The Links with Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean
Sally Taylor -- 9/18/00
Spanish Language Publishing Survey 2000
The Links with Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean This year, we fine focus our look at Latin American publishing, an $8 billion industry, on the links between the USA, Mexico and the Caribbean, the book center of which is currently Puerto Rico. Though Puerto Rico is technically part of the USA, readers will find that in many ways it is still very Spanish, and very much the biggest book market in the Caribbean.
The major link between Mexico, Puerto Rico and the USA is, or course, the number of people from the first two living in the third. Mexico supplies more Latinos in the USA than any other country. Puerto Ricans living in the mainland equal in number those living on the island, over three million. So let's see what is happening in both places.
Mexico's Push into USA with Trade Books Economic growth in Mexico is "humming along" according to a recently article in The Wall Street Journal, and with half the population under 18, that should be a very good thing for the book business. But growth will take time.
In 1998 there were 8000 new titles published in Mexico, according Carlos Noriega, who runs one of Mexico's oldest family-run houses.
"Ten years ago, we were a 90% closed economy. Today we are 90% open," he says. "Exports are booming, and Mexicans in the USA are sending home $8 billion a year. But we need another 25 years of good education to really get out of the hole."
Meanwhile, many Mexican publishers want to reach the growing Spanish language book market in the USA, widely dispersed and differentiated as it is. More are finding promising sales growth there, including Puerto Rico.
Mexico's major home-grown trade house for translations, Editorial Diana, is a good example. Puerto Rico and the USA are their big growth areas.
President Jose Luis Ramirez was at BEA's Spanish Language Pavillion in Chicago last June with a team of three looking for USA titles to translate, and he wants to bring them back to the USA to sell.
"We find the Mexico market more competitive now, with more good publishers doing good books, but the retail market is still poor," he told PW. "So we continue to negotiate for USA distribution rights though some publishers are less willing to offer them now."
He concurs with Ramirez that book stores in Mexico are still too small. "There is too much dependence on supermarket and drugstore outlets," he continued. "We need superstores like Borders in Mexico City." (Readers can find out why in our sidebar report on Borders in Puerto Rico.)
Expansion out to these markets, and cooperation with partners outside of Mexico, continues for everyone, including Gian Carlo Corte, General Director of Grijalbo-Montadori's Mexican operations.
Corte works with his own selection of independent distributors to reach the USA market and has ties with Univision, the Spanish language media group in Los Angeles. Several of his authors live in the USA.
"This market is a natural continuation for us," says Corte. "And it is our fastest growing."
They have published two books by Miami TV personality Jorge Ramos, each selling over 40,000 copies.
Guillermo Descalzi of Telemundo had a hit with a real life story of the homeless in Miami. It has sold 38,000 copies.
Migene Wippler, a Puerto Rican writer living in New York writes about magical things with great success for Grijalbo. And their current best seller is a biography of TV mogul Emilio Azcarraga, which has sold 80,000 copies.
Corte also reports that the parent company in Spain has a hit with Puerto Rican author Mayra Santos-Febres' expose of the transvestite underworld there, Sirena Selena Vestido de Pena. It will be translated into English by Picador.
Oceano has doubled their operations in the USA, Caribbean and Central America in the last year, according to Rogelio Villarreal and Roberto Rivas at Editorial Oceano de Mexico.
At last June's BEA they added a number of new commercial links and expect to double sales again this year.
Part of the publishing conglomerate in Barcelona, Oceano Grupo Editorial, recent international hits include La Suerte de la Consorte by Sara Sefchovich and Raul Salinas y yo by Maria Bernal, both reviewed by The New York Times and others, with strong sales in the USA. Oceano has a large catalog of Mexican writers, such as the remarkable Mexican economist and publishing consultant, Gabriel Zaid.
Starting in September, Oceano will distribute the Spanish version published by Emece of the Harry Potter series in Mexico, Central America and the Carribbean.
"We are doing promotions with library systems in states like California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois," say Villarreal and Rivas. "We show them product and then direct them to our distributors, who can offer them better service through consolidating their purchases."
Antonio Hernández Estrella, Publishing Director, explains that this is due, in part, to the signing of strategic agreements with Disney and Nintendo. Selector has rights to the Pokémon
series from Scholastic as well as Disney Pasatiempos titles. Both series have been very successful in Mexico. He also mentioned that these series are selling through the Mexican websites like Submarino, Sanborns, Gandhi and Espiral.
Although there is a growing tendency towards young readers, the classic series of Selector such as Parenting, Alternative Medicine, Esoteric, How to books, etcetera, continue to grow. Included are translations of best-selling authors such as John Bradshaw, Dr. Ruth Westheimer and Andrew Mathews.
"Los Angeles is a market that is bigger than Monterey or Guadalajara, in terms of their Mexican population," says Gonzalo Araico, the president.
"We need to promote books from Mexico in these markets. And we are hoping to share translation rights and costs with some American publishers."
The International Spanish HousesPlaneta Mexico has three parts to their publishing business: trade titles, partworks (something unknown in the USA, selling books and reference products in serial form at newstands) and door-to-door sales.
They also have publishing operations in Spain, Argentina and Colombia. Books from each are exported according to market possibilities.
"We get as many as 200 books a month coming in from Spain," says René Solis, General Director of Mexican operations. His office publishes 100 new books a year and usually gets priority for rights to Mexican authors, though several Mexicans have recently been publishing by the parent house, the winners of various Planeta prizes.
"We are seeing a renewed interest in Latin American writers, especially those of Mexico," he tells PW. And they travel well to the USA.
For example, Mexico's Ignacio Padilla's Amphitryon won the Premio Primavera de Novela 2000 from Planeta this year. A compatriot of the same age, 32, won their Premio Biblioteca Breve award in 1999: Jorge Volpi won for En busca de Klingsor (translated into English by Scribners)
Buenos Aires native Gonzalo Garcés won the same award this year for Los Impacientes. And Planeta also published the first novel of Argentina Norma López Suárez, who won the Premio Joaquin Mortiz prize in 1999, Fuga del silencio.
Planeta Mexico enjoyed a major hit this summer from the former president of Bancomer, Manuel Espinosa Yglesias. His memoires were published in May, just a month before he died, and with Bancomer up for sale, the book became a major topic of interest.
But perhaps their biggest hit this year will be Mi Casa es Tu Casa a co-edition with Dupuis of the most beautiful house interiors in Mexico with a selection of Mexican recipies, printed in Spain.
Planeta's USA office in Miami also serves Central America and the Caribbean with Felipe Diaz-Canedo in charge.
Most Spanish language publishers use the many independent USA distributors to reach the USA markets. Leylha Ahuile, Director of Alfaguara USA, explains the key benefit to having your own distribution system on the ground.
"We are able to provide a wider selection of titles from Spain, Latin America, and now the new titles that we will publish here. Our marketing and promotional efforts translate into increase sales through our distributors."
"Alfaguara, part of the Santillana group, uses Amazon's new small publishers program to get all their titles listed there. Ahuile reports selling 1000 copies of La Fiesta del Chivo by Mario Vargas Llosa in less than a month.
"Most of the 10,000 copies we import each month come from Mexico," she told PW. "But we also bring them from Peru, Bolivia, Spain, Chile...wherever they are published. Thanks to our major investment in the USA, with our own distribution and promotion systems, this market has doubled for us in each of the last two years."
Planeta and Alfaguara both bank on the future of the USA market in Spanish. Meanwhile, USA publishers look at the long term prospects in Mexico, especially in education.
The Educational Market in Mexico Carlos Noriega expects continuing improvement in the school textbooks under the new administration.
Mexico's dynamic young president, elected this summer, Vicente Fox Quesada, promises to create a stronger reading market as education gets a bigger piece of the government financial pie, both on a state and national level.
Mexico has nearly 30 million students, even though most only reach ninth grade level. As a vital part of the future of the country, textbook publishers are still working towards an open market in textbooks. Poor quality, Government-produced primary and secondary level textbooks are still the norm.
It is in tertiary and professional publishing, as well as in the private school sector, that independent publishing is thriving.
No USA publishing company has a longer or more successful history than McGraw-Hill, with 35 years in the region. Managing Director for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean is Javier Neyra.
With the full range of McGraw subjects: educational, professional, trade, computers and medical, growth is fastest in educational and professional titles, with more than half of sales in Spanish.
Mexico is also the company's major publishing center in Spanish. An average of 400 original and translated titles are produced in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean annually. And they have no rights issues.
"We never break up rights by territory," says Neyra. "In terms of textbooks and non-fiction titles, especially, we need the global Spanish language market to make it work for us."
The man who pioneered many concepts for foreign markets and foreign language publishing in the USA by developing McGraw in Latin America was Fred Perkins. Now President of Pearson Education in the Spanish speaking world, Perkins is a major contender.
When the Pearson Group added the Prentice-Hall lists to their Longman and Addison-Wesley collections, they became formidable competition to the market leader. Already the largest educational publishers in the world, Pearson has made a serious commitment to Latin America, but experience has made Perkins cautious.
"I think the potential for growth in Latin America continues to be enormous, both in educational and in trade publishing," Perkins told PW. "But change tends to occur gradually.
"The future for educational and trade publishing is very bright, but change tends to occur gradually.
"We tend to forget or ignore the fact that the average per capita income in Latin America continues to hover around US$4,000, which is about where it was when I started in the business 40 years ago. We must all be patient, hang in there for the long haul, and not expect any miracles.
"As those non-book buyers get better educated, and start to earn more, (the famous chicken and egg dilemma), the market will definitely expand."
Pearson Education Mexico is already the number one in English Language Teaching (ELT) and English language books in schools, according to Steve Marbán, President of Pearson Educación de Mexico, Centroamerica y el Caribe.
"Professional books are one of the fastest growing parts of our business...computers, business titles and general interest. We publish about 180 titles, originals and translations into Spanish each year.
"Dress for Success, a translation from a British title, is going like hotcakes and so are some of our cyberbusiness titles."
IDIOTS is a Pearson Imprint, sold as Serie Fácil in Spanish.
The Penguin Reader series is a new import and doing well in English.
"We are doing more original works in Mexico all the time," he says. Pearson Education has editorial operations in Bogota, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo and Madrid as well, and they are opening a small editorial operation in Puerto Rico.
"We are also starting to organize our USA distribution of Spanish-language titles published in Latin America."
Selling books in Spanish on the Internet While Pearson sticks with BtoB on the internet, they are beginning to work with distance learning institutions in Mexico, including ITAM business school, which has 14 online courses.
Carlos Noriega has high hopes for book sales on the internet in Mexico, especially in higher education. One virtual university in Monterey now has 82,000 students online, he reports, and Noriega is designing materials for them. But all are not so sanguine.
"The Internet and the e-book will certainly become important in education in the future," says Fred Perkins at Pearson Education. "But their importance in Latin America will not precede their importance in the United States, but follow it by the normal 3 to 5 to 10 years. The speed will depend on how quickly the active participation of governments and parents in the education process occurs."
Adrián Zeferín at Edamex told PW that not many Mexicans are yet buying on the internet because "they like having a personal contact when they buy, and they fear putting their VISA card number online."
But the Internet fills a need in Mexico where distribution can otherwise be poor or expensive. Mexican students are being told to use Amazon.com to order their textbooks, especially English language editions.
Amazon.com is already featuring Spanish language books on their site and Mexican publishers are delighted.
René Solis, Director General at Planeta in Mexico reports that while online sales are still "insignificant, they are increasing rapidly". He sells stock to 12 online sites in Mexico alone.
Planeta has just offered their first book in an online edition, as well. Ernesto Sabato's La Resistencia was published under the Seix Barrel imprint in late June in the Argentine office. But it appeared on the newspaper Clarin's website for a week before hand.
"It wasn't available to download," explains Solis. "But people were free to read as much as they wanted on the internet, as a promotion.
Willie Shavelzon, formerly with Planeta and now an independent author's agent in Buenos Aires arranged the deal.
As readers will read in the accompanying report in this section, the internet is inspiring a boost in book sales and may be a welcome the new vehicle in book promotions, online sampling and e-book sales.
WWW.LEER.NISC.COMCertainly the best site for finding books in Spanish is www.leer.nisc.com. Compiled by NISC Puerto Rico, using their bibliography, Libros en Venta, combined with the databases of booksellers all over the world, the site is free of charge to the public, with a searchable (by title, author and subject) bibliography of books in print in Spanish and how to find them in each country or market.
The full text of LEV is also available online by subscription, on CD-ROM and in annual print edition from NISC.
Publisher Margaret Melcher coordinates the NISC Puerto Rico team which compiles the data for the online sites and the Libros en Venta and Info LatinoAmerica products. She also runs the subagency for the Bowker ISBN.
The websites and product sales are maintained by NISC headquarters in Baltimore MD.
Much of the hard work of collecting bibliographic data is still done by Melcher, widow of Dan Melcher, former publisher of the RR Bowker company, a Publishers Weekly sister operation.
Distributors cooperating with the LEER site report increases in sales inquiries, often from new buyers. (See accompanying article on Spanish language websites.)
Volume 246 Issue 38 09/18/2000