People read less now

7 reasons readers turn away from books

Johannes Haupt (specialist editor)

The German book market is crumbling, sales across the country and product ranges are falling. And: The downward spiral is turning faster and faster, year after year more readers become non-readers. Market researchers see a number of reasons for this.

On behalf of the branch association Börsenverein, the market research institute GfK measured the German book market and the results were presented at a specialist conference of the association. And they have it all. According to GfK, the German book trade lost 6.1 million buyers - and only in the years 2012 to 2016. And the trend continues, with a further 600,000 non-buyers added in the first half of the year alone (= people who in the last Did not buy at least one book in 12 months, but did in the previous 12 months).

Remaining readers spend more money

The book industry is feeling the full force of the decline in readers, and sales have been falling for years. The effect is somewhat cushioned solely by the fact that the remaining book buyers spend more and more money on their hobby on average. In 2016, each of the 30 million German book buyers left an arithmetical 134.29 euros in (online) bookstores, in 2015 it was 122.78 euros.

Why are fewer and fewer books being bought by fewer and fewer people in Germany? In focus group discussions, GfK identified seven reasons for this, which the Börsenverein publication Börsenblatt summarizes as follows.

  1. Shortage of time due to the growing range of leisure activities
  2. Attention deficit due to "information overload"
  3. Dependence on digital media
  4. Loss of concentration
  5. growing importance of video streaming
  6. the social role of reading books is becoming weaker
  7. the digital (work) world is becoming ever shorter and increasingly requires the willingness to multitask

In summary, many people have less and less time, less and less leisure and, ultimately, less and less motivation to get involved in long, coherent texts. And socially not necessary either, because the office and at parties are more likely to talk about the latest HBO series than the current Spiegel bestsellers.

More time to read than ever - in theory

In search of a glimmer of hope, the Börsenverein points out that many survey participants would regret not being able to read any more. Of course, it's actually more a question of personal priorities than one of free time, which has never been as lavish as it is today, but is filled with many other activities.

Attempts from the industry to counteract the decline in sales with new formats adapted to consumer habits have so far failed (enhanced eBooks, story app Oolipo) or lead a niche existence (short serial formats). Interestingly, the actual growth areas in the past few years have mainly been formats that represent traditional printed books 1: 1, namely eBooks and audio books (and especially the unabridged versions of Audible). A circumstance that does not exactly facilitate the development of new business areas for publishers and retailers.