The german book trade is losing readers. In the past five years alone, he has lost around 6.4 million customers, according to data from the booksellers’ association borsenverein.
Germany’s largest bookstore chain thalia won’t stand idly by and watch the trend continue. Thalia boss michael busch therefore announced in dusseldorf a realignment of the chain, which operates nearly 300 stores in germany, austria and switzerland. Bookstores are to become much more of a meeting place than before, with cafes, reading areas and play corners for children, but also with a variety of events.
The bookseller hopes it will be able to compete more effectively with other media offerings from youtube to netflix, which are increasingly successful in vying for consumers’ scarce time. "One in four no longer reads at all. That’s what we want – and need – to change," said busch.
At the same time, booksellers are planning an unusually aggressive advertising campaign for reading books. Involuntary helper: U.S. President donald trump, not exactly known as a book lover. "Donald trump doesn’t like to read," is one of the slogans thalia is using on billboards and in TV commercials to reinvigorate the image of reading books. Others are "you can’t learn imagination in a youtube tutorial" or "there are more feelings than emojis".
The advertising campaign for reading seems quite necessary. According to a study published this year by the borsenverein des deutschen buchhandels, reading is increasingly losing its importance in society. The number of people who bought at least one book during the year fell from 36 million to 29.6 million between 2013 and 2017. The number of books sold annually has fallen by 37 million to 367 million in the past ten years. But because the "hard core" of book lovers was spending more and more money on their hobby, industry sales remained stable for some time.
"Our goal is quite clear: reading must become popular again and must not just be a luxury hobby of the educated bourgeoisie," busch demanded. He sees competition not so much from other booksellers, but from online services such as youtube and netflix, which are taking an increasingly large share of consumers’ time budgets.
Thalia is launching its campaign from a position of strength, busch stressed. The retail chain, which was struggling to survive just a few years ago, is "economically healthy" two years after it was taken over by a consortium of owners led by the freiburg publishing family herder. In the 2017/2018 fiscal year, which still has two weeks to go, the company has once again increased sales and earnings and will be debt-free by the end of september. Busch did not give exact figures.
In online bookselling, too, thalia believes it is on course for success despite the dominance of us giant amazon, which according to industry estimates accounts for between 50 and 70 percent of e-commerce business with books. The online share of sales is now just under 20 percent and is continuing to grow at a double-digit rate, reported busch. "Compared to the rest of the book trade, we’re flying high there."