The government of Mexico only declared a national medical emergency in response to the spread of the new coronavirus on March 31, but Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial Mexico closed its headquarters in Mexico City more than two weeks ago, shifting employees to teleworking. "Mexico City is a densely packed city of 30 million people, said PRHGE Mexico CEO Roberto Banchik. "We felt it was the right decision to make to protect the health and safety of our team."
PRHGE Mexico, which has more than 200 employees, serves the single largest Spanish-language market in the world and is responsible for many of the country's bestsellers. Approximately 70% of the bookstores in Mexico are shuttered, and the business slowdown has already had an impact on book sales for the company. PRHGE had just shipped some 30,000 copies of its lead title for the spring, Salvar al Fuego (Save the Fire), by the Mexican writer and filmmaker Guillermo Arriaga, which won the $175,000 Aflaguara Prize this January. "We were very excited to have the winner of the prize—one I think is the most prestigious in the Spanish world—come to Mexico," Banchik said. "The books had just arrived in stores and a big launch event was planned for March 31, but, unfortunately, we had to cancel it."
The CEO was, nevertheless, sanguine in his assessment that the demand for the books would still be there when the bookstores reopened. "E-books have never take in off in Mexico—they have never risen to more than 5% market share—and we know that people will want to read this one in print," he said. That said, he is also rallying his team to do what they can to enhance the company's digital marketing activities and foment demand for ebooks in any way they can: "We have delayed some titles, but have also decided to launch some frontlist titles as e-book only. We have never done this before and will see how that goes."
The shift to teleworking has been "surprisingly successful," Banchik said. "I think one lasting change from all this is that it has accelerated our adoption of digital workflows for several processes that were previously done entirely manually." Authors too, he added, have embraced the need to shift to promoting their books online. "They are all eager to do whatever they can and are finding new ways to connect with readers," Banchik said. "We have worked with several authors to provide online masterclasses based on some popular books, such as one we have launched on identifying angels."
Books ordered online continue to be shipped from warehouses directly to customers, and Banchik reports that people are gravitating toward the types of titles that are helping them cope with the coronavirus crisis. "We're seeing a lot of orders for self-help and mindfulness titles. Fiction, not so much," he said. "People may now start spending a lot of time at home, but they are not seeing it as leisure time."
Looking ahead, Banchik says PRHGE is cutting editorial production 20 to 30% for the next season. Still, he noted, the company has "a lot of titles ready for the printer and will have many more by the time this is over. I'm confident readers will eager to read them."