Sales of English-language books grow in Portugal, worrying publishers

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The sale of books in English is on the rise in Portugal, representing a 33% increase in the first quarter compared to the same period last year, a phenomenon driven largely by TikTok, which is worrying Portuguese publishers.

According to an article published on Tuesday by Publishers Weekly as part of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, sales of English-language books are on the rise across Europe, with the social network TikTok being one of the main driving factors behind this trend, which could translate into 3% of the market volume in Portugal by 2023.

This figure is corroborated by the president of the Portuguese Publishers and Booksellers Association (APEL), Pedro Sobral, who, based on data from the consultancy Gfk, told Lusa that imported books (consisting almost exclusively of books in English) represented 3% of the market value, which means a growth of around 25% compared to 2022.

In the first quarter of this year alone, sales of books in English have already grown by around 33% compared to the same period last year, said Pedro Sobral.

However, the Gfk panel doesn’t measure book sales in online channels and in stores like Amazon, which have a very significant weight, and it only covers around 87% of the bookstore market, so many sales are left out of this calculation.

Taking this factor into account, APEL’s extrapolated calculations suggest that the English-language book is currently worth somewhere between 5% and 8% of the total value of the Portuguese market.

In line with Europe, this trend is seen above all in the fiction category, although it is also found in non-fiction.

According to Pedro Sobral, the TikTok effect is one of the main drivers of the phenomenon – “because it brings and gives very high visibility to international titles and often even before their release” – but it’s not the only one.

Direct online access, enabling immediate purchases once the book has been discovered, also plays “a very important role” here, which is why “the size of English-language books sold outside the Gfk panel is quite significant”, he noted.

Another factor to consider is the price, since books published in the UK or the US “usually have infinitely higher print runs, because they cover huge domestic markets, but they also have this export effect to other countries”.

This “creates a huge economy of scale, allowing for lower prices which, due to the vastness of the global market they cover, are then launched in various formats, with different prices, always significantly lower than Portuguese editions.”

What’s more, the time taken from the original edition to the Portuguese edition – which takes into account translation, revision and distribution times – is enough to justify some readers preferring to buy the original rather than wait for the Portuguese edition.

Faced with this scenario, “Portuguese publishers are very worried”, and there are already many titles in which the Portuguese edition has lower sales than the same edition in English, which jeopardizes “the viability of many publishing projects”, warned the president of APEL.

The situation becomes even more worrying if we take into account the fact that “the overwhelming majority” of Portuguese readers prefer the Portuguese edition to the original, if it is available with the same immediacy and at similar prices, he added.

However, when it comes to price, Pedro Sobral explained that “Portuguese publishers don’t have much of a fight”, because it’s an economy of scale with which it’s completely impossible to compete or match that of the English-language market.

“Naturally, the publishers have been working hard to shorten the gap between the original version and the Portuguese version in order to lose as few readers as possible, but much more is needed, given this very worrying situation,” he said.

In addition, “global players like Amazon don’t comply with the Fixed Price Law, competing unfairly with Portuguese booksellers and online booksellers, and given the small size of the market, measures need to be taken even in the Fixed Price Law, as has already happened in countries like France,” he added.

Acknowledging that it is “very positive” to have new generations in Portugal with such absolute mastery of the English language, Pedro Sobral warned, however, that the Portuguese language may be facing “a very important challenge in its future” and argued that defending the Portuguese language should be a priority, supporting Portuguese writers, publishers and booksellers.

“While of course we must continue to invest in English, both at school and in higher education, as well as in the existence of books in English, it is also true that we need to create public policies to defend and promote the Portuguese language, support Portuguese writers, publishers and booksellers and, above all, books in Portuguese,” he said.

Iris Lavan
Iris Lavan
With a background as a consultant in the medical industry, Iris Lavan brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to Portugal Pulse. Iris also runs a company in Tel Aviv offering marketing, business development, content creation and public relations services. She holds a degree in economics and management, giving her a solid grounding in business strategy and financial planning. Iris' commitment to Portugal Pulse is reflected not only in her consulting career, but also in her impact on the Portugale media landscape in Israel. She was an interviewer for Hadshot Portugal חדשות פורטוגל, a media outlet that broadcasts news about Portugal in Hebrew, where she provided valuable information on current affairs, healthcare and the economy. Since July 2023, Iris has also been part of the Portugal Pulse team.

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