The growth of English-language book sales in continental Europe is on the rise, fueled by interest generated on TikTok and fed in large part by Amazon. This has been cutting into local sales in some countries to such an extent that non-English language publishers have been prompted into looking at acquiring English-language book rights for their home market for certain titles.

This trend was highlighted at last month’s London Book Fair, as Ingram offered data that calculated the total European market for English language books in 2022 at $5.2 billion, up 8% from 2021. In Germany over the same period, sales rose from $130 million in 2021 to $166 million in 2023, an increase of 27%, and in Spain the rise was from $65 million to $85.8 million, a hike of 30%. In Holland and Sweden, where English-language book sales have been more firmly entrenched for a longer period, growth was more modest, going from $58 million to $60 million in the Netherlands, and remaining flat in Sweden.

At the Bologna Children’s Book Fair last week, Andre Breedt, managing director of Nielsen Book Data in the U.K., confirmed this news. “Our data shows that English-language book sales are on the rise in several European countries. He used sales data from the Netherlands and Belgium Flanders to illustrate his point of just how deeply English language sales can penetrate. In the Netherlands and Belgium Flanders, English represented 17% and 16% of the market respectively in 2023,” Breedt said during an information session at the fair. “In these two markets alone, 214,000 English-language books were sold in 2023, compared to 149,000 in translation.” Spain was the country with the next highest sales, with English books representing 6% of the total sales in the market for 2023.

Nielsen BookData, a leading provider of book sales measurement and consumer insights, has been tracking this shift in consumer preferences across multiple European markets, and was given further insight after its merger with German analytics firm GfK in 2020. “It turns out they had some sales data listed as ‘other,’ which turned out in many instances to be sales of English-language titles, which is part of the reason we’re able to identify this trend in more detail now,” Breedt told PW.

During his session, Breedt noted, “TikTok has played a major role in the popularity of English-language books, particularly in the fiction category. We’ve seen a significant increase in sales of titles that have gained traction on the platform, often outpacing their translated counterparts.” He cited the popularity of books by Matt Haig, Colleen Hoover, Toshikazu Kawaguchi, and Rebecca Yarros among the titles driving the English-language, cross-cultural sales trend.

Focusing on the Netherlands as a case study, Breedt shared, “Overall, the Dutch book market remained flat in volume terms but grew in value, largely due to price inflation. However, English-language books outperformed the market, growing by 3% in volume compared to 0% for the total market.”

The data presented by Nielsen also revealed that English-language fiction books accounted for 21% of sales by volume and value in the Netherlands in 2023. “Growth was stronger for English-language fiction, at 7% compared to 6% for total fiction sales. Interestingly, while the fiction market shrunk by 1% in volume, English-language fiction remained flat,” Breedt explained.

The trend is most prominent in the adult fiction category, Breedt noted that it has yet to take fully hold in children’s book publishing. English-language sales are still a much smaller percentage of sales as expected—making up 9.2% of total sales—and when it comes to children’s books, it is gaining momentum.

In the remaining categories, which include primarily nonfiction titles, the pattern in the Netherlands is similar to fiction, where English-language book sales have done better than the overall market, from 2022–2023: growing 8% vs. 1% in volume and 8% vs. 3% in value.

Looking at the year so far, Breedt is seeing the strength in English-language book sales continuing to trend up. “In the first 12 weeks of 2024, we expect English-language books to account for 15.6% of total sales value, up from 14.6% in the same period of 2023,” he said. “This growth underscores the ongoing momentum of English-language titles.”

The implications for the market are straightforward. As the demand for English-language books grows, we can expect to see more publishers seeking to acquire English-language rights outright, rather than relying on imports or spot purchases on Amazon. This shift could have significant ramifications for rights negotiations and the way books are distributed across Europe, and represent an opportunity for Americans, especially as Brexit made exports to continental Europe more expensive and time-consuming.