A new report by the Federation of European Publishers aims to quantify the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on European publishers. According to the report, the impact began to be felt the moment bookstores closed across much of Europe in March. "The chilling effect on demand was unmistakable: sales in bookstores dropped anywhere between 75% and 95% in most countries where a lockdown was in place," the report states. Just looking at the second half of March, sales were down as much as 80% in Spain and 75% in Italy, two of the hardest hit countries; Germany, by comparison, saw a drop of just 30% for the same period. April was even worse, with sales at France's larger stores dropping by 96% and German stores saw a drop of 47%.
As a result of these lost sales, publishers revenue plunged proportionally. "Overall sales were down 66% in France between mid-March and mid-April, and one of the largest publishing groups recorded a [decline of] 90% in sales in early April," according to the report. "In Italy, close to one-third of publishers estimated a loss of more than 70% of their turnover for March." Germany's publishing sector lost €500 million, while Spain's lost €200 million.
Like in the U.S., publishers across Europe began delaying or even cancelling the publication of titles, with many facing liquidity challenges. Italy may have had the most dramatic result of all, with the cancellation or postponement of 23,200 titles, representing about a third of annual output.
Book fairs, including those in Bologna and London, were closed and the rights trade, as well as other ancillary businesses, halted.
Also as in the U.S., the online sales of books spiked in Europe. "They were up 52% in March and 180% in April in Flanders; many online platforms doubled or tripled their sales in France in early April; in the year up to mid-April, online sales in Italy for the first time ever overtook sales in stores, reaching a 47% share, and by June they had become 40% of total book sales in Romania. In the U.K, in April, WH Smith’s in-store sales dropped 85%, whereas online sales went up 400%."
E-book sales also rose and, in France for example, digital downloads from French libraries rose five-fold. Students also shifted from physical textbooks to online learning materials. One downside of this shift was, according to the report, a sharp increase in digital piracy. The report noted, "For example, Spanish reproduction rights’ organisation CEDRO recorded a tripling of the level of digital book piracy in Spain in April."
Perhaps the only silver lining to be found in the report is the news that 33% of people worldwide read more books or listened to more audiobooks while at home during the crisis.
In conclusion, the Federation states, "At this stage, the only thing certain is that the book sector has suffered a serious blow from the COVID-19 pandemic, of which the precise dimensions are not yet clear – not least because of lingering and dynamic effects and delayed impacts." The Federation then makes a plea for "public authorities to take appropriate measures to repair the damages and rebuild the future."