Year-end book sales across Europe were slammed by December lockdowns after Covid-19 cases surged across the continent. Still, preliminary results in three major markets show declines for the full year were modest.
In Germany, Europe’s single largest book market, sales were up 25% in the first two weeks of December over 2019, but they plummeted when a new lockdown was imposed on December 16. Overall sales for the year were down 2.3% compared with 2019, according to BUCH, a monthly report from the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels, a German book publishing trade group. Bookstores saw sales drop 8.7% for the year, but gains by online booksellers and platforms offset that decline.
“It is true that books played an important role for people during the crisis,” said Karin Schmidt-Friderichs, head of the BDB, in a press release. “There was great enthusiasm for reading and demand for books was high for much of the year. But the shutdown in December thwarted the industry’s plans. The renewed store closings in the middle of the Christmas business stopped the race to catch up from lost sales due to the shutdown in spring.”
The bestselling novel in Germany in 2020 was Sebastian Fitzek’s thriller The Way Home, followed by Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Barack Obama’s A Promised Land topped the nonfiction list. Among categories, only children’s books saw growth, with sales up 4.7%; travel books had the steepest decline, falling 26.1%. Schmidt-Friderichs said that ongoing lockdowns make the sales outlook for the first few months of 2021 “uncertain.”
That sentiment was echoed by Vincent Montagne, president of the Syndicat national de l’edition, a French book publishing trade group. When discussing what’s in store for the industry as part of an address organized by French publishing trade magazine Livres Hebdo, Montagne said, “Who knows?” In his talk, he revealed that French book sales were likely only down 2% for the year, and that some categories had increases, including comics, which saw sales grow 6%, and children’s education books, where sales rose 4%. Sales of travel books, on the other hand, were down 40%.
Montagne emphasized the solidarity the French publishing industry has shown in the face of the pandemic. He praised the community for supporting bookstores in their effort to remain open amid lockdowns and emphasized the need to innovate in order to face ongoing challenges.
Italy had strong holiday sales. “Sales at Christmas went well, and this allows us to hope that 2020 will close on the same levels as 2019, confirming the recovery of the book market after the lockdown in March and April,” said Ricardo Franco Levi, president of the Associazione Italiana Editor, an Italian book publishing trade group, in an announcement. Levi praised the Italian government for backing the bookselling and publishing industry through the pandemic, in particular with grant support and the continuation of the government-sponsored 18app initiative, which gives every Italian citizen €500 to be spent on “cultural experiences”—including books—when they turn 18.
Levi acknowledged that the situation remains complex. “The boom in online sales and the good performance of neighborhood bookstores is accompanied by struggles for bookstores in city centers and shopping malls, and for chain stores,” he said. “Some sectors, such as art publishing and travel books, have suffered huge losses. All publishers are facing very difficult challenges.”