Publishing in Germany: An Overview


Germany boasts an extremely sophisticated and efficient publishing infrastructure that perfectly meets the needs of the entire reading public: people who read for pleasure, those with a thirst for knowledge, and academics and researchers.

Germany boasts an extremely sophisticated and efficient publishing infrastructure that perfectly meets the needs of the entire reading public: people who read for pleasure, those with a thirst for knowledge, and academics and researchers.

The Address Book of the German Book Trade contains the names of some 15,000 companies which can be classified as belonging to the book production industry, including several thousand which only occasionally bring out publications. A better indicator of those companies in Germany which actually pursue relevant publishing activities are the turnover tax statistics which list 2,200 publishers.

Although 1,600 of these have an annual sales volume of below 500,000 euros, their in some cases highly specialized publishing programmes make a key contribution to the variety of publications available on the German book market. There are also 22 publishing houses with an annual turnover in excess of 50 million euros, accounting for 70 percent of the total “pie”.

Many companies under the same roof

There are clear signs, in other words, of trends towards consolidation in the German publishing industry. Under the “Random House” umbrella brand with its 200 or so publishing companies – the world’s largest general-interest trade book publisher – Bertelsmann AG for instance now also owns 46 German publishing houses and imprints, among them leading publishers of successful fiction and popular non-fiction such as Heyne, Goldmann, btb, Blanvalet, C. Bertelsmann, Blessing, DVA and Siedler. As a media group, Bertelsmann can take advantage of synergetic effects that continuously bolster its market position.

Much the same can be said of the Holtzbrinck Group, an international player on the press market. With publishing houses such as Rowohlt, S. Fischer, Kiepenheuer & Witsch and Droemer Knaur under its umbrella, it holds at least part interests in the world’s very finest publishers. Even more than in the Bertelsmann Group, the individual Holtzbrinck companies are in internal competition with one another and can, if they are successful, determine their own programmes with a relatively high degree of autonomy.

Publishing in Germany
Publishing in Germany© dpa

These two major media groups are followed some distance behind by the Swedish Bonnier Group; its German arm, Bonnier Media Deutschland, has established a strong position for itself in the areas of fiction and non-fiction (Piper, Malik, Pendo and Econ), in the paperback sector (List and Ullstein) and in the market for books targeted at children and young adults (ars edition, Thienemann and Carlsen). The fourth-ranking group is Weltbild, a company owned by the Catholic Church that combines publishing with mail-order business and the retail book trade.

Successful independents

Independent publishers can be successful businesses too, however. One excellent example of this is Carl Hanser Verlag, whose programme includes a whole host of Nobel literature laureates and successful authors such as Umberto Eco. Behind this literary publisher is a robust, technology-focused publisher of specialist books and magazines – something that is by no means untypical of the German publishing scene. Similarly, C.H. Beck – one of the leading firms specialized in legal publications – has been able to establish a successful branch devoted to the humanities. Hanser and Beck are both headquartered in Munich, Germany’s biggest publishing centre.

Life is tougher for a company like Suhrkamp which today is struggling to maintain the reputation it established for itself in the 1960s as a publishing house capable of influencing the zeitgeist (the “Suhrkamp culture”). Suhrkamp’s move from Frankfurt am Main to Berlin was an outward expression of the company’s endeavours in this respect – the German capital, being an important hub of cultural activity in Germany, is becoming increasingly attractive to publishing houses in general.

Highest sales volume: academic and specialist publishers

In the public consciousness, names like Suhrkamp, Hanser, Fischer and Rowohlt play a prominent role, yet the really big money is to be found in other sectors of the publishing industry. The Springer publishing group, which is in the hands of an international group of investors interested solely in returns, achieves the highest sales volume of all. The Springer Science Business Media group, which with its 55 small publishing houses worldwide chose to specialize early on in online technologies alongside its book and magazine publications in the areas of science, medicine, technology and business, recorded total sales in Germany of 482 million euros in 2010.

It is followed in the ranking by the Klett Group and the Franz Cornelsen Group, two companies active in the education sector which achieve sales of between 400 and 500 million euros, primarily with books for schools, educational aids and specialist information. Random House Deutschland ranks only fourth, with Westermann, another publisher of books for schools, education and young people, in fifth place. The league table is dominated by other companies in the specialist information sector such as Haufe, Wolters Kluwer and Weka; the popular literature publishers are only to be found in places 20 to 50.

Dynasties dominate

The publishing industry in Germany is entirely in the hands of the private sector, a high percentage of the leading publishing houses being family-run businesses. Even in the manager-run media groups, families and dynasties play an important role.

As far as the structures of ownership are concerned, it is also worth mentioning companies that have resulted from mergers such as Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag (dtv) which was founded in 1961 and UTB (Uni-Taschenbücher) which was established in 1970; their job was to provide publishers without their own paperback series with the chance to take advantage of the title rights they owned. Both publishing houses, however, very quickly began bringing out original editions of literature and fiction (in the case of dtv) or university literature (in the case of UTB), evolving to become publishers with their own independent profile.

Current situation and outlook

Publishing in Germany
Publishing in Germany© dpa

On the whole, the economic situation of the German book publishing industry would appear healthy, having increased its turnover by 53 percent since 1992. Preliminary estimates put total sales in 2010 at 5.4 billion euros.

It remains to be seen to what extent the German publishing industry is ready to face a digital future. In spring 2011, 35 percent of all German publishers already had eBooks in their programmes (accounting for a 5.4 percent share of total sales). The proportion these make up of the total market is still below one percent, not least because of Germany’s statutory retail price fixing. The major publishing houses are hesitant about entering the bestseller segment in particular, fearing the dissemination of illegal pirate copies.

Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion

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