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The book market in times of Corona: Publishers and bookstores tackle challenges

Sales deficit due to Corona measures / Business in bookstores developing positively since reopening / Many publishers postpone titles or withdraw them / Sales growth 2019 / Current market figures available
Erstellt am 08.07.2020

Even in times of crisis, books are firmly entrenched in our society. During the Corona crisis, bookstores and publishers have managed to successfully utilize their strengths, such as close ties to customers, creativity and digital innovation. Although declining sales from the weeks of store closures have resulted in a negative annual result so far, publishers and bookstores are nevertheless upbeat about the rest of the year ahead. In recent weeks, the book industry has succeeded in continuously reducing its losses. It reduced its drop in sales from 14.9 percent when stores reopened in mid-April to 8.3 percent by the end of June. After the first half of the year, trade at physical bookstores is down 13.9 percent on the previous year (mid-April still at -21.1 percent). Books for children and young adults recorded an increase in sales. These and other economic figures were presented today by the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels (German Publishers and Booksellers Association).

Karin Schmidt-Friderichs, Chairwoman of the Börsenverein says:

"Although the Corona pandemic has hit the book industry hard economically, it has also released great energy. Staff in bookstores and publishing houses have effectively tackled the challenge, launching delivery services and online events with great creativity. The book trade also benefited from the fact that it has long been well positioned with its online shops. German bookstores and publishers are thus proving to be reliable partners for the supply of books. However, many publishers have been forced to postpone or cancel new publications altogether due to the lack of marketing opportunities – a large proportion of these being titles by unknown authors and also niche titles. This sends out an alarm signal as it endangers the literary and cultural diversity of our society".

According to Alexander Skipis, Managing Director of the Börsenverein: "Publishers and bookstores make a significant contribution to the future of our society, as the crisis has shown, since it is precisely during times like these that people appreciate books. On our way out of the crisis and in the period that follows, new questions will arise about the future of society. The book industry would like to give impetus to this through its content, provide information and encourage debate.

The great demand for books for children and young adults in recent months makes it clear that in times of crisis, books also play an important role in this area: Books do not simply provide an activity, but also enable education and provide support and a sense of security. The Federal Government have recognised the book industry's commitment during the crisis by providing extensive support in the form of effective emergency financial aid, the rapid re-opening of bookstores and a comprehensive cultural sponsorship programme. We would particularly like to thank Monika Grütters, the State Minister for Culture, for her contribution and commitment. In order to continue making a contribution to society in the future, books need two things above all: visibility and a stronger framework of stable conditions. The discussion about books must become broader and louder; particularly in the media and especially in public broadcasting. In addition, we need strong copyright law and publishers must again be included in the distributions of the copyright collecting societies as soon as possible. We appeal to the Federal Government to finally make good on its promise and quickly introduce a legal regulation on this issue.”

The effect of Corona on book trade and publishing houses

Several weeks of store closures left bookstores with major sales losses. From March 23 to April 19, during which bookstores were closed in all German states except Berlin and Saxony-Anhalt, sales were 65.7 percent below the same period in the previous year. Across all sales channels (including railway station bookstores, department stores, electrical goods stores, drugstores and e-commerce), sales fell by 46 percent in the same period. Interestingly, the day with the highest sales between March and May 2020 was March 17, shortly before the start of the closures, when people were still stocking up on books. When the stores reopened, sales at physical bookstores had fallen by 21.1 percent from January to mid-April, with sales across all sales channels down 14.9 percent. Since stores reopened, this decline has been steadily reduced. In the half-yearly results, books for children and young adults exceeded the previous year's sales with an increase of 3.6 percent.

Publishers also recorded significant sales losses due to store closures and the cancellation of events such as readings and trade fairs and have adjusted their programme planning. According to a survey conducted by the German Publishers and Booksellers Association amongst its members, publishing houses in Germany recorded a decline in sales during the closure of bookstores of 30.9 percent from the week starting March 23 to the week ending April 17, a decrease of 14.5 percent from January to May. More than half of the publishing houses participating in the survey stated that they had postponed titles until next year. Just under 36 percent of those surveyed said that some planned titles would not appear at all, a large proportion of them by unknown or undiscovered authors.

Review of 2019

In 2019, the book industry's sales rose by 1.7 percent to 9.29 billion euros. With revenues of 4.29 billion euros and a 46.2 percent share of the total market, trade from physical bookstores remained the largest distribution channel for books. These stores increased their sales by 0.4 percent year-on-year. Sales growth was stronger in the Internet book trade, which also includes the online business of the physical retailers. Through its online shops, the book trade generated sales of 1.86 billion euros, 4.2 percent more than in 2018, corresponding to a market share of 20 percent.

The number of people purchasing books on the public market declined again in 2019 after an increase in 2018 (+300,000): 28.8 million people bought at least one book last year, 3.5 per cent less than in 2018 (29.9 million). However, the people who did buy books, bought more books on average: the purchasing intensity rose from an average of 12 books per consumer in 2018 to 12.3 books in 2019.

Additional key figures from 2019:

  • Among the different product groups, non-fiction books (+4.9 per cent) again achieved the strongest sales growth. Books for children and young adults (+4.6 percent) and companions (+3.0 percent) were also up. With a minus of 0.8 percent, fiction was slightly below the previous year's level.
  • The number of first editions by publishers fell from 71,548 titles (2018) to 70,395.
  • The percentage of first editions being translated rose slightly from 13.7 percent (2018) to 13.9 percent. A total of 9,802 titles translated from other languages appeared in 2019 (2018: 9,803).
  • License sales abroad declined slightly to 7,747 titles (2018: 7,844 titles).
  • In 2019, sales of e-books on the public market (excluding school books and specialist books) were at approximately the same level as in the previous year with an increase of 0.6 per cent and a constant sales share of 5 per cent on the public market.

Sources and further information

The figures on the percentages and changes in sales of the product groups, as well as the sales development in 2020, are taken from the Media Control retail panel. The consumer figures and projections of e-book sales and turnover are taken from the GfK Consumer Panel Media*Scope Book. The facts on the impact of the Corona crisis on publishing houses were collected by the German Publishers and Booksellers Association (Börsenverein) in a survey of its members.

Figures and data on the book market in 2019 are summarized in the publication "Buch und Buchhandel in Zahlen 2020/Books and the Book Trade in Figures 2020", which is published by the German Publishers and Booksellers Association (Börsenverein) and will be released in August.

Frankfurt am Main, July 8, 2020



All current figures about the German book market are available at

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