Hispanics are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the U.S., and they are not only growing in terms of numbers but also expanding their presence in regions across the country. In the past, Hispanics primarily resided in a few states and lived in large urban areas within those states. Now more Hispanics live in suburbs than in cities. According to the U.S. Census, states such as Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Tennessee saw their Hispanic populations double between 2000 and 2010. These demographic shifts pose new challenges and opportunities for bookstores that seek to service their communities and expand their businesses.
Raquel Roque, a bookselling consultant for Books & Books in the Miami area and owner of Downtown Book Center, a Spanish-book wholesaler, says booksellers should not just jump into the Spanish-language market. “You need to start slow, grow organically, dedicate a space, don’t fear it, and have someone keep an eye on what is selling, calibrate it,” she advises. “You have to give it time—three months might not be enough.” A bookseller can add a Spanish-language section without transforming the entire store.
Booksellers who believe there is a market for books in Spanish shouldn’t be deterred if they don’t speak the language, Roque says. She notes that many of the consumers who purchase books in Spanish are bilingual yet they prefer to read certain books in Spanish. To work with customers who have trouble with English, Gloria Noriega, director of Spanish books for Books & Books, suggests hiring a part-time person who speaks Spanish or asking customers if they would like to volunteer to be a moderator for a reading group. “Twelve years ago I started as a volunteer at Books & Books and then began working part-time. Now I manage the books in Spanish section along with the events and a reading group that has grown by leaps and bounds,” Noriega says. Asking customers what types of books they are looking for is another good way to build business. With the same amount of dedicated space, Noriega says, Books & Books has increased sales of Spanish-language texts by almost 40% annually, with much of the growth attributed to custom orders.
Below are tips and suggestions compiled by Roque and Noriega for booksellers interested in selling Spanish-language titles:
If your bookstore is known for a particular genre or for hosting book clubs, offer the same in Spanish. Do what you are already doing in English. The inclusion of books in Spanish should be organic and not meant to transform your store or your brand’s identity.
Before adding books in Spanish, do your homework. Find out about your community, talk to publishers and distributors of books in Spanish, and find out what is selling.
No need to travel to Spain or Latin America to purchase quality books in Spanish. There are distributors and publishers in the U.S. that offer a wide selection.
Ask consumers what they are looking for. They often know what is being published in their country of origin and will want to read those books. This will also help you get to know the types of books and authors your customers enjoy and you can begin to recommend other books that are similar to what they are requesting. You also have to take some risks, don’t get too many copies, but try out different things.
Reach out to self-published authors that who are part of your community. These authors are also part of the writing community and part of the Hispanic community, and will likely bring in people who might not be familiar with your store.
Religious books and Bibles are often among the bestselling Spanish-language titles. Be sure to stock such books even if you don’t sell English-language titles in those categories.
If most of your customers are recent immigrants, then you might find strong demand for material about learning English as a second language.
YA books in Spanish are also read by adults, so place them in the adult section. Many Hispanic adults raised in the U.S. have limited reading skills in Spanish, and they may find adult novels too difficult.
Children’s books in Spanish should be in the children’s section and not in the Spanish section. Books for toddlers and very early readers sell best in the category, as do bilingual books for early readers.
Any reference section in Spanish must include a Spanish-English dictionary and a basic grammar book in Spanish.
Staples in the Spanish section are Paulo Coelho, whom many consumers read in Spanish (although he writes in Portuguese), Gabriel García Márquez, and Isabel Allende.
Make Hispanic consumers feel welcome, ask them what they are looking for, and, if you don’t understand the name of the author or the title of the book, ask them to write it down for you.
Keep in mind that the personal touch is very important with Hispanic consumers. Be open, social, and welcoming.
Think about hiring someone, at least on a part-time basis, who is bilingual and passionate about books. Have business cards made in Spanish for that person and hand them out to customers when he or she is not there. Hispanics will ask for that person—it’s all about building personal relationships.
Do any marketing or public relations in Spanish as well as English. Like everyone, Hispanics are very responsive to social media.
Create a database of your customers and include cell phone numbers because Hispanics often prefer to communicate via text message instead of email.
If you have an online presence, include books in Spanish on your website.
Check on a weekly basis what is moving and adjust accordingly. When something is working, don’t do too much of the same thing or people get tired—mix it up.
Above all, listening to the consumer is the #1 rule for successful bookselling—whether the customer is Hispanic or not.