With a market worth 3.429 billion euros (2021 data), publishing is the leading cultural industry in Italy and the fourth in Europe. More than 85,000 new titles are published per year with a 15.6% increase on 2020 and an ever-expanding catalogue of available titles that today totals 1.3 million.
These are the figures that represent the epoch-making transformation of Italian publishing that has emerged from the pandemic and that in 2021 shows how precisely the emergency situation acted as an accelerator for important change. The boom in e-commerce and the innovations in distribution and printing processes that allow for a better calibration of production mean publishers are able to offer readers an increasingly varied assortment, dominated by the ‘long tail’: namely a market consisting of many titles that may even sell small numbers, but that all together confirm publishing as the country’s first cultural industry, despite traditional Italian criticalities in the past in terms of reading indexes and territorial disparity. Driving the market is above all a hard core of strong readers who are reading and buying more and more.
Import/export data also show the growing international reach of Italian books, which is approaching the break-even point in titles bought and sold abroad: over the last twenty years, exports have grown at an average annual rate of 8.6% and imports by 2.8%. In 2020, 8,586 titles were sold and 9,127 bought.
With 81,892 trade titles published in 2021, Italian publishing increased its offer compared to 2020 by 17.6% and by 11% compared to 2019. The growth in trade books is also partly due to the “tail-end” titles whose release has been postponed from 2020 to 2021 and confirms the correlation between increased supply and growth in demand. 2020, with growing sales despite a reduction in new releases, thus appears to be an exception. Ebooks bucked the trend and, after the explosion in 2020, stood at 49,926 in 2021, up 2.4% compared to 2019. The number of textbooks published in the year amounted to 3,308, down 18.7% on 2020.
The overall selection is still growing: excluding those self-published, there are 1.331 million titles on the market, up by 5.3% on the previous year. In 2010, before Amazon’s arrival in Italy, there were about half that number: 669,240. While in 1998, this figure stood at 339,883, the year Ibs.it was launched.The e-book catalogue is also growing and now has 550,000 titles, 9% more than the previous year.
If we look at print runs, print-on-demand and innovation in distribution have allowed a drastic drop in printed books. The total annual print run was 134.3 million copies (2020 figure), a drop of over 100 million compared to the 1995 peak (236.6 million). The average print run of each title is now 2,100 copies compared to 5,800 in the 1990s.
In the breakdown by genre, the steady growth of comics, now accounting for 13% of all fiction titles, must be highlighted. In 2021, 3,272 titles were published, an increase of 38.4% compared to 2010. In 2000, only 304 titles were published.
Finally, a look at the self-published phenomenon:the largest publishers specialising in this type of activity printed and distributed 16,065 titles in 2021, an increase of 55.7% compared to 2020. This growth has continued for several years now and confirms this as a structural phenomenon. Self-publishers are not included in the total of published titles.
Publishing supply drove a market that grew beyond expectations in 2021: the total market value was 3.429 billion euros, up 10.7% year-on-year and 10.2% on 2019.
The trade market (novels and non-fiction sold in physical and online bookshops and large retailers, including e-books and audiobooks) is worth 1.811 billion. The educational sector (books adopted by schools only) 780.1 million euros, up by 5.1%. Banks and data and Internet services have a turnover of 335 million euros, up by 6.1%.
Buying and reading behaviour
The results achieved by the Italian publishing industry in 2021 should be viewed within a context marked, on the one hand, by the explosion of e-commerce among Italian consumer habits, and on the other by persistent criticalities regarding reading indices.
In 2021, 73% of book readers declare that the titles read in the last year were bought in physical bookshops, a figure comparable to that of 2019 (74%). But the number of readers who say they bought books online is 43%, up 5 percentage points on 2019, although slightly down on 2020 (the sum is greater than one hundred because multiple answers are possible). Newsstands accounted for 15%, large retailers at 9% and stationers’ at 5%. The ease of finding books that cannot be found elsewhere, the possibility of buying at any time of the day, and time savings are the major benefits perceived by those who choose to purchase online, something that is now an established consumer habit for many.
With regard to historical criticalities referring to book reading indexes and consumer habits, Italians who declare having bought printed books in the last 12 months are only 48% of 15-74 year olds, 51% if we also consider ebooks and audiobooks. 6% of Italians say they buy more than 12 books (print and digital) a year, 9% from 7 to 11, 12% from 4 to 6, 24% from 1 to 3, 49% none. It is a very concentrated market, which is growing mainly because the strong readers and strong buyers, although few in numbers, state that they are buying more books than before (2.5 books more on average compared to 2020). 32% of readers read more than seven books a year, but generate 59% of sales.
According to data from the AIE (Italian Publishers Association) Observatory, 56% of 15-74 year olds declare themselves readers, down from 59% in 2020. The national figure hides strong territorial disparities between northern and southern Italy, cities/towns and provinces.
One of the priority objectives of Italian publishing is growth on foreign markets: in 2023 the country will be guest of honour at the Paris Book Fair, in 2024 at the Buchmesse, two events that represent the culmination of a long process of promotion that has seen publishers and institutions, with the important contribution of AIE (Italian Publishers Association), work together to increase the awareness and popularity of Italian books abroad. Every year, Italy invests over 1 million in translation contributions and the goal, in view of the Frankfurt event, is to achieve a rationalisation of the incentive system and further growth in exports.
The latest available data for 2020 tells us that 8,586 titles were sold and 9,127 titles bought during the year. The trend towards breakeven is clear: over the last twenty years, exports have grown at an average annual rate of 8.6%, imports by 2.8%. Data that confirm, on the one hand, the Italians’ traditional openness to world literature, but also, on the other, the growing fascination of foreign readers for Italian books, with peaks of excellence such as children’s and young adult.
The Report on the State of Publishing in Italy 2022 (Rapporto sullo stato dell’ editoria in Italia 2022) was drawn up in collaboration with Bologna Children’s Book Fair, BolognaBookPlus and Bologna Fiere. The “Market rights” and “International Markets” chapters in the Report were funded by the Aldus Up European network of book fairs, coordinated by AIE (Italian Publishers Association) and co-financed by the European Commission as part of the Europe Creative programme.
The full report – in Italian only – is available in the digital version here and in the main online stores.