E-book and audiobook sales have been robust throughout the period that saw many bricks-and-mortar bookstores shut down across Europe as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, according to a new report by German digital distributor Bookwire and Austrian industry consultant Rüdiger Wischenbart. (The lockdown is identified in the report as running from week 11 to week 19 of 2020).

The study looked at some two million digital transactions across Germany, Austria and Switzerland (DACH) and found e-book sales spiked 26% during the period of lockdown compared with the weeks prior to the order. Audiobook downloads more than doubled, seeing a 109% increase during the period, bolstered by targeted marketing campaigns by publishers and discounts. Once the lockdown period ended, sales at bricks-and-mortar stores bounced back in Germany and across the region, and while the level of e-book and audiobook sales flattened, they remained higher than prior to the lockdown.

“Our data analysis has revealed that the top genres of romance and crime thrillers were not solely responsible for growth during the Covid-19 period. Even books for children and adolescents or nonfiction books can become e-book bestsellers," said Jens Klingelhöfer,
CEO of Bookwire.

Perhaps even more important than the sales rise was the news that the number of people signing up for new digital audiobook subscriptions was up 37% over the period before the lockdown. "We get a strong hint that interest in subscriptions is on the rise," said Wischenbart. "For so long, the gospel was that this wouldn't work with trade books. We saw how the model caught on with STM and professional books, yet said, 'Nah, not with consumer books.' What we see in our data is strong evidence for a shift in consumer behaviour."

Wischenbart added that the report also suggests, "E-books aren't as dead as we read in reports for years." Like Klingelhöfer, he cited the interest in a broad range of categories, and underscored that marketing was essential to prompting sales. "Smart PR works!," he said. "Both publishers and retailers can create a huge impact, provided they do the right thing, such as very targeted promotions at the right time for the right audience, and they agree to work together in a coordinated fashion."

Storytel Sees Gains

Separately, Storytel, the Swedish e-book and audiobook retailer subscription service with wide distribution across Europe, reported big gains in streaming sales, which rose 43% for the first six months of the year, compared with 2019, and a 42% jump in subscription sales over the same period. The company, which is present in 20 countries and is strongest in the Nordic countries of Europe, said it expected to see slower growth for the remainder of the year. The company has 1.2 million paying subscribers and is aiming for 1.5 million by the end of the year. The company continues to expand by acquiring affiliate companies, including Kitab Sawti, an Arabic-language audiobook retailer, and is preparing to launch services in Thailand and Indonesia before the holiday season. The company continues to operate at a loss due to its rapid expansion.