As the audio segment of publishing continues riding high with impressive year-to-year sales growth, the subcategory of Spanish-language audio is also increasing. Though statistics on the size of the Spanish-language audio market have not been officially tallied by the Audio Publishers Association, APA executive director Michele Cobb notes that she has seen a rise in interest and output by the organization’s membership. “I’m not privy to the numbers from individual companies, but among our member publishers there is a lot more conversation about Spanish-language audio and a lot more activity in terms of publishers producing more titles,” she says. Cobb adds that she has also seen increased interest on the consumer side. “We are absolutely fielding more questions about Spanish-language audio.”
Not surprisingly, many of the major players in producing, publishing, and distributing Spanish-language audio titles in the U.S. are traditional audiobook powerhouses: Penguin Random House, via Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial S.A.U., Hachette Audio, Recorded Books, Scholastic, Audible, and HarperCollins. In addition, smaller independent companies such as Live Oak Media put a range of Spanish and/or bilingual audio titles into the pipeline.
HarperCollins Christian Publishing began offering Spanish-language audio in 2007. “But as the format continued to show exponential growth, we began strategically increasing production of our Spanish titles,” says Jolene Barto, marketing manager, audio sales. “Now, we are offering titles from three different imprints: Grupo Nelson, Editorial Vida, and HarperCollins Español.”
In the fiscal year ended June 30, according to Barto, HCCP produced and released more than 35 titles, and this year the company is on track to produce 65 titles for its Spanish-audio catalogue. HCCP aims to “grow the program so that it will be a larger presence within our overall audio catalogue,” she notes.
Live Oak Media, in Pine Plains, N.Y., specializes in producing English-language recordings of children’s picture books that are used in conjunction with the print books as readalongs. The company has produced Spanish-language titles since the 1990s, and publisher Arnie Cardillo estimates that those Spanish titles—and some bilingual ones—comprise approximately 10% of his list. Cardillo “looks for Spanish titles that fit our general publishing program,” and that typically means recording a Spanish book for which Live Oak already has an English edition, or licensing and producing an English and a Spanish edition at the same time. Demand for such titles has remained strong, according to Cardillo, though he says publishers’ efforts to provide supply has fluctuated over time.
Cardillo recalls that demand for Spanish-language material—children’s books and children’s audiobooks—rose in the early 1990s due to demographic changes in the country’s population. But when sales of Spanish-language titles publishers had hoped for did not materialize, most major houses cut back.
However, with continued demographic changes, as well as rallying cries for more diverse books for children, Cardillo has again observed “increased output of Spanish books from small and large publishers alike. The focus of the small publishers, as always, was to create more Spanish content, that is, books about figures in Spanish history, historical events in Spanish-language countries, holidays, etc., and large publishers have followed suit.” That shift has resulted in Live Oak licensing more books for audio about people like Cesar Chavez, about holidays like Cinco de Mayo and the Day of the Dead, and about musical celebrities like salsa singer Celia Cruz, or musician and composer Esquivel (Esquivel! Space-Age Sound Artist by Susan Wood is due from Live Oak in 2018 in both Spanish and English).
Similar to Live Oak, Scholastic’s Weston Woods division produces three to four Spanish titles per year, a mix of new and classic picture books, representing roughly 10% of Weston Woods’s total audiobook list, according to Linda Lee, v-p and president of Weston Woods Studios and Scholastic Audio. The company has produced “at least one title in Spanish each year since the early ’90s, when the demand was primarily from the school and library market,” Lee says. Then, and now, each Weston Woods audio title is produced as a standalone recording and also in a readalong format. Popular titles in the catalogue include Un Pato en Bicicleta (Duck on a Bike) by David Shannon; Crisantemo (Chrysanthemum) by Kevin Henkes; Clic, Clac, Muu: Vacas escritoras (Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type) by Doreen Cronin, illus. by Betsy Lewin; and El conejito Knuffle: Un cuento aleccionador (Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale) by Mo Willems.
As a result of a pronounced increase in demand over the past year, Lee says Weston Woods has recently “expanded our distribution as digital downloads to the consumer market.” Scholastic Audio will also be producing its first middle grade Spanish-language audio title in summer 2018, with “plans to release more in upcoming seasons.”
A number of publishers partner with Deyan Audio, and the company’s Spanish producer Jorge Reyes, for Spanish audiobook production, whether it be for start-to-finish projects, or individual aspects, like quality control. Reyes says that in his 10 years in the industry, he has seen Spanish audio grow in the mid-2000s followed by a brief lull, but that since 2012, “It’s been increasing, maybe doubling, every year. At this point we’re doing roughly 30–40 books a year at Deyan.”
The growth in the number of titles is also coupled with an increase in the number of clients, according to Reyes, with more publishers coming on board, not just the same few publishers increasing their title output. And he points to a trend within all that growth. “We were doing mostly children’s books early on,” he says, “but now we’re doing a lot of books for adults, many longer eight-hour or 10-hour recordings.” He cites literature, bestsellers, and Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners as examples of much of his recording work now.
“In English, audio publishers are doing backlist titles or new releases, because all the classics have been done,” Reyes says. “But in Spanish, they are not done yet.” He points to such authors as Junot Díaz, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Isabel Allende. “Their great books are not produced on audio yet in Spanish. I just finished working on eight books from the Isabel Allende catalogue [for Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial, S.A.U].”
Reyes considers PRH, with a digital department based in Barcelona, to be a pioneer in pushing audiobooks in Spanish over the past five years or so. He describes how PRH and other publishers are trying to broaden their reach in this area. “Business books and motivational books have been around in Spanish for a while, but to go to the masses, audio publishers need to build a catalogue with a good solid base of these big titles.”
The Accent Is on Casting
With the demand for, and the supply of, audiobooks in Spanish rising, audiobook casting is crucially important because there are different Spanish-language accents to consider for a diverse listening audience. “If you’re recording audiobooks in English, you already have lots of professional narrators where that’s their job,” Reyes says. “But in Spanish, we’re not quite there yet, because there is not enough material.” He adds, “I’m personally building a pool of talent from different countries”—selecting actors from theater, dubbing, and voiceover work. Lee at Scholastic is optimistic about casting options. “Happily, the pool of Spanish-language narrators has greatly increased,” she says. “It’s an exciting time.”
Pairing a narrator with a project depends on the origin of the language of the text to be recorded, according to Reyes. If the text is a translation, there are two options. “If it was translated in Spain, with Castillian Spanish, we get Castillian actors,” says Reyes. “If the book was translated to Latin-American accents, we get what we call ‘neutral’ Spanish, and use actors with Mexican, Colombian, or Guatemalan accents.”
If a book is originally written in Spanish, the story itself often dictates narrator selection. Reyes cited the case of Chilean author Isabel Allende. “Not all her books are based in Chile,” he notes. “If the book is set in Venezuela we use a Venezuelan accent, and if it’s set in [the U.S.], we use the ‘neutral’ accent.” And in a case like The Feast of the Goat by Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa, which is set in the Dominican Republic and contains copious slang, the casting is a mix. “We tried to have the narration as neutral as possible,” says Reyes, “but when the actor was in character, performing dialogue, we encouraged them to go all out with authentic slang.”
Cleveland-based OverDrive is a key distributor to bringing Spanish-language audio to a broader audience. OverDrive’s digital distribution platform is in a combined 38,000 public libraries, schools, as well as some universities and corporations worldwide, according to OverDrive’s director of brand and marketing communication, David Burleigh. “From a corporate standpoint, strategically one of the things we are investing in is Spanish language,” he says. As a special feature, libraries using OverDrive can create a “room” for their own digital Spanish content, similar to a landing page within the platform, where librarians can highlight various titles.
Elissa Miller, digital collection adviser for the company, notes that when it comes to finding Spanish-language content to offer via OverDrive, she has seen a “steady and very significant increase in the availability of Spanish audiobooks.” The uptick is multifaceted, with more titles being produced, and more producers in the market. Much of the growth is coming from Spanish producers and distributors, but also in the form of an expansion of high-quality, high-interest titles from publishers like Penguin Random House and HarperCollins, and titles from smaller, independent publishers throughout Latin America.
On a current list of OverDrive’s 50 top-circulating Spanish audiobooks (from a catalogue of just over 2,000 titles), users will find such titles in translation as ¿Tu mamá es una llama? by Deborah Gaurino (Scholastic), Los 7 habitos de la Gente Altamente Efectiva by Stephen Covey (FonoLibro), and Bajo la misma estrella by John Green (Penguin Random House, Grupo Editorial S.A.U.). “The breadth of what’s being produced is getting better all the time,” Miller says. At HCCP, Barto mentions Harper Lee’s Ve Y Pon Un Centinela (Go Set a Watchman) and Margot Lee Shetterly’s Talentos Ocultas (Hidden Figures) as titles that “have seen great traction.” Larry Downs, v-p and publisher for HCCP’s Spanish publishing program, says: “Audio is an extension of our desire to provide options for how and when our readers wish to consume our authors’ content. As we continue to grow our physical footprint and market share in Spanish, we anticipate that our audio listener consumption will continue to grow.”
Miller notes that in addition to volume, the “breadth of what’s being produced is getting better all the time.” That includes more titles from the U.S. bestseller lists in translation, as well as titles from the bestseller lists in Spain and Latin America. “What’s considered more classic Spanish literature and the works of very well-known authors are very appealing to library users,” she says. “I’m also seeing a lot of media tie-ins, but not in the traditional sense, rather books by authors known and featured in Spanish-language media in the U.S. or Mexico, whether it’s TV, radio, or print.” As examples, she mentions books and audiobooks by radio personalities in Los Angeles, or TV commentators from the U.S. Spanish-language TV network Univision. “Those titles are having a lot of success in the U.S. market.”
For younger listeners, Miller says that popular novels are a draw for teens, and “anything classic”—folktales, popular picture books, bilingual picture books—appeals in the children’s category. “We’re trying to build a quality collection we can really stand by and that is of interest to a really broad range of public and school libraries.”
Reyes believes the Spanish audio distribution scene is about to change in interesting ways. Storytel, a Swedish audiobook and e-book subscription service and app company, is on the move, aiming to capitalize in non-English-speaking markets where its much-larger competitor, Audible, does not operate. In the past year, Storytel has acquired esteemed Swedish publishing house Norstedts (original publisher of Stieg Larsson) and the Danish e-book and audio streaming service Mofibo, among other companies. Plans for Storytel’s expansion into India, Russia, Spain, and U.A.E. were announced in June.
Looking to the future, Reyes observes: “You can’t compare the two [audio] markets; the English market is so mature, and has dedicated listeners who are addicted to audio and just go from one title to the next. You have to create Spanish listeners, and you create those listeners by creating good content.” He recently emphasized this point about quality to a publisher planning its first Spanish audiobook, saying: “For a lot of people who will buy your audiobook, it will be the first audiobook that they listen to in Spanish. If it’s a bad experience, they’re gone.”
Burleigh adds another point from the distribution side: “We’ve learned over the years that it really boils down to, do you have the right content and is it easy to get to? People will use the service or not based on those simple questions.”