Bookstores in Germany reopened on April 20 after being closed since mid-March. The Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels, the Publishers and Booksellers Association, also known as MVB, said that the one month period of closure cost the industry approximately half a billion Euros of sales, or some 50% of monthly revenue. "It was less than we feared," said Ronald Schild, CEO of MVB. "Now, since we have been open for several weeks now, we are back to 80 or 85% of comparable sales from the same period last year." He said that not all regions are fully open yet, and not all bookstores, "but at the ones that are open, sales are really strong."
Schild said that, as in the U.S., Amazon had for a short period deprioritized books and stopped ordering titles from publishers, which gave a boost to bookstores. Generally speaking, German bookstores are more competitive footing with Amazon as Germany has a fixed book price law, as well as an efficient book distribution system which can typically deliver a title to any bookstore in the country overnight.
"In the period of lockdown sales at smaller, local bookshops were only down 30%," said Schild "We saw a lot of creativity in the market. So, booksellers that could not open the shops started home delivery for books, or else they set up a place for people to pick up books inside essential businesses, like pharmacies or bakeries," said Schild.
Booksellers were denied a traditionally strong selling period following the media blitz that surrounds the annual Leipzig Book Fair. The fair usually takes place in March, but was canceled. To make up for the deficit, Schild said booksellers instead took matters into their own hands and were offering book recommendations over the phone, WhatsApp, and through text messages. "It was really surprising to see how communities quite substantially supported their local bookstores," he said.
One result of the lockdown, Schild observed, was a new-found confidence in smaller booksellers. "I think that through this crisis they've learned something: that they can compete with Amazon. Before corona, there was a feeling of 'should I really have an online store, since I can't compete with Amazon, they are so much better than we are.' But now the local bookshops see that they can combine an online store, with other services, like curbside pickups or home delivery, or overnight shipping, and they have a good chance of competing and being profitable at the same time."
The lockdown "was a hard way to learn that lesson," admitted Schild. "Now the rest of the year will be a race to make up that 15-20% of lost revenue from the first four months of the year. And it's gonna be a tough race."