Consumer books

We expect the Dutch consumer book market to remain steady for both printed and digital books. The pace of change in consumer behaviour is relatively slow and has not had a major impact on the market so far, however publishers face the challenge of getting youngsters reading again.

Playing field

The Dutch books market expanded slightly in 2017, although growth in both printed and digital books was slower than in 2016. The market for books in the Dutch language suffered a slight dip of 0.1% compared to 2016.

In January 2018, the Netherlands Institute for Social Research (NIRS) reported on the steady decline in the nation’s reading habits, mainly visible among relatively young people, with a sharp fall in the number of frequent young adult (20-34 years) and teenage readers. In the past five years, the total proportion of Dutch people who read regularly has dropped from 79% to 72%. By contrast, weekly reading topped 90% in 2006.

The e-books market is developing into a market where e-books are purchased based on subscription or all-you-can-read models. The larger publishers of this content, such as Kobo plus and Bookchoice, experienced considerable growth in 2017, at the expense of single-purchase e-books.

Piracy and the ability to resell e-books, following a Dutch court’s preliminary ruling, are factors that will continue to impact the market for new e-books.

A trend that has been under way for a longer period is that important bestsellers are generating lower revenues for publishers than they used to (in the markets for both printed and digital books). For example, the top 10 national bestsellers in 2017 generated 35% lower revenues than the top 10 bestsellers in 2016. As overall revenue in the market has grown in recent years, other books now account for a larger share of revenue.

In addition, the availability and accessibility of new content for customers has trimmed the lifespan of books, increasing pressure on sales in the first few months after publication.

The pace of technological change is relatively slow in the market. Printing on demand and other new technologies do not seem to be having a major impact on revenue in the printed books market. In their attempts to increase revenue and market share, publishers face the challenge of anticipating changes in consumer behaviour.

What’s new?

Publishers increasingly use big data and algorithms to understand and predict consumer needs and behaviour. Data can be used both to understand consumer demands regarding literary content, and to track how people consume books. It can therefore help publishers to observe specific literary demands within specific regions or specific periods, and to predict bestsellers and future sales.

Augmented reality is another factor that is beginning to have an impact on the book market. Publishers give consumers an additional interactive experience by offering the possibility to look at the physical book through an app to make the story come to life in 3D, including sound. Through the app, the reader can get different angles to the story or even play games that are linked to the story.

In its tax plans presented at the end of 2017, the Dutch Government announced that it intends to increase the current reduced VAT rate of 6% to 9% in 2019. Seeing as books are sold at the reduced VAT rate, the increase may negatively impact the book market. Besides affecting revenues and, indirectly, employment, the price increase may also impact content variety.

Consumer books (€ millions)
Netherlands Historical data Forecast data CAGR %
  2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 18-22
Print 506 466 479 499 502 509 514 517 520 522 0.8%
y-o-y growth   -7.9% 2.8% 4.1% 0.7% 1.4% 1.0% 0.6% 0.5% 0.5%  
Digital 19 19 21 26 28 30 31 32 32 33 3.3%
y-o-y growth   0.0% 10.5% 22.0% 9.5% 5.3% 3.7% 2.9% 2.3% 2.1%  
Total 525 485 500 524 530 539 545 549 552 555 0.9%
y-o-y growth   -7.6% 3.1% 4.8% 1.1% 1.6% 1.2% 0.7% 0.6% 0.6%  


We foresee very limited but steady growth in both the printed and the digital book market in the years ahead. Digital books will continue to account for only 5 to 6% of revenue in the Dutch consumer books market. The NIRS study has revealed that e-books and reading on tablets, smartphones etc. have not replaced printed consumer books and are unlikely to do so in the near future. According to the study, reading on e-devices primarily supplements printed books rather than replaces them.

Although we expect an increase in e-commerce sales, technology will not significantly impact sales and revenue in the market. Publishers will continue to face the challenge of getting youngsters to read more.

Contact us

Menno Hoekstra

Manager, PwC Netherlands

Tel: +31 (0)88 792 45 80

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