Reaching the Hispanic book consumer has never been easy. Most of the main book retailers are not located in areas with a high concentration of Hispanic consumers, and independent bookstores have struggled to reach these readers. The closing of Borders, along with a troubled economy, has made matters even more challenging, but book publishers and distributors have become more creative than ever.
According to a study conducted by independent market research company Mintel, 63% of all book buyers purchase books at bookstores; a third of them purchase online; about 10% buy through book clubs; and another third purchase through nonbook retailers When one looks at Spanish-language book buyers, the numbers are quite different. Fewer than half purchase through bookstores; around 10% make online purchases; 10% make use of book clubs; and over 40% get some of their books at nonbookstore retailers. Reaching Spanish-language book consumers through nonbookstore retailers has become increasingly important. Aside from being offered at national and regional grocery store chains, drugstores, and big-box stores, Spanish-language books are also making their way onto the shelves of carnicerías (butcher shops) and flower shops. Hispanic grocery stores have been selling books for some time, but now Latino-owned pharmacies, furniture stores, Latino museums, bodegas (small independent grocery and convenience stores), paradores (country inns), appliance stores, music shops, and a growing number of airport stores are offering books in Spanish. Publishers and distributors are leaving no stone unturned.
What do the Fifty Shades of Grey series and books on the pope have in common? Not much editorially, but they share shelf space and high sales numbers at Hispanic grocery stores. According to Mickey Tirado, Spanish-language sales manager at Penguin Random House, “H-E-B grocers in Laredo, Tex., has dedicated over 20 feet of retail space to books, and they have engaged the community through book readings every Saturday. It is encouraging to see nonbooksellers build and grow their commitment to books.”
This diversification offers a growing opportunity for publishers but is not without its challenges. The types of books that sell at these locations aren’t necessarily the bestsellers found in bookstores, but these channels have become so important that some publishers have gone so far as to publish books just for them.
Publishers Weekly spoke with Edward Benitez, director of U.S. Spanish-language sales at Random House, who said, “Limited space and profitability is what retailers are looking for. Therefore, title selection and price are paramount for the success of books in these retailers. These retailers don’t have a book buyer, so it is up to the publisher to do a good job in selecting the titles and promoting them.”
Having been in the book business for 27 years, Juan Manuel Giron, owner of bookstores in the Chicago area and distributor Giron Books, is always reinventing the way his companies do business. “We have completely restructured our sales and our customer service team in order to service nonbook retailers,” Giron says. “Greater relationship building and hand-holding is required.” Giron explains that many new clients were hesitant to place books at their retail locations, so a different sales approach had to be implemented. He adds, “We have retrained our customer service staff. They are now helping nonbook buyers, so the information provided and its delivery is different. We try to make our clients feel comfortable with books and not intimidated by them.”
For Giron and others, nonfiction seems to do best, so they often lead with it. Once the retailer feels more comfortable, publishers and distributors begin to incorporate fiction. Having retailers be successful with books from the outset is paramount to their continued offering of books and to expanding shelf space. Giron says that his team often leads with the tried-and-true, what he calls the three n’s of books: niños (children’s), naturismo (natural health), and narco (drug trafficking). These categories have consistently done well in Spanish, but growing areas are Bibles, prayer books, and books on how to improve one’s life.
In the past few years, Readerlink Distribution Services has begun to distribute books in Spanish but only to traditional book retailers. According to Readerlink, they offer 150–200 titles in various genres but not textbooks. They are reaching a growing number of Target stores that sell Spanish-language books. Target used to offer books in Spanish in only 50 of their stores, but now they are available in 400 stores. Yet Wal-Mart, the number one retailer among Hispanics, has decreased their offerings from in 1,200 locations to just shy of 650. Sam’s Club continues to offer books in Spanish in 31 of their retail locations, but selection has decreased in the past few years.
Several publishers commented that Target, Wal-Mart, and Sam’s Club are very price sensitive. The type of books sold through these retailers has also shifted in the past few years. For example, a few years ago the number one sellers at Wal-Mart were often how-to books. Now they are faith-based books, followed by children’s books. For fiction to work through these retailers, it has to be by a branded author, be a bestseller, or have a movie tie-in.
Penguin has tailored a line of books to sell primarily through drugstores, big-box retailers, and supermarkets. Priced under $15, ¡Hecho fácil! (Made Easy) is a series of books for less acculturated Hispanics looking to further understand and navigate life in the U.S. Erik Riesenberg, senior director of marketing, international sales, and associate publisher of C.A. Press for Penguin Random House, says that “Nontraditional bookstores are much more price sensitive than bookstores, and that is why we developed this inexpensive series.” Riesenberg also notes that selling through these retailers requires distributors to assist retailers in selecting titles that will appeal to their consumers. He says that he would like to sell more into independent convenience retailers, but finding distributors able to service these accounts in certain parts of the country is quite challenging.
Independent bookseller Books & Books is now getting into the distribution and wholesaling of Spanish-language books. They are bringing their vast experience as an independent bookseller in southern Florida to help English-dominant independent booksellers throughout the country in their efforts to reach the Hispanic consumer. PW spoke with Raquel Roque, head of Spanish-language books for Books & Books and previous owner of Downtown Book Center in Miami, which was founded by her father. Raquel grew up the Spanish-language book business but is always eager to learn more about the consumer. “In May we were at the Hispanicize social media conference, selling the autobiography of Rita Moreno, who participated on a panel—the book sold out, and it gave me the opportunity to engage with a very different audience. We also attended the Billboard Latin Music Awards—we are taking it up a notch.”
In the past 10 years there have been significant demographic shifts among Hispanics. Some of the markets that have seen the biggest Hispanic population growth are suburban areas and cities such as Atlanta and Denver. Independent booksellers might not be equipped to service the new potential consumers in these places, but that is where Books & Books is lending a helping hand. Roque works with independent bookstores throughout the country in selecting a Spanish-language collection for their specific demographic. Books & Books has also started several book clubs in Spanish and is eager to engage female readers, who tend to be mothers and are often the ones making sure their children learn to read in Spanish.
Book fairs have become an increasingly important point of sale for Spanish-language books. Aside from the large book fairs such as the Miami Book Fair International and LéaLA, the fair in Los Angeles, there are numerous smaller fairs that fill the void left by the lack of bookstores. Giron Books organizes their own book fair in Chicago and also participates at book fairs in Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Oregon, and is working with retailers to organize additional book fairs throughout the country. Giron says, “We know how to put together a book fair, so we bring that know-how to nonbook retailers. We help them set up their own book fair—on their parking lot or at a school—we organize it for them, provide the books, book the authors, and guide them on how to promote the fair—we offer a turnkey solution.”