On-line bookstores are seeing a drop in sales

On-line bookstores are seeing a drop in sales while physical ones are again becoming the outlet through which more than half of all trade books (fiction, nonfiction, reference) are sold. This according to an analysis by the Italian Publishers’ Association (AIE) of the data provided by the Nielsen Bookscan survey. The results were presented at the International Book Fair in Turin during the conference entitled “The book market in the first four months of 2022. New genres and formats, the revolution of social networks and channels: where publishing is headed”, in collaboration with Aldus Up, a program financed by Creative Europe.

Italian publishing has recovered from the years of the pandemic,” explained Ricardo Franco Levi, president of AIE, “but is now dealing with an economic context characterised by an increase in the cost of paper, inflation, and a decline in the confidence index of consumers. In the long term, the challenge is to win over new, young readers who must be reached through the communications channels that they use the most and offering a range of editorial and cultural products with which they can always identify.”

The market and the challenges of the economic context. In the first four months of 2022, 32 million books were sold via trade channels (physical and online bookstores and large scale distribution) for a total of €469 million at cover price, a decline of 2.5% and 3.7% respectively as compared to the first four months of last year. But 5 million more copies were sold (up 17%) than in pre-pandemic 2019, corresponding to a total of €65 million at cover price (up 16%).

Impacting the 2022 results are the increase in the cost of paper (more than 50% as compared to January 2021), inflation of 6.2% (April data), and a decline in the confidence index of families, which dropped from 117.7 in December 2021 to 100 in April 2022.

Physical bookstores are on the rise, on-line book sales are dropping. €245.8 million worth of books at cover price were sold in physical bookstores, €201.7 million in online bookstores, and €21.6 million via large scale distribution. Thus the growth of online sales, which had been continuous since 2019, has been halted, while physical bookstores continue to regain lost ground after the collapse in 2020 due to pandemic closures. In terms of quotas, bookstores claim more than half of all sales with 52.4%, online sales settle at 43%, and large scale distribution drops further to 4.6%. 

Genres, the growth in foreign fiction and the boom in comic books. In 2022 the only genres that have experienced growth are foreign fiction and comic books, the bookstore sales of which have tripled between 2019 and today. The boom in comic book sales has had a major impact on the market’s performance: without these its decline as compared to 2021 would have been 5.3% rather than 3.7%. And, as compared to pre-pandemic 2019, without comic books the market’s overall growth would have been 10.8% rather than 16%.

The social media effect and rankings. According to an AIE Observatory survey, conducted by Pepe Research, in 2021 59% of purchasers claimed to have been “very” or “somewhat” influenced by what they read or saw on social media, while in 2019 this figure was at 50%. The increase in this kind of influence is reflected in the Top 10 of the first four months (see attachment). But the list of the top ten most read books provides only a partial idea of the market’s activity.

The new rankings of the Giornale della Libreria. That’s why the Giornale della Libreria, in collaboration with Nielsen BookScan and the AIE research office, is providing a new online service every month (https://www.giornaledellalibreria.it//classifiche): the general ranking of the 100 top selling books of the month and the six rankings of the 100 top selling books divided according to genre: Italian fiction, foreign fiction, children’s and young adult’s, nonfiction, reference books, and comic books. For reference books and comic books in particular, this is a “first time”, making it possible to shine a spotlight on two genres which are fundamental to studying overall market performance.