"Record-breaking year" for UK books - how do other European countries compare?

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By Katy Dartford
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The UK has sold more books than ever in a positive year for the publishing industry. But it's not looking as rosy across the Channel.

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It's been a bumper year for books with the UK's publishing market seeing sales up by four per cent from 2021.

Total sales for 2022 reached €7.8 billion, with 669 million physical books sold last year, the highest overall level ever recorded according to new figures from the Publishers Association.

The "A Year in Publishing" report found that the export market has played a huge role in the industry’s success in 2022 with an eight per cent increase, which takes its total to €4.65 billion.  

Germany was the UK's top Europe-based importer of consumer literature and the third worldwide after Australia and USA. In terms of academic publishing, Germany was ranked second, and Spain was the top consumer of education publishing.

In consumer books, print sales were up two per cent, to €2 billion, while digital sales were also up two per cent to €480 million and audio downloads saw an eight per cent increase to €186 million.

Fiction was up by one per cent to €904 million in sales, and children’s books were up by one per cent. Non-fiction saw a decrease of two per cent but still accounted for €1.13 billion.

Europe's book market

Compared with the pre-pandemic year 2019, 2022 saw double-digit growth in many countries, with rates exceeding 18 per cent in Italy, the Netherlands and Spain, reports GfK. In Germany, on the other hand, sales posted negative growth. 

France

Despite a drop of 4.8 per cent in sales compared to 2021, the book market in France is holding up well with a turnover of €4 billion in 2022, the second best in 10 years according to GfK Market Intelligence data.

General literature, comics and Manga lead the way, taking 50 per cent of all book sales. In 2022 more than 48 million copies of Manga were sold, (up two per cent ) with one in four titles among the 100 best sellers of the year.

According to GfK data, the French bought 364 million new printed books generating a turnover of €4.3 billion, down two per cent from 2021, but an increase of 12 per cent compared to 2019.

€1.05 million (down two per cent from 2021) was spent on general literature, with 87 million new novels bought (down one per cent), with modern fiction accounting for one in 10 books purchased.

Sales of historical and fantasy novels also increased by 26 per cent and 13 per cent respectively. Non-fiction books saw a 13 per cent decline. 

GfK also found that digital books were in decline, but remained a real growth driver with a turnover is three per cent of the book market. According to the firm, the paper and digital book market should exceed €4 billion in 2023.

Average prices for books in France, which rose by 1.9 per cent in 2022, were unable to compensate for the drop in sales resulting in the market closing the year with a three per cent loss in revenue.

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Germany

A similar picture for Germany where according to GfK books also cost 1.9 per cent more in 2022 but 3.5 per cent fewer titles were sold, meaning that revenues also declined by 1.8 per cent.

Research from the “BUCH” industry monitor found that book sales, both at bookstores and online, were cumulatively down 2.15 per cent compared with 2021. The total number of books sold fell by three per cent from the previous year.

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Compared to 2021 nonfiction was down 8.7 per cent, and children’s and young adult literature were down 3.3 per cent. Fiction and travel books saw the biggest gains, with sales up 4.3 per cent and 13.4 per cent, respectively.

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Italy, Spain, Belgium and Switzerland

Italy and Spain experienced an increase of 19 per cent in their physical book sales, while Belgium saw a 12 per cent increase, reports GfK.

In their other findings, Spain saw its revenues rise by one per cent while Italy only gained by 0.2 per cent.

However, according to the Association of Italian Publishers (_Associazione Italiana Editori/_AIE), Italian book sales saw a slight dip in 2022. It reports that revenue was €1.3 billion for the first 11 months of 2022, down 2.3 per cent from 2021 but up 12.9 per cent from pre-pandemic levels in 2019. 

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In all, 86.8 million print books were sold, down two per cent from 2021 and up 14.5 per cent from 2019. Overall, the AIE anticipates that the market revenue in Italy will have fallen from 1.1 per cent to 1.8 per cent, in 2022 compared with 2021.

Meanwhile, the Belgian region of Flanders saw a 2.3 per cent drop in revenues, while Switzerland experienced a 3.6 per cent drop.

The Netherlands experienced revenue growth of 3.2 per cent. Portugal reported strong growth of 16.2 per cent, the GfK research found.

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