17.11.2020 / Knud Wassermann

The Book Market Fights Back

2019 was a good year for the book throughout, and the industry has started 2020 with a lot of optimism. However, with the Corona crisis and the associated lockdown and closure of bookstores, the market is experiencing drastic slumps across all segments. Since June, however, the European book market has started to catch up considerably. How big the minus for 2020 will be ultimately depends on the Christmas business.
The French book market, for example, posted a 7.2 percent drop in sales at the end of the first three quarters compared to the same period last year. During the lockdown, losses were still at minus 66.8 percent. Since the stores reopened, however, the figures have turned significantly positive. Spain, Switzerland and Portugal had even recorded growth in the first few weeks of 2020, with Spain posting a remarkable 2.9 percent increase. During the initial restrictions, revenues then collapsed by more than half in some cases and were not yet able to recover fully in the post-lockdown phase.
In Switzerland, revenues have also regained ground in recent months, so that the overall loss currently stands at only minus 2.9 percent. In Spain and Italy, too, the losses of the first nine months have now shrunk to minus 11.0 and minus 3.8 percent, respectively, thanks to the continuing reading pleasure over the summer. The big surprise is the Dutch book market, which at the end of September was even able to post an overall increase of 5.8 percent. All figures come from Growth from Knowledge Entertainment and were collected in the run-up to the Frankfurt Book Fair in September.
The book trade has done better than the economy as a whole
Germany, the largest European book market, presents a similar picture according to the "Branchen-Monitor Buch". The decline in sales caused by the lockdown was in some cases dramatic – in April it was 33 percent. Since June, however, there has been a steady upward trend. Until October, sales of books were down 5.4 percent, but the price increase of 1.9 percent meant that sales fell by 3.5 percent. In retail bookselling, with sales down 7.9 percent (cumulative January to October), the overall trend is not yet fully reflected – but here too, the trend is upward. Overall, the book retailing sector has performed better than the economy as a whole.
When looking at the product groups across all distribution channels, children's and youth books and fiction stood out in October, as they did in the previous month. Children's and young people's books have been on the road to success for months now and are currently enjoying a growth rate of 11.3 percent. Fiction was the second big winner in October, with sales up 8.6 percent. Looking at the first ten months of 2020, however, only children's and young people's books have recorded growth of 6.8 percent. As the product group with the highest sales, fiction posted a cumulative decline of 2.3 percent. It is almost logical that travel books were hit particularly hard in times of corona-related travel restrictions – the decline in sales here is 25.8 percent.
"The great demand for books for children and young people in recent months makes it clear that books also play an important role in this area in times of crisis: they not only provide employment, but also make education possible and provide support. To be able to continue to make a contribution to society in the future, books need two things above all: visibility and strong framework conditions," emphasizes Alexander Skipis, General Manager of the German Publishers & Booksellers Association.
Closing the sales dip
For the Frankfurt Book Fair, the German company Media Control has for the first time made a special evaluation of book purchases per minute. While significantly less was bought in the lockdown, 794 books per minute were sold in the German-speaking book market in the past three months. This represents an increase of 10 percent compared to 2019. Last year, an average of 715 books were bought per minute in the German-speaking book market.
The strongest month in the German-speaking book market was August with 871 books per minute. "The Media Control data show that the book industry is doing everything it can to close the sales dip," emphasizes Deniz Ulucan, Head of Books at Media Control. However, how the year as a whole looks for the book market also depends to a large extent on the upcoming Christmas business.
Appreciation of the book by UNESCO
The book has received indirect recognition from UNESCO. The Austrian UNESCO commission has recognized bookbinding as an intangible cultural heritage. The craft has created the basis for the establishment of libraries all over the world and thus manifested and archived knowledge for mankind. Against this background, the task now is to nominate bookbinding for the international "Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity" and to push ahead with its inclusion.

Knud Wassermann
Editor-in-Chief "Graphische Revue”