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The book market during the pandemic: Strong demand, Challenging situation for the book trade, Call for concepts to revitalise city centres

People are reading more during the pandemic / 2020 book market was stable / Online shops from bookstores had significant growth / Higher expenses and significant shortfalls after the first half of 2021
Erstellt am 08.07.2021

Interim results from the book market during the Covid pandemic: The appetite for books is particularly high during challenging times. Bookstores and publishers have been able to inspire people to read and supply them with books via creative and digital channels, despite stores being closed for months. Local bookstores in particular have significantly increased their online sales, but overall, they are under heavy economic pressure due to higher handling costs and significant losses in the physical bookstore business. The total turnover of the industry remained stable in 2020 at +0.1 per cent. Online business has grown by 20.9 per cent and accounted for around a quarter of total sales revenues in the 2020 Corona year. Business in local bookstores remains the strongest sales channel, but still recorded losses of 9 per cent. The outlook for 2021 also remains uncertain: after the first half of the year, the sales shortfall in the local book trade amounts to 22.9 per cent compared to 2019, a normal year before the pandemic. These and other key economic figures were presented today by the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels (German Publishers and Booksellers Association).

Karin Schmidt-Friderichs, Chairwoman of the Börsenverein:
"People's interest in books has remained unbroken. Especially in times of crisis, people turn to books for inspiration, well-founded and reliable information, and creative pastimes. Over the past sixteen months, bookstores and publishers have demonstrated great commitment and creativity in ensuring that people continued to have access to books, to professional advice, and to the mediation of literature. The book trade has expanded its digital offerings and has thus been able to increase its competitiveness against large online corporations. Many booksellers have intensified their ties to their customers and are now actively catching up to reduce the revenue deficit resulting from this year's shutdown. Publishers are optimistic that with the return of face-to-face events such as the Frankfurt Book Fair, important platforms for new books are coming back and public discussion about literature will intensify once again.”

Revitalisation of city centres now of central importance

Alexander Skipis, Managing Director of the Börsenverein:
"The book business did comparatively well despite major hurdles in the pandemic. Many bookstores were able to significantly increase their online sales, but this came at a high price due to considerable handling costs. The bottom line for many is a negative operating result, and that in an industry with fundamentally low margins. We are therefore grateful to the German government, especially the State Minister for Culture, Monika Grütters, for her strong support of the industry so far and her specific commitment to continue supporting the book trade in the future.”

However, further challenges remain. The inner cities, which had already become increasingly deserted before the pandemic, as well as places in rural areas, lost a significant amount of vitality and diversity during the crisis, Skipis said. "For the new start after the pandemic, a joint effort with the government is essential: we need viable concepts to revitalise the city centres. The book trade, as a unique combination of retail and cultural institution, and with its intricate network of over 5,000 local bookstores, can play an important role here. Bookstores provide a perfect haven for society – they are places for social exchange, togetherness, and public discourse. It is here that visitors find inspiration, relaxation, and a pleasant environment of openness. Together, we can further develop these places into cultural event locations that can attract more people and motivate them to come back to the city centres.

It is also essential for publishers that the government reinforce a stable framework of conditions. In recent years, publishers have had to witness how their rights have been increasingly restricted. Especially in view of the German national elections in three months' time, we therefore call on politicians to recognise the value of intellectual property and the work of publishers more strongly and to support the contribution they make to diversity and democracy.”

Key figures at a glance: Book usage, Consumers, Revenues

Reading experienced an upswing in the Corona year 2020: 25 per cent of readers picked up a book more often than before the pandemic - this was the finding of a GfK survey conducted in January 2021. The increase is particularly high among the young age groups: among 10 to 19-year-olds, 34% read more often, among 20 to 29-year-olds 32% read more often.

The share of the population who bought books also remained stable despite the pandemic: as in 2019, it stayed at 43 per cent for the general-public book market in 2020. The book market lost 400,000 consumers last year. This is the smallest decline recorded in the last ten years, with the exception of 2018, when there were even slight increases.

Despite weeks of store closures, the high demand for books thus led to a stable result of 9.3 billion euros of turnover for the book industry in 2020 (2019: 9.29 billion euros). The physical bookstore business remained the largest sales channel for books with 3.9 billion euros and a share of 42 per cent. However, this business was 9 per cent behind the previous year. In contrast, the turnover of the internet book trade, of which about half is accounted for by the online shops of the physical bookstores, recorded strong growth: the turnover rose by 20.9 per cent from 1.86 to 2.24 billion euros. The share of turnover of the internet book trade in the total market was thus 24.1 per cent in 2020 (2019: 20 per cent). A look at the general public book market (excluding textbooks and reference books) shows, local bookstores have made the most significant gains in online business. At 27.2 per cent, the growth rate for bookseller online shops was almost four times higher than that of Amazon at 7.2 per cent.

Digital book formats saw an upswing in 2020 in the face of store closures and further restrictions to public life. Sales of ebook downloads on the general public book market (excluding textbooks and reference books) rose by 16.2 per cent, increasing their share of sales of this market from 5 to 5.9 per cent. The market for audio book downloads also grew significantly with a plus of 24.5 per cent. The number of subscriptions, i.e., flat rate services for ebooks and audiobooks, also recorded a significant increase of 28.4 per cent.

Half-Year Results for 2021

Although bookstores were closed for around four weeks in spring and two weeks in December in most of the federal states in 2020, depending on the region, the shutdown in spring 2021 lasted almost twice as long. Only in Berlin, Brandenburg, and Saxony-Anhalt the bookstores were open during this time, and depending on the region, the Click & Collect service was not permitted throughout. Therefore, after the first half of 2021, the shortfall is particularly significant in the retail book trade: business at local stores is 22.9 per cent below that of the first six months of the pre-Corona year 2019. However, across all sales channels (including online business), the half-year results look better: compared to the period January to June 2019, turnover here is down by only 3.7 per cent

Publishing Houses: Product Categories, New Title Production, Translations, Licences

Thanks to solid book sales in the overall market, business remained stable across all publishing houses in 2020. However, there were major differences between the book genres. While books for children and young adults - along with "science, medicine, IT & technology" - were the only product group to be up (+4.7 per cent), sales of travel books slumped by 26.1 per cent. Sales of fiction (-1.6 per cent) and non-fiction (-1.3 per cent) were slightly below the previous year.

The number of first editions by publishers fell from 70,395 (2019) to 69,180 (2020); this corresponds to a minus of 1.7 per cent, slightly higher than in previous years. In fiction - the most important category with a share of 20.1 per cent of all new publications - the decline was somewhat more pronounced at 4 per cent. The share of translations in first editions fell from 13.9 to 13.2 per cent. A total of 9,164 titles from other languages were newly published on the German book market in 2020 (2019: 9,802). Licence sales to other countries also fell somewhat more sharply than in previous years with 7,595 titles and a drop of 1.9 per cent (2019: -1.2 per cent, 2018: -0.2 per cent). The two most important product groups in the German licensing business, books for children and young adults (-5.6 per cent) and fiction (-5.1 per cent) were even slightly further behind the previous year's sales.

Sources and further information

The figures on the shares and changes in turnover of the product categories as well as the development of turnover in 2020 are taken from the Media Control retail panel. Figures on consumers, media usage, ebooks and audiobooks are taken from the GfK Consumer Panel "Media*Scope Buch".

Figures and statistics of the 2020 book market are summarised in the publication "Buch und Buchhandel in Zahlen 2021" (Books and Book Trade in Figures 2021), edited by the Börsenverein and published in August.


All the current figures on the German book market can be found at

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