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The book in the form of the codex known today is considered the oldest mass medium. The article first attempts to grasp this medium detached from its material nature with the help of the approaches of various disciplines and contours it as an indeterminable form of “reading medium.” Over three major periods – the manuscript era, printing with movable type, and the age of digitization – the nature of the production, the product, and the publishing system are traced and characterized. For the current German-language book market, the structures of the two value-added stages of production and distribution are described and the institutions that directly or indirectly influence the system of book media communication are elaborated.  


This contribution is dedicated to a medium that is by far the oldest of all the genres dealt with in this handbook. Alone in the now familiar form of the printed codex, laden with over 500 years of history, its imminent demise is constantly prophesied, triggered by other, new means of communication. “Dead again – dead again” could be the title of this worthwhile collection of contributions spanning umpteen centuries. It would include, for example, the visionary Octave Uzanne, who in 1884 devised a variant of audio book reception with a Walkman in anticipation of the imminent further development of recent technologies: “If by books you are to be understood as referring to our innumerable collections of paper, printed, sewn, and bound in a cover announcing the title of the work, I own to you frankly that I do not believe (and the progress of electricity and modern mechanism forbids me to believe) that Gutenberg’s invention can do otherwise than sooner or later fall into desuetude as a means of current interpretation of our mental products” (Uzanne, 1894, pp. 223–224). However, the deadly enjoys greater vitality than ever and is also proving to be quite resilient: while the number of copies sold of the other two established types of reading media, magazines and newspapers, has been falling steadily since the mid-1990s (Statista, 2015b, p. 20 based on data from the Informations gemeinschaft zur Feststellung der Verbreitung von Werbeträgern; Statista, 2015c, p. 9 f. based on data from Media Perspektiven and the Informations gemeinschaft zur Feststellung der Verbreitung von Werbeträgern), the number of copies of books sold has remained constant at around 400 million on average over the last 10 years. In an article on the medium of the book, the challenging question arises as to how this object of analysis could be grasped; this attempt is made in Sect. 2, with – superficially – sobering results. Since the state of research on the “economics of the book industry” (Clement et al., 2009) has never been investigated, an overview is given in Sect. 3. In order to be able to distinguish actual “change through digitization” from supposed change, the value creation system and the nature of the products of the book industry will be worked out in broad outline over three major eras (Sect. 4). The nature of the current book market is described in Sect. 5. Institutions that have an impact on economic aspects of book media communication are also classified here. Section 6 summarizes the findings.


Keywords: Reading media, Written media, Book market, Book economy, Book industry