Spanish is the third-most-widely-spoken language in the world, after English and Chinese, and the revenue potential of 550 million Spanish speakers worldwide is not being overlooked by the publishing sector. There are 50 million Spanish-speakers in the U.S. alone. And while a single digital Spanish market remains elusive, as each country and territory is progressing at its own pace and has unique characteristics, there are some notable general digital trends emerging.
Over the past 10 years, Latin America’s middle class has increased by 50%, according to the World Bank, and its population enjoys greater access to education (school enrollment rates have soared, despite high levels of poverty and income inequality) and the Internet (projections forecast a 53% penetration rate by 2016, with strong annual growth). Without question, we are witnessing a digital maturation in Spanish-language book markets. Let’s take a look at some facts:
1) The number of e-books has increased. According to research published by the Regional Center for Book Promotion in Latin America and the Caribbean (CERLALC), 17% of all Spanish-language books published in 2013 were released as e-books, up from 8% in 2010, and e-books are expected to account for more than 25% of all titles published by the end of this year.
2) E-commerce volume via B2C channels has been significant over the past year. In addition, many Spain-based publishers have acknowledged that their digital sales in Latin America now account for 25%–50% of their total turnover.
3) The decrease in print sales that we’re witnessing should correspond to an increase in digital sales, resulting from increased e-book sales to libraries, universities, and other institutions. According to forecasts, some 60% of purchases by libraries and universities in Latin America will be digital in just two to three years.
4) More Latin Americans are reading books in digital formats. The following question was recently added to the annual “Latinobarómetro” report (based on a survey conducted in Latin America since 1995): “Do you read books, newspapers, magazines, and blogs directly online?” The responses collected suggest that digital reading is growing in importance in the region. In Colombia and Uruguay, about 19% of respondents indicated that they read directly on the Internet. In Argentina, the number was 16%, followed by Chile and Mexico (13%) and Brazil and Peru (11%). In the remaining countries in the region, less than 10% of respondents reported reading online. In Spain, just 6.5% of people reported reading digital books, and only 4.1% read books online.
5) Government has a key role to play. Although figures highlighted by the “Latinobarómetro” relating to the availability of books online revealed a market in its beginning stages—digital book access is under 10% in every country—the potential is evident. And according to a recent Bookwire report on the Spanish- and Portuguese-language digital markets, governments in Latin America will continue to play an important role in promoting the creation of digital content. All of the data available indicates that there is a direct correlation between reading and social and economic development, and the emergence of digital is providing governments and publishers with new opportunities to increase the number of readers in the region. In this regard, public library e-book lending will be key to increasing the number of readers, by providing free access to e-books, thereby removing a key economic barrier.
It’s still the early days, but the convergence of these facts and trends suggests a likely explosion in digital commerce in the region within the next decade. To achieve this goal, it is essential to develop solid e-commerce and distribution platforms capable of adding highly varied catalogue content.
A new digital economy offers a unique opportunity for the publishing community to create a global Spanish digital marketplace—a market that will encourage greater visibility for Spanish-language content from all over the world. And that’s truly excellent news for readers.
Javier Celaya is a member of the executive board of the Digital Economy Association of Spain and CEO and founder of Dosdoce.com, an online portal that analyzes the impact of new technologies in the publishing sector.