The German book trade - a comprehensive overview for authors

How many stages of the value chain does the book trade comprise? What does the term "cash assortment" mean and what is meant by returns? The book market is characterised by its own industry standards and a large number of market participants. In this article, we will not only explain the systematics and functioning of the individual stages of the value chain. We also look at how current market developments are putting the individual industry players under economic pressure. It is indispensable for authors to understand how the book trade works and its special characteristics in order to be able to make promising decisions for their own book publication.

What does the term book trade refer to?

When the term "book trade" is used in public reporting or in a private context, it usually refers to a bookshop or the entire stationary book retail trade, i.e. retail outlets that primarily sell books. In fact, however, the book trade as a technical term includes all undertakings engaged in booksellingas stated in the statutes of the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels (German Publishers and Booksellers Association):

  • Manufacturing book trade: publishing houses and self-publishing service providers
  • Intermediary booksellers: book wholesalers (the so-called cash assortments)
  • Distributing book trade: retail book trade, Internet book trade, mail-order book trade, antiquarian bookshops and advertising book and magazine trade

This fine-grained definition is important insofar as it results in the entire value chain of the book trade. In the narrower sense, the term value chain refers to all the stages in the production and sale of a product from A to Z. When we speak here of the book trade's value chain, we mean all the stages and activities involved in the creation, production and sale of a book. This of course also includes the author as the creator and originator of a book.

The value chain of the book trade

For every book author, it is important to realize which companies and trade partners are involved in getting a book from the author to the reader, or that a finished manuscript ultimately becomes a professionally typeset and printed book that can be purchased in the bookstore or online shop. Understanding this process makes it easier to understand why, in the end, not only the author himself earns money from the book, but also many other companies that ensure that a book can be sold at all. Last but not least, we also go into some of the special features of the book market that fundamentally distinguish it from other industries.

What are the individual stages of the book trade's value chain? The book starts with the author. In order for it to be bought at all and everywhere (!), numerous further stages of the value chain are required: Publishers edit and lay out books, printers produce books, publishers deliver books and book wholesalers - the bar assortments - provide the book trade with books. Finally, the retailer sells them to the reader.


The value chain of the book market begins with you as a book author. The book market lives from Authors and their contents: Whether it's fascinating worlds or suspenseful scenarios that authors create in novels, or the expertise on a wide variety of subjects that's non-fiction and reference books is immortalized. Without the creative imagination and writing talent of authors, no book would be created. The extensive WriteThe work that authors do would never be available for everyone to buy and read if it were not for the book trade and its other value-added stages.

How does a manuscript become a book?

Of course, an author can also write on a personal website offer his book for sale. But it would never be possible to reach as many readers as through the distribution channels of the book trade. Moreover, a manuscript that an author has completed is far from being a book: it has to be formatted, designed, professionally setThe book must be designed, laid out and finally printed. If an author publishes his book with a traditional publisher, the publisher or his service provider takes over all the tasks of book design and production. In self-publishing, it is up to the author to decide which tasks he takes on himself or outsources, depending on the budget for his book. Since self-publishing has established itself as a dynamically growing publishing channel in the book market in recent years, in the following we will not only discuss publishers as manufacturing booksellers, but also self-publishing service providers.

Publisher or self-publishing?

Once an author has finished writing his book and wants to publish it, he either submits his manuscript to one or more book publishers. Alternatively, an author decides to publish via a self-publishing service provider. You can find out which publishing channel is the right one for you personally by reading our article "Self-publishing or publishing: which path suits your manuscript?" find out.

Book publisher

By definition, a book publisher produces print products and now, of course, also e-books. In return, an author grants the book publisher the corresponding exploitation rights to his or her book. However, being able to publish your manuscript with a book publisher as an unknown author is extremely difficult. As you can read in our post about the Submission of manuscripts only 0.5 percent of authors who submit their manuscript unsolicited to a publisher actually manage to get it published there. Book publishers simply don't manage to sift through the thousands of manuscripts that are sent in every year. In addition, book publishers are increasingly under pressure in view of stagnating book sales and prefer to rely on follow-up titles by successful existing authors or promising licenses of foreign titles.

How does a book publisher work?

The fact that a book publisher has to compile its programme not only according to stylistic content, but also strongly according to economic aspects, is partly due to the way it works: a book publisher takes on all the services and activities that turn a manuscript into a finished printed and professionally laid-out book. In addition, the publisher distributes and promotes each book. All these individual work steps are implemented in the individual departments of the publishing house: editing, rights & licenses, production, marketing, sales and press. All services are pre-financed by the publishing house. Because how a book ultimately sells only becomes apparent in the aftermath.

Major publishers dominate the bestseller lists

In our contribution How a book publisher works: what every author should know about publishing practice you can read in detail how the individual departments of a publishing house work. You will also learn how much the publishing landscape has changed over the past decades, from a heterogeneous structure with many small, independent publishing houses to large, sometimes globally active publishing groups that unite numerous imprints (publishing brands) under their roof. There are around 2,000 publishing houses in Germany, many of them still small. Nevertheless, the sales rankings and bestseller lists are dominated by the largest publishing groups (Random House, Holtzbrinck publishers, Bonnier publishers).

To turn a manuscript into a print-ready book, a book publisher also works with various service providers. These include printers, bookbinders or even freelance illustrators and editors.

Self-publishing service provider

As a book author, do you choose the publishing route... Self-PublishingIf you want to publish a book, you will usually use the services of a self-publishing service provider. Unlike book publishers, these offer authors a very fast and uncomplicated publication of their book. It's not for nothing that a whole 50,000 self-publishing titles appeared on the German book market in 2019, and the trend is rising. By comparison, book publishers have published 70,000 titles, and the trend is downward! So self-publishing is a strong, growing segment within the book market. For this, however, self-publishing authors must also - depending on the concept and range of the respective self-publishing service provider - take on some of the tasks themselves or decide for themselves whether or not to make use of professional editing, proofreading or cover design. At tredition there are numerous Services like an automatic book typesetting or an easy to use Cover Designer already included in the publication price.

In view of the strong competition not only within self-publishing, but also from publishing titles, it is recommended to every self-publishing author to attach importance to a professional implementation of their book project. A book should at least be professionally corrected and ideally also edited.

Like book publishers, self-publishing service providers also work with printers to produce books, which we discuss in more detail in the following point.

Print shop

In today's letterpress printing, the processes used are usually offset printing or digital printing. At Offset printing - based on the English term "set off" - printing ink is transferred from a printing plate to a printing blanket and from there to the paper. If books have a large print run, they are usually produced from the web (web offset printing). For illustrated books and art books, on the other hand, the sheetfed press is used (sheetfed offset printing).

What are the advantages of digital printing?

Compared to offset printing, the Digital printing no static printing forme is required. Rather, the printed image is transferred from a computer file to a printing press. Digital printing is becoming increasingly important in book printing because the printing process is significantly more economical than offset printing for smaller print runs. For this reason, self-publishing titles are produced almost exclusively in digital printing, since unlike publishing titles they are produced specifically to order: Here, the so-called print-on-demand process which traditional publishers also use, for example, for printing backlist titles. In terms of quality, digital printing is no longer inferior to offset printing. The great advantage of print-on-demand is that books can be reprinted quickly and easily.

The economic situation of the printing industry

The production departments of book publishers coordinate printing prices, order volumes, print runs and delivery times with the printers. For you as an author, it is not only important to know which production processes are used in book printing, but also the economic situation in which the printing industry finds itself. The printing industry has been struggling with rising paper prices for years. Reasons for this include more expensive raw materials such as cellulose, a simultaneously growing demand for raw materials worldwide and higher transport costs, for example due to tolls. Already in summer 2018, the Federal Association of German Paper Wholesalers (BVDDP) called upon printing companies toto pass on higher prices to customers and clearly communicate the reasons for this.

When a book is finally printed, the last stage on the way to the customer and reader comes: it reaches the shelves of the book retail trade or the online shops via publisher deliveries and bar ranges. The following section is devoted to this so-called intermediate book trade.

Publisher's delivery

What exactly is meant by a publisher's delivery service? Their work is hardly visible to authors and readers and yet extremely important in book distribution: as service providers to book publishers, publisher's distributors store, order and ship books to retailers and also handle invoicing.

The origin of the deliverers

Until the end of the 1950s Publisher deliveries pure intermediary booksellers. However, after Bertelsmann founded its Vereinigte Verlagsauslieferung in 1959, numerous book publishers followed this example and set up their Verlagsauslieferungen in order to act as delivery agents for other publishers (publishing clients) as well.

For book publishers, outsourcing their distribution has the advantage of being able to concentrate on their core business - working on books and with authors - without losing their own distribution sovereignty, i.e. deciding which books are distributed in which editions through which channels. As the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels points out in its ABC of the intermediary book trade explains that the advantage of publishing house distribution as opposed to self-distribution lies, inter alia, 'in cheaper processing (bundling and synergy effects, better use of technical facilities and equipment, multiple use of software modules, etc.)', 'in more detailed and up-to-date reporting (bookings, information, statistics) and in the avoidance of capacity bottlenecks or overcapacities due to seasonal or production-related fluctuations'.

Publishing deliveries gain new importance

Just ahead of the 2019 Frankfurt Book Fair, the Financial TimesThe book wholesaler Libri has recently discontinued a large number of titles that are not selling at all or only in small numbers. Small and independent publishers in particular are therefore increasingly looking for alternatives for the delivery of their titles.

How do publisher deliveries differ from cash assortments?

It is important here to distinguish between cash assortments (book wholesalers) and publisher's distributors. While book wholesalers purchase books from publishers at wholesale prices and sell them on to book retailers, book distributors act as service providers for publishers and, like an outsourced distribution company, take on almost all the services involved in storing, ordering and delivering books. Somewhat complicated for those outside the industry is the fact that book wholesalers sometimes also act as publisher's distributors in their own corporate division. This is the case, for example, with the KNV Group, which, however, had to file for insolvency in February 2019 and was replaced on 1 August by the Logistics service provider Zeitfracht acquired was. You can find out more about book wholesaling below.

Cash assortment (book wholesale)

We have previously explained the meaning and function of a bar range: as an intermediary bookseller, the bar range buys books from publishers and sells them on to the book retail trade. The somewhat unwieldy term "bar range" arises from the History of these intermediary booksellers: they supplied their "assortment" to their customers at the price at which publishers normally sold their titles to booksellers when the latter paid cash - the so-called original discount.

What are the bar ranges?

Bar assortments - or to put it more simply, book wholesalers - are an indispensable link in the book trade's value chain. They supply bookshops throughout Germany and overnight with their own delivery systems (book trolleys) and thus maintain the entire logistical infrastructure of the book market. In Germany, book wholesaling is divided among the three companies Libri, Time Freight (formerly KNV) and Umbreit on. There are no other competitors worth mentioning.

KNV became Zeitfracht

The news of the aforementioned insolvency of the company KNV (Koch, Neff & Volckmar) was shocking for the entire book industry. KNV, now operating under the name Zeitfracht, supplies 7,000 bookshops and other book-keeping businesses overnight, according to its own information, apart from the publishing delivery division, which is just as vital for publishers. For the book wholesale competitors Libri and Umbreit it would have been impossible, purely for capacity reasons, to absorb KNV's delivery workload. Smaller bookshops saw their existence directly threatened by the fact that they were usually supplied by only one of the three book wholesalers and also used its special merchandise management software.

Why did KNV become insolvent?

In the popular press, the insolvency of KNV was sometimes cited as evidence that the book industry was in serious crisis in view of stagnating or falling book sales and a growing loss of book buyers. However, this is too short-sighted: A major contributing factor to the book wholesaler's insolvency was that a new logistics warehouse KNV opened near Erfurt in 2014 got off to a bumpy start, resulting not only in major financial losses but also in customers leaving for competitors. The takeover of KNV by Zeitfracht ultimately secured KNV's continued existence with the aim of making the logistics centre in Erfurt profitable.

Book wholesalers under pressure

So even though the KNV insolvency is mainly due to internal difficulties, the book wholesale sector inevitably also shows how much pressure the book industry is under. One example: In the summer of 2019 the book wholesaler Libri listed 180,000 titles from smaller publishers. with the aim of streamlining the company's own stock. Backlist titles and low-priced titles with a retail price of less than €4.90 were particularly affected. The publishers affected criticised the threat to the existence of small, independent publishers and bookshops that stock their range exclusively through Libri.

Due to the tense market situation, both book wholesalers and retailers as well as book publishers are forced to develop new revenue models to compensate for declining book sales. The challenge lies in not being caught off guard by young companies from outside the industry and their wealth of ideas when establishing innovative business models, even beyond the book product as such.

Retail book trade

What exactly does the term assortment bookselling cover? The term refers to a bookshop whose product range focuses on books and whose selection of titles is as broad as possible. As a rule, an assortment bookstore employs trained booksellers who advise customers accordingly when buying books and order titles not in stock from the bar assortments or publisher's deliveries overnight or within a few days. A distinction should be made between assortment bookshops and railway station bookshops, whose range of books focuses on fast-moving and top titles, and second-hand bookshops or mail-order booksellers. It should also be mentioned that supermarkets, stationery shops, drugstores and petrol stations also sell books. Together with railway station bookshops, the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels records these as "Other sales outlets". Department stores are reported separately.

What is the economic significance of the retail book trade?

With 42 % revenue share at last count (2020). the retail book trade is still the most important distribution channel for books in Germany. In 2020, Internet bookselling accounted for 24.1 percent of sales for the first time; until then, it had always been below the 20 percent mark.

However, the extent to which the market situation - changing shopping behaviour and competition from digital media - is challenging the retail book trade can be seen in the developments of the past year(s). Small and medium-sized booksellers in particular have had to give up their shops or sell them to larger chain stores. Large chain stores, in turn, are forced to downsize, especially in areas where competition is intense.

Chain stores dominate book retailing

Of the 5,000 or so bookshops that exist in Germany, most are still small, owner-managed shops, but the very largest share of total book sales (a total of 9.30 billion euros in 2020 according to the Börsenverein) is accounted for by large chain stores. For the book publishers, this means that they sell the majority of their print runs only with a few large chains that have developed a corresponding purchasing power. Leading chain stores in the German retail book trade are Thalia, Hugendubel and Weltbild. After Thalia and Hugendubel had already brought about a strong concentration in 2006 and 2007 by acquiring regional chain stores such as Buch & Kunst/Baedeker, Grüttefien, Habel or Weiland, another far-reaching merger took place in 2019: With the Merger of Thalia and the North Rhine-Westphalian company Mayersche a bookselling company with 330 branches in Germany and Austria was created.

In addition to these Germany-wide market leaders, there are still some regional chains such as Osiander, Rupprecht and Pustet in southern Germany, Heymann in northern Germany and Morawa-Leykam in Austria. Orell Füssli, the leading chain store in Switzerland, is 50 % owned by Thalia.

The dilemma of smaller publishers and retailers

The fact that large mergers such as that of Thalia and Mayerschen are approved under antitrust law is due to the special customs of the book market. In contrast to the classic consumer goods market, fixed book prices still apply to books in Germany. The Federal Cartel Office therefore argued on the occasion of the merger of the two companies: "Because of the statutory book price fixing, competition at the book retail level takes place quite predominantly not on prices but on the quality of the offer, such as the range of products, the advice given as well as the layout of the shops, which also offers opportunities for smaller retailers."

Non-books as a sales supplement

The fact is, however, that smaller bookshops on the one hand partly emulate the assortment policy of large chain stores, which is concentrated on top titles from large publishing groups, in order to remain competitive. On the other hand, booksellers who try to score with titles from small, independent publishers face other constraints already described: When bar retailers slim down their warehouses or even face insolvencies at the book wholesaler level, the business with books from smaller and medium-sized publishers and bookstores is particularly at risk. It is not without reason that book retailers have long since expanded their product ranges to include so-called non-books (gift articles, toys and stationery etc.).

Internet bookshop

In 1994, Jeff Bezos came up with the idea of selling books over the Internet: Customers order online and get the books delivered to their homes. The company he founded, Amazon, is now the world's largest internet bookseller, although of course numerous other products have long been part of Amazon's range. In the meantime, of course, range booksellers, above all the large chain stores, also operate their own online shops for books (,, etc.).

Why are bar assortments also important for online shops?

As is the case for the retail book trade, the cash ranges with their title databases are an indispensable link in the book value chain for Internet booksellers: many Internet booksellers not only use the warehouses of the cash ranges to maintain overnight delivery. They also make use of the title databases of wholesalers and book publishers to provide end customers with the relevant information on each book title (cover, short description, sales price, ISBN, etc.).

What is Amazon's share of book sales?

With around 2.358 billion euros, internet booksellers have so far only turned over 25.4 percent (2020) of total book sales in Germany. However, the trend is growing: in 2017, the share of sales accounted for by the internet book trade was still 18.8 percent, in 2014 it was 16.2 percent. Amazon accounts for a large part of this turnover in the internet book trade. There are no official figures from the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, but it is estimated that Amazon alone has a market share of around 15 to 16 percent. Within the Internet book trade, Amazon is thus dominant, but measured against the total turnover of the book trade, Amazon's market share is far smaller than often assumed by authors and readers.

The mail-order book trade, which is also considered separately by the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels (German Publishers and Booksellers Association), must be distinguished from the Internet book trade. This is traditionally based on the dispatch of book catalogues from which end customers select and order their books. Weltbild made its entry into the book trade in the 1970s as a mail-order bookseller. Today Weltbild is the second largest German internet bookseller after Amazon.

The e-book market

Trade in e-books must be viewed separately from the traditional value chain of the book trade, as digital content has different distribution requirements than printed books. Like printed books, e-books are now part of the product range of almost every book publisher and self-publishing service provider. For the creation of e-books, book publishers usually cooperate with e-book service providers who prepare the book content for various e-book formats and end devices.

E-books are distributed via the publishers' own websites, internet booksellers and on the sales platforms of large internet companies specialising in e-books, such as Google Play, Apple's iBookstore, and kobo. Book publishers cooperate in part for the distribution of their e-books with intermediary booksellers who, in addition to printed content, also distribute digital content as wholesalers and thus serve the online shops.

Special characteristics of the book trade

In the previous explanations, you have already learned that the book trade is characterised by special industry standards and legal requirements that do not or no longer apply in classic consumer goods markets. This is due to the fact that books, as cultural assets, have a special significance from a legal perspective and are worthy of protection, unlike products for everyday use. In the following, we will explain to you which special features characterise the trade in books.

Fixed book prices - what does that mean?

Whether a reader makes a book purchase at an assortment bookstore, an online shop, a train station bookstore or a department store: the sales price of the book is the same everywhere. This is because in Germany, both printed books and e-books are subject to price fixing.

The Fixed Book Price Act (BuchPrG) obliges every publisher to define binding sales prices for its titles. Paragraph 1 of the law states its purpose as follows: "The law serves to protect books as a cultural asset. The fixing of binding prices for sales to final purchasers ensures that a wide range of books is available. At the same time, the law ensures that this offer is accessible to a broad public by promoting the existence of a large number of sales outlets." The aim of fixed book prices is thus diversity of supply and wide availability. By requiring large as well as small book publishers to work with fixed shop prices, just like chain stores and small retailers, the aim is to ensure that titles that do not belong to the orderers and the so-called "mainstream" are also accessible to readers or have sales opportunities.

For the over-availability of books, the cash ranges, as described above, are of great importance, since they enable booksellers to order overnight almost all titles which are not in stock. For this reason, section 6(3) of the BuchPrG states that 'publishers ... may not charge higher prices to intermediary booksellers or set conditions that are worse than those for final sellers who supply them directly'.

Price fixing - yes or no?

Our previous comments on the economic situation of the book trade have already shown that fixed book prices alone do not guarantee the long-term existence of a large number of bookshops, especially smaller ones, which guarantee the supply of readers in rural, less populated areas, for example, or ensure that unknown authors and books are also included in their ranges.

In the book industry, the opinions of publishers, authors and service providers differ as to whether fixed book prices can stop the structural change of the book market or, on the contrary, even promote it. From the side of the so-called Monopolies Commission, a body that advises the German government on competition policy issues, there was most recently in 2018 a Move to abolish fixed book prices. Although this did not happen, further steps in this direction cannot be ruled out in the future.

What would be the impact of a price fixing case?

Proponents of fixed book prices fear that even more small, owner-operated bookstores would have to close and that only chain stores would profit if fixed book prices were to fall. In addition, the example of Great Britain is sometimes cited, where books are not price-fixed and authors, for example, would receive significantly lower fees.

Opponents of fixed book prices, on the other hand, argue that fixed book prices do not benefit books as a cultural asset, but only the book trade. In addition, the book trade would benefit from the possibility of carrying out price promotions and the competition that would arise without fixed prices at the trade level would promote the flexibility and innovativeness of the book trade.

Right of return - what does that mean?

Another special feature in the trade with books (as well as newspapers and magazines) is the right of return. In principle, booksellers have a right of return when you order books from publishers and bar ranges, i.e. you can return unsold books and receive a credit note from the publisher in return. The returned books are called remittances.

What is the remission rate in Germany?

The number of returns in the German book market is enormous. Around 30 million books are returned every year, and every year the rate of returns - i.e. the number of returns compared to the number of books sold - is even increasing. How a Logistics survey of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association 2018 revealed, the 2018 remission rate increased in value from 8.06 to 8.49 percent of revenue compared to 2016. This naturally results in correspondingly high costs for publishers and service providers. Reasons for the high return rates include the fact that booksellers are trying to maintain their liquidity and the option to make new purchases; likewise, downsizing by large chain stores can result in high returns.

Right of return and self-publishing

Although all industry players should feel called upon to work on reducing the rate of returns, the right of return is currently a commodity that booksellers naturally cling to. As an author, you should be aware of this fact and also know that many self-publishing service providers do not grant any right of return at all. Booksellers, however, are used to this from traditional publishers, so that the sales chances for self-publishing titles without a right of return in book retailing are extremely low. You can read more about this in our article on self-publishing in the book trade.

Half-yearly policy of the publishers

When a consumer goods manufacturer wants to launch a new product, it does so as soon as the product is ready for the market. The situation is quite different in the book industry: book publishers generally only release a new publishing program twice a year - in the spring and in the fall. At these times, bookstores are virtually inundated with so-called publisher previews - catalogues presenting new titles. 

Long waiting times for publishing authors

The art of the bookseller is then to select from the mass of new titles from the publishers those that fit into his own range and are promising. The half-yearly policy of book publishers means that authors often have to wait months or even longer than a year before their book is actually published. It is therefore not without reason that a growing number of non-fiction and specialist book authors in particular are opting for self-publishing, as this can be done without delay. Unlike book publishers, self-publishing service providers do not work on a six-month basis, but release books immediately and at any time.

Publisher's rep

In order to get booksellers interested in their programmes, book publishers work together with permanently employed or - more frequently - freelance publishing representatives who visit bookshops regionally or throughout Germany and present the publishers' top titles in more detail or advise the booksellers on which titles fit into their range. Publishers' agents have traditionally been an important link between publishers and booksellers in the book industry. In view of the variety of titles that are published each year, successful sales of titles in bookshops is heavily dependent on visits by agents. Publishing representatives have a Survey of the Börsenblatt according to sometimes 200 appointments per year on more than 50 travel days. 

Due to the tense sales situation in the book market, it is becoming increasingly difficult for publishing representatives to secure their existence. Smaller publishers in particular, in turn, can afford less and less to hire agents for nationwide assignments. It therefore remains to be seen to what extent the agent principle can be economically maintained in the book industry in future.

Economic situation and outlook

We have already mentioned several times in our comments that the book industry is under strong pressure. New, digital media as well as changed media use and reading behaviour have contributed to the fact that books have received more intermedia competition. For digital media such as streaming services, video platforms or chat programs, media users in the 14-29 and 30-49 age groups in particular are investing more and more of their free time. The study "Book buyers - quo vadis" by the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, for example, found that in 2017, the 30- to 49-year-olds surveyed used the internet for 183 minutes a day for various purposes, compared with 148 minutes the year before. 14- to 29-year-olds used the internet 274 minutes a day in 2017.

The free time that is invested in digital media is not available for reading books. This is also reflected in the fact that for years the number of books sold in the book market has stagnated at a good 300 million, as the aforementioned study by the Börsenverein puts it. The dilemma: the number of new publications on the book market each year is growing steadily. This is due in particular to a rapidly growing number of self-publishing titles, as we explain in our article on self-publishing. So more and more books are vying for the favour of a dwindling number of book buyers.

Less and less turnover per book

Looking at the sales situation in the book trade, it becomes clear that less and less is being turned over per book. Because total sales in the book trade have already been stagnating since the end of the 1990s (!) at around 9 billion euros - with simultaneously high or even rising costs for production, marketing and distribution. Book publishers are therefore under pressure to place top titles every year that sell very well and ideally even help finance niche titles. Bookshops, for their part, are also dependent on bestsellers and the good-selling mainstream to secure their existence.

The e-book is by no means a suitable substitute for lost print sales. This is because low sales prices and a simultaneous sharp rise in the number of e-book novelties (also primarily through self-publishing) are significantly reducing sales per e-book. Flat-rate and online lending models further depress the price level of e-books.

What other strategic options are available? Publishers who can afford to increase investment in marketing can concentrate on a few titles with a narrow target group that, in the best case, generate high sales figures. For a large number of publishers, however, lack of investment will leave them with the option of increasing their own title output in order to secure sales. Traditional publishers and new market participants can learn from each other and cooperate. This is all the more true as hybrid models in publishing will gain in importance in the future: Traditional ways of publishing will be supplemented by digitally anchored self-publishing strategies of author acquisition and publication.

Innovation inertia of the industry

This opens up a wide range of business models for all industry players. For example, new imprints could be established beyond the core business to test titles for their marketability. Book publishers and booksellers face the challenge of not missing the boat in terms of new publishing models and being overtaken by providers from outside the industry. Because of the industry standards described above, which have been fixed for decades, the book industry is generally characterised by a strong inertia to innovate. Since there is no price competition and books can also be returned, publishers and booksellers did not find themselves in the situation of being able to act for a long time. have to. However, as economic pressures mount, there is considerable pressure to move.

One example of new publishing models is the e-book community Wattpad. Here, authors can register to publish their own stories in various genres. Anyone who is registered can in turn read the stories of others. Wattpad is financed by advertisements within the stories ("in-story ads"). There is also the option to sell exploitation rights to the stories to interested publishers.


In this article, we have detailed not only how the book trade works, but also the current economic situation of the entire value chain. Only an author who is aware

  • how individual links in the value chain act or are forced to act under economic pressure (concentration on top titles, rational stock management, downsizing, etc.).
  • what economic pressures arise and how they are affected (concentration, takeovers, insolvencies etc.)
  • which industry practices (remission law, price fixing, etc.) apply in the book trade
  • and that self-publishing service providers do not adopt these practices in every case

understands all the things that need to be considered when publishing a book and the factors that determine whether a book can be distributed and sold via the book trade and what the chances of success are. Our explanations have made it clear that each individual book is not only exposed to high competition and can only achieve a certain level of sales through a high marketing effort. We also made it clear that the book industry is undergoing major changes. In the future, some publishers and booksellers will have to go out of business, while other publishers will score points through radical rethinking or strong specialisation and new business models.

Self-publishing authors should not only keep a close eye on market developments, but also think about their own new ways of guiding and retaining readers. One example is to make one's own book or story tangible on different platforms, for example by giving readers the option to contribute ideas for a book themselves or to create a parallel story, etc. The options here are many and varied and it is up to you, dear authors, to think about new ways of leading readers. The options here are multifaceted and it is up to you, dear authors, to bring in your creativity.


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