German book market saw 3% sales lift in 2021

German book market saw 3% sales lift in 2021

A strong holiday season helped the German book market to grow sales in 2021 by 3.2% in value year on year and 0.8% compared to 2019, according to the trade organisation Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels.

“The book has proven to be crisis-proof during the pandemic," said Börsenverein’s president Karin Schmidt-Friderichs, adding that people continue “to have a great need for good storytelling, thoroughly researched information and advice as well as inspiration.”

The strongest categories in 2021 were children's and YA books (up 9.4% in value compared to 2019), fiction (up 4.2%) and non-fiction (up 1.6%). Not surprisingly during a pandemic, sales for travel literature fell by 26.4%.

Actual numerical totals will not be available until later in the year.

The bestselling novel of last year took many booksellers by surprise but hit a nerve with readers. In the absence of a must-have Christmas book, German novelist Juli Zeh rose to the occasion. Her novel Über Menschen (Random House GmbH), about moving from the city to the remote hinterland in East Germany, entered the bestseller lists in the spring and continues to sell well.

While overall figures—which include e-commerce (with Amazon), travel bookshops, department stores, electronic retail outlets and drugstores—beat expectations, the market is not as stable as the raw data might suggest. The industry is hugely worried about the state of the bricks-and-mortar bookshops that are traditionallyseen as the standard-bearer of German bookselling but have suffered heavily during the pandemic. Sales in the high street fell 3.1% year on year and a whopping 11.5% compared to 2019, with booksellers unable to make up the shortfall after weeks of shop closures left them with sales down by more than 30% when they re-emerged from the general spring lockdown.

Even though December brought much-needed cheer with double-digit sales growth of 11.8%, the mood—especially among independents—continues to be grim. They worry that market dynamics are predominantly driven by online shops. With stringent Covid restrictions in place, including mandatory mask-wearing inside shops, in restaurants and on public transport, increased shopping limitations for those who are not vaccinated and an ongoing political debate about mandatory vaccination, footfall in the high street shows no sign of recovering.

On a positive note, Schmidt-Friderichs highlighted the growing number of booksellers large and small that have used the pandemic to invest in their own online shops and/or improve their digital presence. “This is good news considering the increased pressure due to significantly rising costs, for example for paper and energy, which will continue to affect the book industry in the new year,” she said.