685 to 29,706.

In 2016, the share of translations of first editions increased again. While there were 9,454 translations in 2015 (a 12.4 percent share of all first editions), that number rose to 9.882 last year (a share of 13.6 percent). The main reason for this increase is a particular rise in literature translations, which had declined significantly in the year prior (2016: 5,737, 2015: 5,400, 2014: 5,847). The most important languages continue to be English, French and Japanese.

The sale of licences was somewhat weaker than in the previous year, with 7,310 transactions in 2016 (2015: 7,521). The most important category here is children’s literature, which continues to gain in significance. A total of 2,883 licences were sold in this segment (2015: 2,677 licenses), and its share rose to 39.4 percent (2015: 35.6 percent). By far the top purchaser of licenses is the Chinese-speaking world (782 licenses). The second strongest category is fiction, with 1,157 licenses sold (15.8 percent). After the sharp increase in license sales overall in the Chinese-speaking world in 2015, the number declined again in 2016. At 1,425, there were indeed fewer licenses sold in 2016 than in 2015 (1,514). However, Chinese publishers remain in the number-one spot in terms of license purchasers. They are followed by the English-speaking world with 481 licenses (2015: 574) and the Spanish-speaking world with 441 licenses (2015: 439).

Book Buyers and the E-Book

E-books have secured their place among readers. While revenues in the private consumer market (excluding school books and textbooks) show only restrained growth, sales volume and purchase intensity continue to rise steadily. At 2.6 percent, revenue growth was once again weaker than in the previous year (2015: 4.7 percent, 2014: 7.6 percent). In 2016, the share of revenues in the private consumer market grew slightly from 4.5 to 4.6 percent. Last year, the sales volume rose slightly more significantly than revenues: indeed, on the private consumer market, 28.1 million e-books were sold, that is 4.1 percent more than in 2015. And while the number of buyers sank by 2.2 percent from 3.9 million to 3.8 million, the purchase intensity of consumers grew: in 2016, each consumer in Germany bought an average of 7.4 e-books, which is 0.4 more than in the previous year. In 2016, the share of e-book revenues generated by children’s books was 8 percent, which was double the number in 2015; this was due primarily to the Harry Potter volume published that year. Interestingly, e-books are also becoming increasingly popular among older purchasers: 21 percent of buyers in 2016 were over 60-years-old, while in 2011 this age group made up only 10 percent of e-book customers.

Further Information:

All figures relating to market shares and revenue changes in the various product categories are taken from the Media Control retail panel. The panel comprises the sales generated by 4,189 retailers via retail bookshops, e-commerce including Amazon, train-station bookshops, department-store book sections and ancillary markets (electronics stores and drugstores). Estimates regarding e-book sales volumes, revenues and consumer figures are taken from the GfK Consumer Panel Media*Scope Buch based on a total of 25,000 people representative of the German population over the age of ten, that is, a total of 67.7 million individuals.

All facts and figures relating to the book market will be summarised and published in a synopsis called "Buch und Buchhandel in Zahlen 2017" ("Books and the Book Industry in 2017") published by the Börsenverein. It will be available starting in August at bookshops and can also be ordered at MVB Marketing- und Verlagsservice des Buchhandels GmbH.


For all the latest facts, figures and charts on the current book market in Germany, please visit

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