Cracking the German Book Market

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Germany is the second largest market in Europe after the UK for books in English. Barbara Thiele, Chief Product Officer at Berlin-based print and ebook publishing platform, epubli, gives us the lowdown on the German market and offers  her top tips for writers hoping to crack it.

5 things to know about German readers and the German book market

1. The German book market is becoming more and more important internationally

In times of digitistion and ebooks, international markets are merging and the German market is becoming increasingly attractive for American and English publishers.  According to the Export Sales Report of the Association of American Publishers, Germany is the second biggest European market for sales of American books in print, after Great Britain; and the third biggest global market for sales of American ebooks after Great Britain and Australia. In 2013 Germany was also the market that saw the biggest year-on-year growth in e-book revenue. All this makes Germany a key market for writers and publishers of books written in English.

2. Germans love all things from Britain and the US

This love goes beyond Apple products, Burberry clothing and TV-series such as Downton Abbey or Homeland, Germans love books by English and American writers in  both original versions and translated versions. Both English and German language editions of Dan Brown’s Inferno hit the German bestseller lists – the German edition reaching #1 and the English edition reaching #9.

12 of the top 20 books on Lovelybooks, the biggest German social reading network, are by writers writing in English, and includes the usual suspects: Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games, Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, Ken Follet, Cecilia Ahern, J.R.R Tolkein and J.K. Rowling.

3. Germans can be a little conservative

Germans like established frameworks and tradition, they can be risk-averse and shy away from things that require a lot of self-confidence. Some say this is to do with the fact that our society is rooted in a system fixed by governmental decisions.

Traditional publishing houses are part of the good old, trustworthy, establishment,  consequently many German writers haven’t yet cottoned on that new and disruptive ideas such as such as self-publishing are not necessarily risky and can very much be worth the effort. This represents an opportunity for writers from elsewhere: there are still gaps in the German self-publishing market – enter it, now!

What’s more, a cursory look at the ebook bestseller list reveals that German readers are keen on self-published books -on any day between 50% and 80% of the top 10 ebooks on are self-published titles.

4. The German book market is easier to conquer than the UK book market

There are fewer competitors in the German market and this is especially true of the German self-publishing market – for now, at least! Cathy McAllister, a German indie author, recently cited fewer competitors as the key difference between the German market and the English or American book market. She should know, Cathy was born in Germany but has lived in England for the last four years, and publishes in both languages.

5. The German book market is regulated by “Buchpreisbindung”

This tongue twister translates as ‘fixed book price law‘, which states that a book cannot be priced differently on different platforms. You couldn’t, for example, price your book at 99p on Amazon but £7.99 in the local book store (or vice versa). The fact that retailers cannot freely determine the price for books – and that pricing is not linked to consumer demand or production costs – is designed to support small local bookstores. Without Buchpreisbindung big online retailers would offer deep discounts on most books and local stores would lose customers. Of course publishers and authors can set the price for a title as high or low as they see fit.


5 1/2 tips on cracking the German market

1. Keep your British name and be as British as possible

Female audiences reading romance respond really well to stories set in England and many female German authors, such as Poppy J. Andersen and epubli author Mathilda Grace, have taken on English pen names for this very reason.

Romance novels are often set in the British countryside whilst American romance tends to feature plucky, modern day heroines. German readers consider these settings to be somehow exotic. Germans also love the British Royal Family – perhaps there’s a good story opportunity there!

2. Write Romance, Erotica, Fantasy, Crime or a How-To

Popular genres in Germany are similar to popular genres in other territories, especially when it comes to self-published books. Romance, Erotica, Crime and How-To’s are particularly especially popular.

While Germans are sterotypically portrayed as unyielding and humorless they have no problem with nudity and sex. FKK (Free Body Culture) is an old tradition and this openness crosses over into their reading tastes.

Germans also love their “Krimi“, as exemplified by the Tatort phenomenon. Every Sunday night millions of Germans tune into Tatort, a police procedural drama set in different cities across Germany. Don’t try and call a German crime fan between 8.15 and 9.45pm on a Sunday because chances are they’ll be glued to their TV!

German readers are also big fans of self-improvement and how-tos, from how to stop smoking – at epubli we’ve had at least six books on that topic in the last two years – to parenting, finding exciting Berlin hot spots or how to work.

3. If you’re an independent author, don’t expect too much from the traditional sector to begin with.

Germans are rightly proud of their literary heritage: Goethe, Schiller, Heine, Fontane etc. and this sets the bar high for new and upcoming authors or authors doing things differently. What’s often overlooked is that  many of these literary luminaries did things differently: Goethe, widely considered the best German poet ever, self-published some of his work.

Even if your self-published book is a top seller, it probably won’t be listed in the bestseller lists in traditional newspapers. Old school journalists are wary of non-traditional publishing – don’t be angry with them, they’re simply afraid! As in other territories, journalists love a good human interest or rags-to-riches story, don’t be afraid to mine this.

Just as in the US and the UK reviews from bloggers can be really effective, especially for indie authors, plus, most bloggers are more receptive to new books by new writers. Do some research into which German book bloggers might be interested in your book and get in touch with them.

Should your traditionally published colleagues throw haughty looks at you it is most probably because they’re jealous of your royalties!

4. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

Don’t focus all your efforts on, you’ll miss out. The UK ebook market might be dominated by Amazon, but in Germany other channels, such as Tolino or iBooks, have significant market share.

Tolino, a sales channel and e-reader set-up by the German book retailers Hugendubel, Thalia, Bertelsmann and phone provider Telekom, accounts for over 37% of e-books and e-reader sales in Germany – ignore them at your peril!

5. Use social reading platforms

Your German readers use them, and you should too. Goodreads is growing fast in Germany – according to the most recent figure (November 2013) Goodreads has over 200,000 German users and CEO, Otis Chandler, identified Germany as the most important European territory after the UK. The same holds true for Wattpad.

Apart from the international social reading giants there are also some really exciting native platforms. lovelybooks is currently the largest and others, such as Sobooks, are growing fast.

Since the  community language is mainly German, we’d like to make one final suggestion …

5 ½ Learn German

But that, of course, is optional!


About epubli

epubli is a print and ebook publishing platform located in Berlin-Kreuzberg. Part of the Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, epubli offers an alternative to traditional publishing and makes it easier for writers of all kinds to publish their work. Exberliner named epubli one of the most important publishing platforms for Berlin’s international scene.

Responding to the high demand among German readers for English books, epubli launched its English language version in April 2013. As well as expanding its publishing and distribution services to the UK, serves as a connection between Germany and the English-speaking world and over the last ten months   has helped a wide range of English authors, including Keith Tilbury and Steve Elseworth and Jim Rose, to enter the German market.

epubli has also been embraced as a publishing platform by the growing community of English bloggers in Germany who have readerships in both UK and German markets. Among them are Paul Sullivan from Slow Travel Berlin, who has published his alternative guidebook 100 Favourite Places; and Zoe Noble and James Glazebrook from uberlin who have published What I know about Germans.

In 2014 epubli will be extending its collaboration with British literary agents, starting with two books in Spring.

Barbara Thiele is Chief Product Officer at epubli. She started her career in the academic publishing sector, first at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin and then as an editor at the German Academic Publishing House Reimer.

In 2008 she joined epubli, the print and ebook publishing platform that enables authors to self-publish and sell their books worldwide, helping to build the digital start-up that is part of Holtzbrinck Publishing Group. She is an expert in the field of self-publishing and leads the Product Team at epubli.

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