After the pandemic pop saw book sales soar across Europe, the question is whether the industry can sustain the higher sales levels that have followed the pandemic. "Roughly half the countries we track are growing, half are in decline,” Enrico Turrin, deputy director of the Federation of European Publishers (FEP) told the audience at the Readmagine conference, held June 7-9 in Madrid.

The FEP tracks data across 29 countries and Turrin emphasized that he can only offer “trends and narratives,” as the data sources are not all using the same methods of determining data. In addition, he said, information was missing from some markets in eastern Europe, saying “the Iron Curtain is back.” As such, he offered a mixture of data from 2021-2023.

According to the "best available data,” Turrin said that total sales revenue across Europe was up 6.5% in 2021 to €23.6 billion, compared with €22.2 billion in 2020. Turrin said he anticipates after the data comes in for 2022, the market will be flat at €23 billion. According to the FEP, a total of two billion units were sold in 2022 and that number is expected to rise to 2.5 billion in 2022.

Despite the rise in sales, the post-pandemic supply chain challenges brought down the number of new books published by FEP member states to approximately 500 million in each of the past two years, Turrin said, compared with a high of 610 million new books in 2017, 595 in 2022 and 575 million in 2021.

Format sales strongly favored print in 2022, which accounted for 84.8% of sales, with digital books coming in at 12.6% and audio at just 2.5%.

When compared with 2021, 2022 print book sales figures declined slightly across France, Germany and the Nordics, but compared with 2019, the figures are much more positive, with key markets including Italy, France and Spain showing double digit growth.

That said, there is a firm shift in the Nordic countries of Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland toward digital, primarily fueled by digital subscription services, such as Storytel and BookBeat, which are largely focused on audiobooks. In the Nordics, the subscription services have appeared to be cannibalizing physical sales. “What did not happen with e-books is happening with audio,” Turrin said. He anticipated that when all the data for 2022 was in, audio would likely account for 4%-5% of the market.

On the topic of sales channels, online sales, after booming during the pandemic, are slowing, while physical sales have rebounded somewhat. That said, bookstores sales in 2022 were down across much of Europe when compared with 2019, with Germany down 7.4%, Italy down 7.7% and the U.K. down 6.5%.

For the first four months of 2023, Turrin said that the best he could offer was that there is a “mixed picture,” across the region, with sales on the rise in key markets such as France, Germany, and Spain, and in decline in Italy and across the Nordics. Nevertheless, compared with 2019, sales remain largely robust.