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The German book market in 2017: Opportunities for books amid competition from other media

Decrease in revenue of 1.6 percent / Stabile revenue ratios over the past 15 years / Study on the book industry “Book Buyers – quo vadis?” examines drop in number of book purchasers/ All the latest market facts and figures at…
Erstellt am 11.06.2018

Decrease in revenue of 1.6 percent / Stabile revenue ratios over the past 15 years / Study on the book industry “Book Buyers – quo vadis?” examines drop in number of book purchasers/ All the latest market facts and figures at

Today, books compete with several other media for the interest and attention of consumers. Although book industry sales have remained stable over the past fifteen years, the number of people purchasing books is decreasing. Publishers and bookshops are now thinking very carefully about this decline in book buyers – and working to create solutions that will attract people back to books. The Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels (German Publishers and Booksellers Association) presented the core findings of its study “Buchkäufer – quo vadis?” (Book Buyers – quo vadis?) today in Frankfurt am Main. The study provides a comprehensive analysis of the reasons behind the decrease in the number of people reading books. The association also presented its economic figures on the book industry in 2017. Even though steadfast book buyers once again bought more books on average and spent more money on them, publishers and bookshops in 2017 were unable to match the results of the previous year. The book industry generated €9.13 billion in 2017; this was 1.6 percent less than in 2016.

Alexander Skipis, Managing Director of the Börsenverein: “In an era of robust competition from different media forms, the book industry is focussing intensively on the developments and needs of book buyers. The findings of our study revealed several major opportunities to generate enthusiasm among readers. For example, even though respondents tend to read fewer books these days, they still associate reading with very positive feelings and experiences. At the same time, they suffer from the stresses associated with today’s digital multitasking society. There is also growing social pressure to be permanently available and connected in an effort not to be left behind. People yearn for a respite from this tension, and their own memories tell them that books can offer precisely this release. People today long for emotional experience, inspiration and reliable information. However, readers are increasingly losing their orientation on the broad book market. People’s ways of life have changed in fundamental ways. Today, people want to be actively wooed by booksellers; they also want to encounter a mixture of offerings as they go about their daily lives. Indeed, we can no longer wait for customers to make their way to books; instead, books have to make their way to the customers. To make this happen, the book industry needs to develop new strategies”.

Heinrich Riethmüller, Chairman of the Börsenverein: “Trends in book buying make it essential that bookshops and publishers rethink things. We need to focus even more on the needs of potential readers. Many bookshops and publishers are already working on solutions with regard to marketing and customer service as well as on new formats that focus on the customer needs”.

E-books continue to gain in importance among those readers who already use them; however, e-books are also being affected by the overall decline in buyers. As Börsenverein treasurer Matthias Heinrich notes, “Sales of e-books continue to rise, and people who use e-books are intensifying their purchases. However, for the first time, revenue from the sale of e-books has decreased slightly. In other words, cheaper books are increasingly making their way into shopping carts. As we already know, competition for consumers’ time and attention is having an influence on general readership – and now we know it affects digital reading as well”.

The key precondition for the German book industry continues to be the country’s system of fixed book prices. Alexander Skipis: “Germany’s fixed book price system guarantees a level of diversity and quality that makes our book industry exemplary across the globe. It creates conditions that allow people to have broad access to a diverse and high-quality selection of books via an intricate network of bookshops. We see tremendous need for action with regard to the conditions under which publishers are operating today. Above all, they urgently need to be given back the legal basis to participate in the distributions handed out by Germany’s collecting societies”.

Book Buyers: Developments, Motives, Needs

Between 2013 and 2017, the number of book buyers on the consumer book market (excluding textbooks and specialist books) fell by 6.4 million (minus 17.8 percent). In the past year, 29.6 million people still bought at least one book; this is the equivalent of 44 percent of private individuals in Germany age 10 and older. Looking at the period of 2013 to 2017, we see the strongest decline in the age groups 40-49 years (minus 37 percent), 30-39 years (minus 26 percent) and 20-29 years (minus 24 percent). The amount of money spent on books by members of these age groups also fell in the same time period, while individuals up to the age of 19 and older than 50 showed stable or increased expenditures on books. An online study carried out by ARD/ZDF in 2017 shows that the group between 14 and 49 years of age are the same people who had the highest increase in internet use in the past several years. From 2016 to 2017 alone, daily internet use by individuals between the ages of 14 and 29 increased by 29 minutes to reach over four and a half hours; in people aged between 30 and 49 years, internet use increased by 35 minutes to reach over three hours.

The fact that the number of book buyers decreased was also reflected in falling sales. In 2017, 367 million books were sold on the consumer book market; in 2013, that number was 398 million. Those individuals who continue to buy books are buying more titles on average and are also spending more money on them. In 2017, the average number of books bought was 12.4 titles; in 2013, it was still 11.0. The average amount of money spent for private book consumption per buyer increased from €116.70 in 2013 to €137.40 in 2017.

On behalf of the Börsenverein, the GfK organised a focus group and headed up a co-creation workshop with representatives of the retail sector and publishers to examine the reasons why individuals no longer buy books; they focused in particular on those people from the target groups that showed the largest declines, e.g. those between the ages of 20 and 49 who purchase noticeably fewer books than they did a few years ago.

The core results:

  • People are stressed out by the obligations, expectations and fast-paced nature of modern life and feel weighed down by tremendous pressure.
  • Those individuals surveyed feel overwhelmed by our current “multitasking society” and develop a deep yearning for “deceleration”, relaxation, self-determination, “real” enjoyment and reliable information.
  • A general lack of time and energy leads people to gradually read fewer books.
  • TV series have taken over the position that books used to have: in this realm, one finds a great deal of conversation, hype, recommendations and binge-watching.
  • However: reading is considered to be a very positive and intensive way to pass the time in all target groups. It helps people relax, it provides them with emotional experiences, it expands their horizons and encourages them to immerse themselves in other worlds. All respondents regretted that they had increasingly less time to read. 
  • Books are, however, disappearing from the public discourse as well as from people’s personal environments. Conversations about books are increasingly rare; people are less involved in book-related themes; and many simply feel overwhelmed by the large number of choices.
  • The result is that people are no longer able to find sufficient orientation on the book market.

The key needs and desires of people who no longer buy books:

  • Be made aware of books: i.e., come into contact with books, gain inspiration, reminders, and incentives to read in everyday life and in public spaces.
  • Security/Reliability: faced with time shortages, make the path to the next “right” book as short and quick as possible; a desire for increased orientation.
  • Appreciation: experience buying books and reading them as an added value and a reward; experience attention, savings and exclusivity.
  • Unwinding: Relaxation and releasing tensions, stimulating the imagination.
  • Experience: get to know books and authors individually or collectively, experiencing suspense and entertainment.

Book Industry Turnover 2017

In 2017, stationary bookshops remained the industry’s largest sales channel, generating revenues of €4.3 billion and a 47.1 share of the overall market. In comparison to the previous year, revenues were down by 2 percent. By contrast, internet bookselling revenues, which also include online businesses belonging to stationary booksellers, rose by 1.5 percent. Accordingly, the revenue share of e-commerce also increased from 18.2 percent in 2016 to 18.8 percent in 2017; this corresponds to total revenues of €1.71 billion in the past year. The direct business between publishers and companies and/or state institutions, among others, came in at €1.94 billion in 2017, roughly the same level as in the previous year. Due to the decline in sales on the overall market, the revenue share held by direct business rose from 20.9 to 21.3 percent.

Sales According to Product Categories, Book Production, Translations, Licences

Last year’s decline in sales affected all product categories, with the exception of school books and textbooks (+0.9 percent). Fiction, which is traditionally the strongest product category, experienced a decline of 1 percent; at 31.9 percent, it was slightly under the number of the previous year. The following product categories experienced a slightly larger drop: self-help books (minus 2.5 percent, 14.3 percent share), children’s literature (minus 2.3 percent, 16.3 percent share) and non-fiction books (minus 2.3 percent, 9.9 percent share).

In 2017, the number of new book titles (first editions) issued by publishers was 72,499, that is, only slightly under the number of titles issued in the previous year (72,820). The number of first editions in the fiction category rose from 13,891 in 2016 to 14,273; in the realm of children’s literature, the number of first editions produced dropped to 8,752 (2016: 8,961). The share of translations of first editions remained almost unchanged at 13.6 percent. With 9,890 translated titles in 2017, this was eight more than in the previous year. The most important languages continue to be English, French and Japanese.

The sale of licences rose by 7.5 percent over the previous year to reach 7,856 titles, the highest level since 2011. The largest gains in terms of percentage were seen in the travel segment (+63.6 percent to 72 licences), non-fiction (+36.5 percent to 849) and school books and textbooks (+35.8 percent to 288). With a share of 38.7 percent, the most important product group remained children’s literature, which rose again slightly from 2,883 transactions in 2016 to 3,037 in 2017. With 1,261 licences, the Chinese-speaking world remains the top purchaser of German licences; however, this number was down for the second year in a row (2016: 1,425, 2015: 1,514).

The E-Book Market

In 2017, more e-books were sold over the virtual counter than in the previous year: sales in the private consumer market increased by one million to 29.1 million copies. On average, each buyer placed 8.3 e-books in their shopping carts; this marks a 12.6 percent increase in purchase intensity compared to the previous year. Revenue from the sale of e-books on the private consumer market fell slightly by 1.4 percent. This was partly due to the fact that buyers preferred cheaper titles; the average price paid continued to fall – by 5.1 percent from 2016 to 2017 – and was last at €6.38. In addition, the number of buyers sank by 7.7 percent from 3.8 million in 2016 to 3.5 million in 2017. At 4.6 percent, the share of sales remained at the level of the previous year.

Sources and 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 reflects the sales generated by 4,189 retailers via the following channels: retail bookshops, e-commerce including Amazon, train station bookshops, department store book sections and ancillary markets (electronics stores and drugstores). The number of book buyers as well as estimates regarding e-book sales volumes and revenues are taken from the GfK Consumer Panel Media*Scope Buch based on a total of 25,000 individuals. These people are representative of the overall population of Germany over the age of ten, i.e. of a total of 67.7 million people.

The study “Buchkäufer – quo vadis?” (Book Buyers – quo vadis) will be presented in full at the Berlin Book Days on 12 June 2018 and made available as a download for members of the Börsenverein. Media representatives can request a copy of the study via email at presseNO SPAM SPAN!

All facts and figures relating to the book market will be summarised in “Buch and Buchhandel in Zahlen 2018” (Books and the Book Industry in 2018), which will be published by the Börsenverein in August.

Frankfurt am Main, 11 June 2018


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

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