Consumer books

We expect different business models to initiate some smaller shifts within the consumer book market, but we do not anticipate there being any significant increase in sales within the market. While publishers and bookshops face the continuous challenge of getting youngsters to read, it is interesting to note that the audiobooks segment is benefitting from the changing reading habits of these youngsters.

Playing field

Consumer books revenues grew from €530m to c. €541m in 2018 (2.1% y-o-y). Higher pricing not only compensated for the slight decrease in the number of units sold, but also created increased revenues.

The challenge to attract young readers still exists among the publishers and bookshops. Though young readers continue to be interested in books related to sports or internet celebrities, reading numbers have declined. According to the Dutch Council for Culture, youngsters are reading less and less, with only 25% of them saying that they actually enjoy reading. In their callout, the Dutch Council for Culture pointed to the fact that while youngsters read short messages on their smartphone, or summaries in educational books, they spend much less time on ‘deep reading’ a book. 

The audiobooks market is defying this trend and has grown over recent years. With the increasing concern about reducing screen-on time, audiobooks are perceived as being an easy alternative to e-books and numerous audiobook apps are becoming available which appeal more to the multi-tasking millennials. This trend is also being driven by the increasing amount of content that can be used in audiobook format. 

A significant part of this growth is being fuelled by youngsters who are less inclined to read and more willing to multi-task while listening to an audio book.

The market share of E-books has increased to around 7.5% because of the significant growth in revenue generated by e-book subscription models like Kobo plus and Bookchoice. The increase in e-books revenue is, therefore, compensating for the slight decrease in printed books, and even accounts for the slight increase within the consumer book market as a whole. 

There have been no significant shifts between the different segments of the consumer book market, but it is the non-fiction segment that is most responsible for the slight increase in the total market. This has been at the cost of, for example, books for younger children.

Compared to 2017, e-commerce sales have grown by about 10%. The shift from physical bookshops to e-commerce is a continuing trend; the number of physical bookshops has, therefore, dropped again. Currently about 40% of consumer books are sold online. Bookshops are now trying to position themselves as creative meeting places, where people can have a chat, in order to win back customers. 

The consumer books market continues to be a bestseller’s market. In 2018, the top 100 books sold accounted for about 16% of the total revenues generated in the consumer books market. Although this is a slight decline in comparison to earlier years, the impact is still significant. This impact is even greater at physical bookstores and for books of fiction. 

What’s new

Publishers are investing in developing apps with features such as book suggestions based on individual interests and watching 3D-animations while reading the books. 

Sweek is a social media platform for readers and writers which provides talented writers with a platform to develop and reach a broader audience. It also gives the user the opportunity to win prizes based on the developed content. Sweek has significantly increased its customer base in the recent past.

Another service that has started in recent months has come from Bookaroo, where customers order a book online on the Bookaroo platform, and physical bookshops pick the order up if they have it in stock, without any agent being involved. Although this idea isn’t totally new, it now actively helps smaller bookshops to access these services and generate more revenues. Bookshops currently face the challenge of beating larger platforms. 

Consumer books market (€ millions)

Netherlands Historical data Forecast CAGR%
Print 466 479 499 502 512 517 521 523 526 528 0.6%
   y-o-y growth   2.8% 4.1% 0.7% 1.9% 1.0% 0.8% 0.5% 0.4% 0.4%  
Digital 19 21 26 28 30 31 33 34 35 35 3.4%
   y-o-y growth   10.5% 22.0% 9.5% 6.2% 5.4% 4.2% 3.3% 2.3% 1.9%  
Total 485 500 524 530 541 548 553 557 560 563 0.8%
   y-o-y growth   3.1% 4.8% 1.1% 2.1% 1.3% 1.0% 0.7% 0.6% 0.5%  

Source: PwC, KVB. Note: Because we rounded off amounts and percentages throughout this Outlook, tables may not sum to 100%.


For the coming period, we expect a further, but relatively small increase in the e-book and audiobook market. As the total market is expected to increase only slightly, the demand for printed books is not expected to grow significantly. Publishers will still be depending more on the sales of bestsellers for their revenues. 

An important question is whether audiobooks or e-books will eat into the print share of the market or whether they will bring new consumers to the consumer book market. 

It is our expectation that publishers, e-commerce platforms and writers will try to invent more different business models to expand their revenues. Only a significant new technological development would generate a material shift within the current consumer books market. 

The VAT on printed books increased from 6% to 9% in 2019. Although the market expected there to be a decrease in market sales, the increased VAT does not seem to have had a large impact on the books sold during the early months of 2019.

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Contact us

Menno Hoekstra

Manager, PwC Netherlands

Tel: +31 (0)88 792 45 80