Christmas in the balance for Germany's book trade

Christmas in the balance for Germany's book trade

German booksellers are facing a nail-biting finish to the holiday season. With end November sales exactly on a par with 2012, December can tip the scales either way. 

Thus far December sales are up by only the slightest margin – 0.5%. Everything depends on the remaining few days until the shops close at 1p.m. on Christmas Day as required by law.

The German holiday season is traditionally defined by the four Sundays in Advent. Holiday shopping begins in earnest just mid-week before the first Sunday and this year was no exception. According to statistics compiled by trade paper buchreport, year-on-year sales were up 0.9% in the first week of December, up again 1.8% in the second and down 0.9% in the third. In line with expectations booksellers reported week-on-week growth of 24.%, 29.5% and 25%. While record sales are expected today (Monday 23rd December), post-Christmas sales are usually not a big money spinner in Germany with shops closed on Boxing Day.

All in all, 2013 has been a rollercoaster year for German booksellers. After a strong spring with sales growth of 3% by end-May, the next five months all failed to deliver. The tide only turned to the better in November when sales were up 2% year-on-year.

So, which books will Santa put under the Christmas tree? Given German readers’  well-known appetite for anything of English or American origin, Khaled Hosseini and J.K. Rowling a.k.a. Robert Galbraith duly oblige, being ranked two and three on the Spiegel bestsellers list.

But the top spot is securely reserved since publication in mid-November for Swedish author Jonas Jonasson. Die Analphetin, Die Rechnen Konnte is the follow-up to publishing sensation The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared which sold two million copies in Germany alone and five million globally. Random House imprint Carl’s Books printed 800,000 hardbacks to start with, unusual for any German book, and the new novel is doing sensationally well.

The German market was put at €9.52bn in 2012, including publishers' direct sales.