International Update: German Book Sales Gain in 2021, More Indie Bookshops in U.K., Ireland


Book sales in Germany last year increased 3.2% compared to 2020 and 0.8% compared to 2019, according to the Börsenverein, the German book industry association. Totals include sales in the retail book trade, e-commerce including Amazon, train station bookshops, department stores, electronics stores and drugstores. 

Citing widespread store lockdowns in the early months of 2019, the Börsenverein said that sales at bricks-and-mortar stores fell 3.1% in 2021 compared to 2020, and 11.5% compared to 2019. In a positive note, while at the end of April last year, bricks-and-mortar store sales were down 30.4% compared to the same period in 2019, by the end of the year they had recovered enough to be down 11.5%.

The strongest categories in 2021 were children's and YA books (up 9.4% compared to 2019), fiction (up 4.2%) and nonfiction (up 1.6%), though, as might be expected during the pandemic, sales for travel literature fell by 26.4%

"The book proved to be crisis-proof during the pandemic," said Börsenverein chair Karin Schmidt-Friderichs. "People have a great need for good stories, for reliable information, advice, and inspiration. To be sure, the months-long store closings at the beginning of the year as well as the decline in customer traffic in city centers was a major challenge to the local book trade. But the demand for books was high.

"Because of a great commitment, closeness to customers and the creativity of the bookstores and publishers, the book market was able to work its way out of the lockdown deficit month after month. Many, including small bookstores, benefited from growing online sales. This is good news considering the increasing costs of paper and energy that have grown significantly and will continue to affect the book industry in the new year."

The Booksellers Association reported that the number of independent bookshops in the U.K. and Ireland increased for the fifth consecutive year despite challenges brought by the pandemic. The Bookseller reported that according to figures released by the BA's annual survey, there were 1,027 shops "as active members at the end of 2021, the highest number since 2013, a year which followed two decades of decline. The figure was up from 967 in 2020, 890 in 2019, 883 in 2018 and 868 in 2017. In total 54 new bookshops opened in 2021, while 31 closed, resulting in a net gain of 23, the figures show."

Among the new openings were Afrori Books in Brighton, Book in Leighton Buzzard, Bookhaus and Gloucester Road Books in Bristol, DNA in Norwich, Folde in Dorset, Outwith Books in Glasgow, Rare Birds Books in Edinburgh, Storyville Books in Rhondda Cynon Taf, Wales, the Athlone Bookshop in County Westmeath, the Ivybridge Bookshop in Devon, the Reading Tree in Northamptonshire and Upper Street Bookshop in London.

"After a challenging few years for the bookselling sector, it is reassuring to see the number of independent bookshops in BA membership grow for a fifth consecutive year," said BA managing director Meryl Halls. "The fact that the number of bookshops can increase in the face of lockdowns, restrictions and supply chain issues demonstrates the passion, innovation and determination of booksellers, who continue to bring books to readers even in the most challenging circumstances."

Halls also issued a note of caution: "While we celebrate this good news as we head into the new year, it is important to recognise the context for this growth. The high street is still in a precarious position, with potential disruption to retail activity and consumer confidence on the horizon, the playing field still skewed in the favour of tech giants, and supply chains causing issues across retail. While booksellers continue to be leaders on their high streets and main streets... they need to be supported in order to keep doing their important work."

Carolynn Bain, founder of Afrori Books, the first Black-owned bookshop in Brighton, said: "I guess like many other booksellers I wonder how we will ever make this work when we are purchasing books at such a high price and trying to compete with organizations that sell at the price we buy.... There is still some opposition to the shop's existence and this is most evident in comments on local news articles. We have seen a genuine interest from the community with people coming in and moved to tears that we are here.... The Facebook group for booksellers has been a great place to chat to other bookshop owners, but it can be a very isolating industry and I am very grateful to my family and all the volunteers that are there for me to bounce ideas off and who give such invaluable input... we are excited about the year ahead."


Posted recently on the Canadian Independent Booksellers Association Facebook page: "We are always sad to hear about an independent bookstore struggling with unforeseen circumstances--like the flood that has caused Coastal Bookstore [Port Moody, B.C.] to close after only three weeks in its new home! But we are inspired by the community members who step up to support these important businesses. If you are in a position to support Danica and Coastal Books, you can find the fundraising campaign here." --Robert Gray

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