It is all about the details! ReBoot’s workshop „Assessing the Damage“ identified winning and losing experiences in the international book business under the pandemic.
March 8, 2021 by ruediger

The season’s first workshop in the “ReBoot: Books, Business and Reading” on 25 Feb 2021 took off with promises of a wild ride between some countries and segments where the book trade significantly expanded, driven by an increase in reading, while other markets and segments of the industry had to confront loss and swings in consumer habits.

Print book sales in Germany, Austria and Swiss 2011 to 2020 (data by MediaControl, analysis Ruediger Wischenbart.

Print book sales in Germany, Austria and Switzerland 2011 to 2020 (data by MediaControl, analysis Ruediger Wischenbart Content and Consulting).

In Sweden, publishers recorded gains in revenue of 8.7% in 2020 – and a stunning surge of +21.5% in (mostly digital) units. For the first time digital overtook physical sales, and most of digital turnover was earned through audiobook subscriptions.

The USA saw 9% more copies shipped, while revenues stayed flat with +0.8%. The real drama however required to go into the details, as online sales surged by +43% in 2020, bringing print books up +8.2% in revenue, and ebooks +12.6%, while physical bookstores, drowned by -28.3%.

Germany (-2.3% in book revenue) and France (-4.5%), the two usually boringly robust European markets saw each an up and down along the Covdid-19 year, shaped by lookdowns and closures of bookstores, followed by bold interim recoveries, praised as proof for the resilience of the book sector. But again, a deep rift opened, setting apart the overall market performance from a much more challenged brick and mortar retail sector, where turnover dropped by -8.7% and unit sales even by -12%.

In Poland, unit sales were remarkably robust, but returns fell off quickly, as heavy discounting led to price wars. E-commerce moved mainstream even in countries with a particularly low digital penetration, like Greece.

Overall, the ReBoot workshop provided data and analysis on some 20 different territories all over Europe and the Americas, covering namely Argentina, Austria, Brazil, China, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Portugal, Sweden, Norway, Turkey, UK, US, and by industry segment fiction and nonfiction, as compared to children and young adult, as well as by formats and sales channels – notably print, ebooks, audiobooks, e-commerce, and subscriptions, as well as digital library lending.

In many countries publishers found themselves in a stronger position than retailers. Pandemic sales hit hardest the big chain bookstores, while giving some advantages to small independents and, of course, online (or omni channel) shops. Digital library loans soared. Backlist titles gained ground, while front-list – put aside a few blockbusters – saw their share in decline. And in many parts of the industry, new alliances and new fields for experimentation opened.

We are grateful to all participants, and in particular to those sharing their insights and learnings, including Andrew Albanese (US), Johanna Brinton (UK), Carlo Carrenho (BR/SE), Giacomo D’Angelo (IT), Sonia Draga (PL), Michalis Kalamaras (GR), Thad McIlroy (US), Gerson Ramos (BR), Enrico Turrin (BE/EU), and Burcu Ürsin (TR).

A complete video recording of the session, and presentations with rich data and detail, will be made available to all registered ReBoot members in the ReBoot Box.

Register now at www.rebootbooks.org to get your pass offering access to the Box and to the next Reboot events on April 21st and June 15.

We thank our sponsors Media Control and the Austrian Ministry of Culture for their crucial support.

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