Official Statistics Office
Goethe-Institut’s Translations of German Books into Other Languages grant programme
Humanities International Prize for the Promotion of the Translation of Humanities
In-depth Country Profile
Germany is the world’s fourth-largest book market after the US, China and Japan, supported by the additional contribution of Austria and German-speaking Switzerland. It is the powerhouse of continental Europe, which for the UK publishing industry as a whole is the largest single export region by turnover. Although the English language does not inhabit German culture quite to the same extent as it does that of Scandinavia or the Netherlands, the use of English for business, academic study and international communication is on the rise, which combines with a strong reading culture, the largest population in Europe (83m), and the country’s economic power to provide steady English-language market growth. Supply from German wholesalers to retailers across the European Single Market (and sometimes even beyond Europe) as well as to customers in Austria and German-speaking Switzerland support Germany’s position as the second-largest export market after Australia for those UK general publishers with a mature international sales operation.
In contracts between UK and US publishers, authors and literary agents, Germany as part of the EU is either an exclusive market to the UK publisher (mostly where the controlling agent is based in the UK) or part of the so-called Open Market, where any legitimate edition may be sold. The designation of an ‘open market’ arose in such contracts in the middle years of the C20th, when sales to territories where the first language was not English were deemed an added extra of limited importance. Since them, the rise of sales to such territories has brought recognition that exclusivity is essential if publishers are to invest in particular works and in author development in English. This cash was supported by the rules of the European Single Market, within which the free flow of goods might result in US editions entering the UK: ‘We must have European exclusivity’, the argument ran, ‘or our domestic market will be breached by infringing editions.’
Digital marketing, especially in social media, has created the capacity to target English-language readers, and by genre-interest, in non-English-language territories, thus enabling the development of those markets in ways not previously possible.
The more commercially astute agents and authors have recognised the force of this case and tended to offer European exclusivity to the UK publisher, whose editions can also be shipped much more quickly, cheaply and with less adverse environmental impact than those from the US. It remains to be seen whether Brexit and the UK’s withdrawal from the Single Market will weaken the argument even if the benefits of exclusivity for marketing, author development and transport will remain unchanged.
Germany’s history means that there is no concentration of sales on a capital city as there is in e.g. France or the UK. Book distribution is handled for almost all German publishers by two long-established major wholesale distributors, Libri (https: //www.libri.de/en/)
KNV, Germany’s largest book, whose roots date back to the first half of the C19th, fell into financial difficulties in 2019 and was acquired in August of that year by the logistics company Zeitfracht, restoring stability to the trade after a short but damaging period of disruption.
Bookselling in Germany, like that in a range of other European countries and in Japan, has long been supported by resale price maintenance or fixed book pricing, a provision under which the discounting of local-language book prices by retailers is limited by statute (the limitation does not apply to books in foreign languages). This has prevented the deep discounting by online retailers and other outlets which in other markets has put the bricks-and-mortar book-retailing sector under great pressure and reduced the numbers of independent booksellers. Despite this protection the sector faces challenges.
In 2019 the merger was announced, for ‘strategic not financial reasons’, between Thalia (online offering here: https://www.thalia.de/shop/home/show/), the dominant bookselling chain with c.300 stores, and Mayersche (https://www.mayersche.de) the family-owned 55-strong chain based in North-Rhine Westphalia, creating Europe’s largest bookstore chain.
Amazon Germany is one of amazon’s most significant stores, and a top customer alongside Libri and KNV for both German and English-language publishers. The channels of its purchasing vary with commercial conditions and other factors: some is some is made direct from publishers, but amazon also buys from wholesalers both in Germany and overseas.
There is a strong independent bookselling sector in Germany, with Berlin’s vibrant new and creative culture especially fruitful ground. For any publisher visiting Berlin, Dussmann das KulturKaufhaus, a veritable temple to books and CDs with a lively programme of in store events, is a must-see https://www.kulturkaufhaus.de.
Many German bookshops, both chain and independent, have a foreign-language section where English books are prominent. The size of these sections varies greatly, but in the largest shops it is extensive.
Bookselling in Germany is regarded as a profession, and those who wish to pursue it as a career are required to gain formal professional qualifications administered by the German Booksellers’ and Publishers’ Association, the Boersenverein (https://www.boersenverein.de).
Although there are many first-language English-speakers living in Germany, the English-language trade-book market is composed mainly of second-language readers. They seek the direct experience of reading fiction in particular, but also some non-fiction, in the original language, with the added benefit of improving their English. It is a general truth that the publicity surrounding publication of English works in translation means foreign publication results in higher, not lower, local sales of the English-language edition: the relationship is complementary. Hence UK and US exporters keep a close eye on the foreign-rights sales of their books, making such licensing a strong additional sales point. A curious phenomenon is that books translated into English from a third language can sell well in Germany and other parts of Europe even when a local-language translation is available: keen readers believe that the quality of the English translation will be superior and bring them closer to the original, while helping improve their English. Less surprisingly, popular local works sell well in translation to expatriates.
Over the last several decades, UK and US publishers have produced Open Market Editions (OMEs) for Europe and other so-called open market regions (see above): East Asia, the Middle East, Latin America. These are A-format (i.e. mass-market) paperback editions of top-selling titles, where the domestic paperback may be produced in the larger B-format, and they may appear ahead of that domestic paperback. In the past, because these OMEs were of the same format as local-language paperback editions, they fitted more shelves, stands and spinners and were likely to find a wider market, e.g. in kiosks. That effect has diminished latterly, but OMEs remain an important option, particularly in swift response to the winning of a major prize.
All categories travel well in English into the German market, from the literary to the commercial, with the exception of that genre of mass-market women’s fiction which is highly culturally and geographically specific. Crime and thriller is a particularly strong genre, along with Young Adult: Harry Potter titles in hardback sold a six-figure quantity into the German market. Children’s was until quite recently a quiet category, but is now on the rise: parents see English-language reading as enabling their children’s English-language skills which will be valuable in later life.
Sales into the German (and wider European) market of ebooks and audiobooks published in English outside Germany are controlled by the originating publisher, who, depending on the arrangement with the digital vendor, may have access to sales data by territory and even by title.
Accessing the German Market for UK Publishers
Access to the German market for English-language books is through the major wholesalers described above (a high single-figure percentage of whose turnover is contributed by English-language books), and through amazon.de. Publisher SMEs will improve their chances of access, particularly to amazon, either by (a) making themselves part of an alliance or consortium: or (b) becoming an agency of a larger publisher, which will justify the contact-time for the customer; or (c) engaging a freelance sales representative who will add the list to his/her existing portfolio.
Wholesaler contacts are as follows :
Libri: Anna Herzog firstname.lastname@example.org
KNV: Jens-Peter Wagner email@example.com
An important further route to market is provided by the specialist English-language wholesaler H H Petersen, based in Hamburg, whose main focus is on travel outlets and smaller shops. Petersen has a sales force who sell books and not only a supply service, and the company prides itself on its customer-orientation and flexibility. It prints two seasonal new-book catalogues a year (complemented by its website), visiting London Book Fair to gather information for the following July to December season, and Frankfurt Book Fair for January to June. Contacts are Stephanie Tielker and Karin Simon: firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
If market access initially proves difficult for a UK publisher seeking to export to Germany, alternative options exist as per the general guidelines within this toolkit.