The Greek book market and its digital transformation, based on international experiences, were at the forefront of today’s opening of the 1st International Professional Program of the 19th Thessaloniki International Book Fair, which brought together professionals in the book business, giving them space for development of contacts and initiatives.

The president of the Hellenic Foundation for Culture, Mr. Nikos A. Koukis, spoke of a very important project for the publishers, pointing out that “this year, with the experience we have gained from other international fairs, we decided to take a step further, so that the International Book Fair of Thessaloniki does not fall short of others”. In this context, he thanked his colleagues and especially the coordinator of the 19th TIBF Nopi Hatzigeorgiou for the effective organization of the event.

Data that capture the image of the Greek book market was given by the director of the Organization for the Collective Management of Works of Speech (OSDEL) Georgandreas Zannos, presenting the data of a survey carried out in the year 2021 until the beginning of 2022, entitled “Readings, readers: The book and its audience in Greece” and under the scientific supervision of the Professor of Sociology at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (EKPA) Nikos Panagiotopoulos.

Regarding the reading behavior of Greeks, citing research data, the president of OSDEL stated that 35% of the Greek population does not read a single book a year, average readers read between one and 4 books (percentage 34%), while only 31% of the population read more than five books per year. Although large, the percentage of those who do not read any books has decreased compared to a previous survey carried out more than a decade ago by the National Book Center (EKEBI), when 65% interviewees were in this category. Greek literature remains first in the preferences of the reading public, with foreign literature following and the detective novel gaining ground in preferences.

The period of the pandemic seems to have had a positive effect on the increase in readership, with 44% reading more (note that these are systematic readers, who were reading anyway), 45% staying at the same levels and 11% reducing the time spent reading. It is also noteworthy that a significant increase in audiobooks was recorded during this period.

Based on the research on publishing companies carried out by the Organization, the president of OSDEL noted that there was a decrease in book production in ’20 (compared to ’19), while in terms of revenue he explained that 83% of total is in the “hands” of about 10% only of the publishing companies.

For book translations, he said that the largest percentage concerns children’s literature, with English remaining the most popular language. It is followed by French, Spanish and Italian

along with German, while the high percentage of translations recorded in the Scandinavian languages is due to the development of the detective novel in these countries.

The research also showed that 50% are informed by friends and acquaintances about the choice of a book, with the percentage reaching 64% in the 16-24 age group (in addition, in this age group shows an increase in the percentage of systematic readers). Bookstores are the second source of information, while the percentage of those who are now informed by the internet and social networks about book production is on the rise, with the majority still preferring physical bookstores for purchases despite the fact that the younger ages (25 -34 years old) show a preference for e-commerce.

The digital transformation of the book market in Greece

Michalis Kalamaras, publishing consultant, Thinking, spoke about the digital transformation of the book market in Greece, as recorded through electronic commerce, digital marketing, eBooks and audiobooks, in the context of the 1st International Professional Program, the landscape in this special place. Among other things, he mentioned that the digital transformation has been gradual, with a massive investment in social media in the early 2010s, which brought the emergence of eBooks in the same period and almost a decade later (2021-2022) of audiobooks.

As far as eBooks in Greece are concerned, he spoke of a limited market (less than 1% of the total book market), which, however, was boosted by the pandemic, with an increase in sales, new titles, new publishers and special promotion, although readers say they read eBooks more than they buy them. Regarding audiobooks and the characteristics of the market in Greece, he said that almost 520 titles were created in 2022, with the largest increase occurring from 2021 onwards. In this context, he pointed out that during the pandemic, and especially during the first quarantine, there was a flourishing of listening culture, while an explosion in the quantity and quality of podcasts was recorded.

Referring to the next day of the digital transformation of the book industry, he said that the course of the book depends on the wider economic environment, on strategy, long-term planning and investments, assimilation of international trends, collaborations and partnerships of publishers, bookstores, the support from the state etc.

Giorgos Putos, general manager of JukeBooks, spoke about the international trends in audiobooks, pointing out that internationally they have been on a path of growth for a decade and are currently the most popular book format in the world. In Greece, the first commercial efforts that managed to survive were recorded in the third quarter of 2020, noted Mr. Putos, estimating that within the next five years, the Greek audiobook market will capture 10% of book market revenues.

Rethinking the role of Publishers’ Associations and National Book Centres

In a debate organized by the Union of Book Publishers of Athens, (SEVA) on the role of Publishers’ Associations and National Book Centres, Anne Bergmann, director of the Federation of European Publishers (FEP), outlined the profile of the largest organization in

Europe, which has 29 members, and the Ukrainian Union which has been invited to participate in the TIBF.

“In Europe when we say that we represent about 22 million publishers, then people start to listen to us”, emphasized the director of the FEP, underlining the important role of the Federation, which, as she said, has changed dramatically since its establishment. “When I started a few years ago, nobody questioned the role of publishers. Little by little the role of publishers has come into question and one of our roles as an umbrella organization of publishers is to explain the fact that publishers are as vital a part of the book ecosystem as authors are,” she pointed out. She noted that the participation of all Associations is important as a strong organization that consolidates the position of publishers in the European development is necessary.

Kristina Kramer, deputy director of the Association of German Publishers and Booksellers, spoke about the collaboration of publishers and booksellers under a common “umbrella”, saying that “we try to speak on behalf of everyone”. She called it very important to gather all voices under one purpose, pointing out that the Association brings together 4500 publishers and booksellers, and its main mandate is lobbying and fixed book prices, VAT reduction, copyright, how to help the young professionals etc.

“We also talk to the politicians while we also have a cultural goal. We organize literary awards to promote reading, we do a lot for freedom of expression. We offer business advice or legal advice,” noted Ms. Kramer, who underlined the unique role of members in an association as much depends, as she said, on their own input.

Commenting on the successful practice followed in Germany in the field of distribution, she explained that there are four large wholesalers that cover 90% of bookstores’ needs. “As a general rule, a book arrives at the bookstore within 24 hours, and there is also the express process, during the night, so if you order something at six in the afternoon, you can receive it the next morning,” she clarified and added that 90% of booksellers have online stores directly linked to wholesalers, an aspect that proved extremely important during the pandemic.

In the comment on whether something similar could be done in Greece – if the booksellers could give the “keys” to the publishers, as was said – the publisher, member of the Council and treasurer of SEEVI Giorgos Paschalidis replied that “this will never happen in Greece or it could be difficult because the market is much smaller than that of Germany” and he attributed this fact to the competition which is very strong, especially among the big publishing houses. He stated, however, that he was impressed by the way the Association of German Publishers and Booksellers operates. Regarding EKEVI, he said that it was closed in 2010 “because there were management problems”, he commented that “the book occupies a very low position on the political agenda in Greece and this is the major issue”, while underlining – among other things – the need for children to read more and reduce the time spent on various social media applications.

The role of National Book Centers was defended by Svetlozar Zhelev, director of the National Book Center of Bulgaria (NBC), calling them “tools” for the greater dissemination of a country’s literature abroad. “The National Book Centers are the right point of contact. From there we

can get information about our national market and distribute it both inside the country and abroad, for someone who – for example – is interested in publishing Bulgarian literature in another country”, said the director of the National Book Center of Bulgaria (NBC), pointing out that unfortunately in most Balkan countries there are no such centers. He also mentioned that in Bulgaria there is a common association for publishers and booksellers as the main operating principle of the area is that “the bigger we are, the stronger we are”. “The Bulgarian market is smaller than the Greek one and in fact we have the same contradictions between us, but we operate in the name of books and literature. I think that the Union helps us to face the common problems we have because the most important thing is to spread books and literature and we are united in this goal”, he noted, making a comparison with the Greek reality.

The discussion, in which the special importance to the addition of the professional dimension in this year’s program of the TIBF was emphasized, was moderated by the editor, president of SEVA, Phaidon Kydoniatis.