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Buoyant but unequal markets

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The report by the European and International Federation of Booksellers shows growth trends of between 5 and 15%.

This is Kilkenny’s Irish Book Center on the High Street in a photo from April 20. Irish booksellers are among those participating in the European and International Federation of Booksellers’ new book sales report. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Shawn Williams

By Porter Anderson, Editor | @Porter_Anderson

A big focus for many on “digital presence”

VSAfter conducting its research in April, the Brussels-based European and International Booksellers Federation (EIBF) released its 2022 report on global book sales markets for 2021, “Exploring the Current Trends Shaping the Industry”.

The report is particularly interesting because since the beginning of 2020 and the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, of course, many booksellers have undertaken what the federation rightly calls “a complete reinvention of their business models, often having to integrate practices not associated with their traditional core business.

An example of this, of course, can be found in an independent bookstore in France which quickly built up its online presence to enable “click and collect” online sales in which the customer would buy a title from the store’s website and the would choose to the curb.

But even such an optimistic example may alert some. In their introduction, Fabian Paagman, CEO, and Jean-Luc Treutenaere, President of the Syndicate of cultural leisure distributors, write about the various subjects carefully followed by booksellers in so many regions of the world: “While we try to understand the current trends shaping the global bookstore industry, we must consider those gaining traction due to pandemic restrictions, such as declining store traffic, primarily digital audience groups, and addiction excessive to online sales channels, among others.

And the report opens with a warning. When aggregate figures are considered across all sales channels, “We find that the majority of markets analyzed have seen sales increase by 5% over the past year,” the report says, a figure that rises to 15% or more in a third of the years. markets examined. The difficulty is that the markets have not rebounded evenly, nor have they experienced the most restrictive spread mitigation efforts evenly and at the same times. Blockages were much more widespread and severe in some markets than in others.

At the heart of the concern, therefore: “Despite the overall growth of the market, physical sales in bookstores continue to lag behind digital sales channels in many countries. This was further exacerbated by nationwide lockdown measures in the first half of 2021.”

And at the same time – perhaps logically so ironically – it prompts the key overriding idea to be, it seems, to become more efficient, present and efficient in the digital space. At the same time, the report talks about the need to restore physical in-store occasions, “an event pipeline”, interrupted during the still ongoing pandemic, it also finds that digital advancements are a major concern and goal on many markets. be heard from here.

Image: European and International Booksellers Federation

Three axes of development

The federation indicates three areas of development in 2022, unsurprisingly with this digital focus in mind:

  • “Improving digital presence and optimizing online sales channels
  • “Review the supply chain, especially around paper and shipping logistics
  • “Prepare for limited customer purchasing power”

It is interesting to read these lines for more details on what the federation envisages with regard to these three areas of intervention, in particular because there is a rather sudden entry into the discussion on audiobooks and a “growth exponential” of streaming channels that appears:

“Overall, we have seen a significant increase in online sales,” the report states, with many booksellers developing their own online stores to compete with internet giants. Many national bookseller associations have identified physical presence, while enabling online sales, as a winning combination for bookstores to ensure their growth. “The online strategy has been identified as crucial to increasing sales in book markets around the world.

“In addition to the expansion of digital sales channels, streaming services have seen the greatest increase in market share over the past year. Even in countries where streaming services had little or no presence before the pandemic, book markets are now seeing exponential growth in audiobook streaming channels.

So here are some highlights of some of the analyzes that will be studied here by publishing professionals in many markets of the global industry. In many cases, points are issued directly by national bookseller associations and therefore located for comparative evaluation.

Image: European and International Booksellers Federation

Specific Highlights of Bookseller Associations
  • The closures weren’t necessary for booksellers to feel the pinch. From the Swedish Booksellers Association we read: “We never had a complete lockdown in Sweden, but people were asked to avoid shops and malls, which had a negative impact on sales of books during the pandemic. When the restrictions were lifted, customers returned.
  • Sales levels of children’s books continued to strengthen in some markets in 2021. From the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels in Germany: “Books for children and young adults continued to register strong increases during the pandemic: titles aimed at this young target group brought in 9% more sales last year than in 2019. Fiction (+4%) and non-fiction (+2%) also gained ground compared to sales levels. pre-pandemic. A large sales gap still exists for travel literature (-26 percent).”
  • This “increased digital presence”, as the federation describes it, is a feature of most if not all of the regions responding to this survey, with the Portuguese Association of Publishers and Booksellers reporting that audiobooks are “beginning to be a small trend” there, and the New Zealand Booksellers Association report: “Our top priorities for the future include supporting the digital competitiveness of independents against international retailers and local chains, sourcing an alternative audiobook platform that is not owned by a global superpower and supports the independent sector, as well as improving the digital infrastructure for the association to secure revenue streams to support members.
  • More on digital, from the Dutch Association of Booksellers: “In the Netherlands, online sales channels increased by 20%, while physical bookstores saw a drop in sales of 7%. For the first time ever, in 2021, more books were sold through e-commerce channels than physical stores, with e-commerce gaining 6% market share year-on-year in 2021.”
  • And more on digital, from the Norwegian Booksellers Association: “Digital channels gained the most and physical ones lost the most. But solutions like click and collect included both digital and physical channels, and were very important during the pandemic.
  • And even more on digital, from the Latvian Association of Booksellers: “The winners were bookstores with improved online stores, with a wide assortment of online books and faster and wider delivery options for customers, and physical stores which, after the easing of the restriction measures, were ready to respond to their customers and offer a better quality service than before.

Although there are more entries to go through, there is also an interesting coda here, in relation to the climate crisis.

At the very end of the report, the federation writes: “To ensure the sustainability of the industry, professionals in the sector must be aware of a looming challenge: climate change. From acting as an educational space for customers to taking practical approaches to reducing their carbon footprint, booksellers have a role to play in advancing the climate agenda. »

This report, with its combination of high level and anecdotal, is interesting to read as a wide-angle snapshot of the challenges facing our international bookstores at a most unusual time in the history of the industry.

You can read the full 12-page report in PDF format here.

National bookseller associations from 18 countries responded with contributions for 2021, meaning the data for this report was collected from:

  • Australia
  • Denmark (Faroe Islands)
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Luxemburg
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Portugal,
  • Romania
  • Russia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Swiss

More information on bookstores and book sales here, more on the European and International Federation of Booksellers here, more on digital publishing here, and mthe ore on industry statistics is here.

To learn more about the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and its impact on international book publishing, click here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident member of Trends Research & Advisory, and was named International Business Journalist of the Year at the London Book Fair’s International Excellence Awards. He is editor of Publishing Perspectives. He was previously associate editor of The FutureBook at The Bookseller in London. Anderson was a senior producer and anchor for CNN.com, CNN International and CNN USA for more than a decade. As an art critic (National Critics Institute), he has collaborated with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which is now owned and operated by Jane Friedman.