The German Children’s and Young Adult Book Market in 2023
Children and young people in Germany
Children’s and Young Adult books play a central role in the German market – these days, from the moment a new bookshop opens its doors you can be sure that one of the areas it will specialise in is literature for young people. Where other market segments have seen declining sales for several years now, sales of children’s books have increased. So how big is the audience for children’s and YA books? There are currently 8.3 million people aged between 15 and 24 living in Germany – meaning that this age group, both in terms of its number and as a proportion of the overall population, is the smallest it has been since 1950. At 10.7 million, the number of children aged 0 to 13 has risen slightly and accounts for 12.9 percent of Germany’s population.
The 2021 figures (the figures for 2022 will not be available until mid-2023) for the children’s and YA segment of the German book market show an increase in sales of 4.4 percent on the preceding year. The segment accounts for 18.8 percent of total book sales, putting it in second place just behind fiction; its market share has grown steadily in recent years. According to the market research company Media Control, the amount of books sold also increased again in 2021, by 3 percent (the preceding year saw a 3.7 percent increase).
In 2021, a total of around 72,000 titles entered the German market
How many titles are being produced?
In 2021, a total of around 72,000 titles entered the German market – about 20,000 fewer than ten years earlier. The number of first editions in the children’s and YA segment has also fallen slightly, but still amounted to 7,206 titles in 2021, constituting 11.3 percent of all first editions – in 1996 there were 2,600 fewer titles. This puts children’s and YA in third place behind fiction, which saw 13,454 first editions, and German literature with 10,647. One important point to note is that we do not usually distinguish between titles from Germany (D, as in Deutschland), Austria (A) and Switzerland (CH, as in Confoederatio Helvetica), often called the ‘DACH’ region for short. When we talk about the Young Adult segment we are talking about German-language books, no matter where their authors, illustrators or publishing houses are based. Over 100 Young Adult book publishers have joined avj, the Arbeitsgemeinschaft von Jugendbuchverlagen (Young Adult Book Publishers Association).
Who is buying books?
Now that the pandemic is no longer affecting public life to the same extent as in 2020 and 2021, more books are being bought in person and fewer online. According to market research institute GfK’s consumer panel Media*Scope, around 30 percent of the children’s and YA books bought in the first half of 2022 were spontaneous purchases – ten percent more than in the same period the previous year. Spontaneous purchases often happen in shops, whereas targeted purchases (49%) tend to be online.
Over the last five years, the composition of the children’s and YA book-buying public has remained constant: 69 percent of customers are female, the same percentage as in the first half of 2016. 31 percent are boys and men. According to Media*Scope, the age distribution is rather surprising: at 18 percent, the over-70s make up a larger proportion of the customer base than ten-to-19-year-olds, who accounted for 21 percent in the first half of 2021 and now account for 18 percent. Ultimately, the various groups are all fairly similar in size apart from the 20-to-29 age bracket, who make up a much smaller share of the total at just nine percent. This is understandable, however: they have stopped reading YA books but most of them are not yet parents – the average age of a first-time mother in Germany currently stands at 30.2 years.
It is increasingly hard to calculate what a title will cost due to shortages of paper and raw materials as well as rising transport and energy costs
Publishing houses are under cost pressure
The 20 largest YA publishing houses and publishing groups generate around 77 percent of sales, but some of them are independent or family-run companies. Like all other publishing houses, YA publishers are under enormous pressure when it comes to production: it is increasingly hard to calculate what a title will cost due to shortages of paper and raw materials as well as rising transport and energy costs. If publishers do not want to be left without paper, they have to order supplies at least ten months in advance – without knowing what the actual price will be on the day. The children’s and YA book segment has seen price increases just as other segments have; the average price of around 11 euros has had to be raised incrementally in order to cover costs. Another point to note is that the Buchpreisbindungsgesetz (a law governing the price of books) is in force in Germany and Austria. Bookshops are not allowed to set the sale price for a book – only the publishing house can do this. The price is reported in the ‘Verzeichnis lieferbarer Bücher’ (‘Directory of Available Books’). Thereafter, the book may only be sold for this price, no more, no less. This means that the book costs exactly the same in a city, in the countryside or on an island in the North Sea, and is supposed to promote cultural diversity. In Switzerland, the Buchpreisbindungsgesetz was abolished in 2007.
Translations and rights
The fact that the world is at home in the pages of German picture books, children’s and YA books and non-fiction books is clear from the shortlists of the German Youth Literature Award: publishers prize internationality and intercultural exchange. 9,237 titles in total (from medical textbooks to travel guides) were translated into German in 2021, as we can see from the German National Library and the ‘Verzeichnis lieferbarer Bücher’ (VLB). 18.7 percent of those were children’s and Young Adult books – 1,628 titles to be exact. A slightly higher number of comics and cartoons – 1,806 titles – were translated into German.
An important place for the exchange of ideas and the discovery of new titles is the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, which takes place every year in March/April. This is also where many of the foreign rights to successful German-language titles are sold. According to a foreign rights survey carried out by the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, publishers sold the rights to 3,169 children’s and YA titles in 2021. This accounts for 40.7 percent of a total of 7,777 licences sold, making children’s and YA books the largest segment in the marketplace in terms of foreign rights sales.
Within this segment, the largest genre is picture books (1,148 licences sold), followed by children’s books for the under-12s (726), non-fiction (428), and books for beginner readers (313). Chinese accounts for the highest proportion of foreign rights sales (513), followed by Russian (433), Danish (185), Turkish (176), Romanian (173) and Hungarian (152). But many smaller languages are also represented in the children’s and YA segment, including Estonian (36), Catalan (71), Slovakian (80) and Slovenian (65).
Subject matter and trends
- In 2022, the demand for silent books has noticeably increased, partly due to the arrival of over 300,000 Ukrainian children in Germany. Silent books are picture books with no text, usually consisting of sequences of pictures: every time you turn the page, new connections and associations emerge, telling a sophisticated visual story. These not-really-so-silent books really come into their own when they are read collectively, with one other person or in a small group.
- Increasingly, books are directly addressing children as readers. More and more non-fiction books and picture books are now designed as guides, offering important starting points for discussion.
- Children’s books are increasingly taking children’s worries seriously, dealing with issues like loss, death, family conflict, gender roles and climate change.
- More than half of all Young Adult publishers are already using sensitivity readers. Some publishers have a group of in-house employees who are trained to identify discriminatory expressions, unrealistic depictions of illness, prejudices, microaggressions etc., and who regularly receive further training. Other publishers use external experts.
- In books for beginner readers, a relaxed page layout has long been a must, but the same rule is now being applied to books for more confident readers and primary-school-age children: dense blocks of text are out. Short chapters and manageable chunks of text on each page allow children to experience reading success; sans serif fonts, ragged margins, generous line spacing and lots of colourful illustrations are important too. What kind of books do children need in order to stay enthusiastic about reading after the laborious process of learning to read? Judging by the range of titles currently on the market, there are at least three vital ingredients: excitement, humour and snappy dialogue.
- Which themes are currently on trend? At the moment, hot topics include the environment, racism and discussions about gender. Certain genres – fantasy, adventure/detective stories and thrillers – are still as popular as they have been for decades.
- We have seen Young Adult books become more political, and now children’s books are following suit, increasingly addressing socio-political issues such as classism, climate activism, racism, migration, feminism and veganism. One example is Silke Lambeck’s novel 'Mein Freund Otto, das Blaue Wunder und ich', in which friends Matti and Otto come up with imaginative ways to convince lots of other people of various ages to oppose the demolition of an open-air swimming pool (a very German institution) – not as a super-strategy but as a patient, pragmatic endeavour that remains firmly rooted in the realm of what is possible. Networking, organising, refusing to give up: this novel explains how social and political activism works.
- In non-fiction too there is a noticeable trend towards addressing socio-political issues. There are books explaining the world, feminism, gender issues, racist tendencies, production conditions (how is a smartphone/a fleecy jumper made?), economic cycles, and politics itself. The theme of the future plays an important role in non-fiction books. Interestingly, 2022 was a year of maths: a wave of brilliant maths-related non-fiction titles swept over the market, a new phenomenon.
- Escape literature is also in vogue: books with a playful element use puzzles to make reading fun, with challenging but not overly complicated questions under time pressure to give the reader that ‘I did it!’ feeling. Escape puzzles also benefit from word of mouth – young people talk about them and recommend them to each other, and they become a communal experience.