While there is cautious optimism, we are also starting to see the figures and statistics of the impact of COVID on the European creative and cultural industries. In a report published by EY (and supported by the Federation of European Publishers) earlier this year, we are seeing an interesting picture of the role the book industry plays within the economy and the resilience our industry to cope with these unexpected events such as the pandemic. Whilst Europe is unique in many ways, the lessons emerging form the pandemic have wider applications in other markets.

Some interesting aspects of the EY report include:

  • Prior to the pandemic, the Creative Industries were a heavyweight in the European economy with a turnover of €643 billion in 2019, representing 4.4% of EU GDP. This was greater than telecommunications, technology, pharmaceutics or the automotive industry.
  • In 2020, the cultural and creative economy lost approximately 31% of its revenues, with a drop of €199 billion compared to 2019. It was one of the most affected industries in Europe, with eastern and central Europe hardest hit (from -36% in Lithuania to -44% in Bulgaria and Estonia).


What did the study tell us about the book industry?

Firstly, that cultural and creative economy is of critical importance to Europe and arguably in other markets as well. Whilst the shockwaves of COVID were felt sharply in 2020, it was interesting to see how the book industry showed some resilience compared to other cultural segments. For example, the performing arts (-90%) and music (-76%) were among the hardest hit. In comparison, the book industry experienced much more limited damage, albeit with large variations and video games were the only industry that seemed to hold up (+9%).

This is good news for the book industry. Our resilience is also an opportunity to be innovative and disruptive. While we can all foresee that print will remain dominant, we have also witnessed our audiences consuming content in new formats. As publishers we have a huge opportunity to try new formats, new ways of selling and promoting books and authors. We have seen how fast digital adoption has been for younger generations, especially in the educational market, but we have also seen it capture older markets as well. For example, audio is a great for those with reading difficulties at a later stage in life.

But it hasn’t all been wonderful for the book industry. Throughout Europe there were struggles felt by the book industry over the classification of a book as an essential good, thereby being allowed to be sold and consumed during lockdown. This struggle has highlighted the need to position the book industry as a strategic driver for a well-functioning, inclusive and sustainable society. It is vital that our decision makers view reading as a strategic tool to combat fake news, conspiracy theories and anti-globalization enthusiasts. We need stronger support for the cultural industries with partnerships between public and private sector to enable a rich and robust cross fertilization between public education, cultural policies and public finances.


The move to an attention economy

This EY study gives some insight into the impact of COVID on the book industry within the context of the wider cultural sector, and we can expect to see many more published in the coming years as the economies start to recover. However, it is important to recognize that the pandemic has also highlighted that the book industry is moving towards an attention economy. During lockdown it was increasingly clear that we are not just competing against music, or video games but more widely for consumers’ time. Reading books competes against other activities we do in our daily lives such as reading the news, streaming TV shows, sporting, working and socializing. As we look to the future, we should consider the book industry to be part of the wider entertainment economy. We need to start thinking about our books in terms of attention, bringing our innovative offerings to the market in order to claim important space in the daily lives of everyone. Let’s see how the market reporting evolves to reflect this new dimension of an attention economy.

Read the full study here: https://www.rebuilding-europe.eu/


Pedro Sobral, Vice President of APEL is the chair of the book statistics taskforce within the Inclusive Publishing and Literacy Committee.