Geographies in Depth

3 things to know about books and reading in Europe

this woman is reading a printed book; printed books are still currently more popular than e-books.

'Germany, France and Spain were the leading European importers and exporters of books in 2020.' Image: Unsplash/Callum Shaw

Victoria Masterson
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • The price of books in the European Union is growing at a slower rate than general consumer goods.
  • Total consumer prices rose by 14% but books only saw a 12% rise (June 2011 - June 2021).
  • E-books have seen the biggest cost increase while educational textbooks are down in price.
  • Sales of printed books are falling but they are still the most popular way to read, studies suggest.

It’s always difficult to put a price on knowledge or calculate the value of artfully written prose; but if you’re reading a book in Europe at the moment it represents pretty good value for money.

The EU’s statistical office, Eurostat, has been comparing the price trends of books against those of general consumer prices.

According to Eurostat’s Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (HICP), the overall price of books grew less than total consumer prices between June 2011 and June 2021.

this chart shows that book prices in the European Union are growing more slowly than consumer goods overall
Book prices in the European Union are growing more slowly than consumer goods overall. Image: Pick up a book and read!, Eurostat
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Tracking the trends in book prices

While the price of books grew 12% in the decade to 2021, total consumer prices climbed 14%.

Printed books remain the most popular way of reading but e-books are growing in price as well as popularity.

Eurostat’s data on the pricing of different book genres tracks price rises between December 2016 and June 2021. It shows the cost of e-books rose by 12% in that period. The price of works of fiction rose 6% but the cost of educational textbooks fell by 2% during the same timeframe.

The international book trade

The value of exports of printed books from the European Union in 2020 stood at €1.7 billion ($2.0 billion). In the same year the bloc imported books with a value of €1.5 billion ($1.8 billion). These figures have remained largely consistent between 2010 and 2020. Compared with 2019, there was a decrease in 2020 of 12% for exports and 6% for imports.

Germany, France and Spain were the leading European importers and exporters of books in 2020.

this chart shows how the sales of printed books in the European Union fell 15% between 2019 and 2020
Sales of printed books in the European Union fell 15% between 2019 and 2020. Image: Pick up a book and read!, Eurostat

With more of us reading on our smartphones, tablets and e-readers, it’s no surprise that sales of e-books are growing.

During the first pandemic lockdown in the UK, 18% of people said they were reading more e-books, research group Nielson found. Nine percent also said they were listening to more audiobooks.

Have you read?

Beyond the EU, sales of paper books remain strong. A separate study by Statista shows that while 23% of people bought an e-book last year, 45% bought a printed book.

A community of readers

If you’re stuck for ideas on what to read next you can join the World Economic Forum’s Book Club. Each month a new title is uploaded and members discuss the book, with direct input into the conversation from the author.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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