Spanish is the third most widely spoken language in the world after English and Chinese, and the revenue potential of a market consisting 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 last 10 years, Latin America has witnessed a significant increase in its middle class (50% according to the World Bank), access to education (school enrollment rates have soared, despite high levels of poverty and inequality), and Internet usage, with projections forecasting a 53% penetration rate by 2016, and annual growth of 13%. Without question, we are witnessing a digital maturation in the Spanish-language markets for publishers. Let’s take a look at some facts:
The number of e-books has increased. According to research published by CERLALC (the Regional Center for Book Fostering in Latin America and the Caribbean), the number of titles published in digital format accounted for around 17% of overall publishing production (194K titles) in 2013, up from 8% in 2010, and it is expected to surpass 25% by the end of 2015.
E-commerce volume via B2C channels has been significant over the last year. In addition, many Spain-based publishers have acknowledged that their digital sales in Latin America now account for 25% to 50% of their total turnover.
A foreseeable (and already visible) decrease in print sales should correspond to an increase in e-commerce, particularly in libraries, universities and other institutions. Based on reasonably forecast figures, some 60% of purchases by libraries and universities in Latin America will be digital in just two to three years.
The “Latinobarómetro” (an annual public opinion survey conducted in Latin America since 1995) recently added the following question to its survey: “Do you read books, newspapers, magazines, and blogs directly online?” The replies suggest that digital reading is growing in importance in some countries 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, fewer than 10% reported reading online. And in Spain, just 6.5% of people reported reading books in digital format and only 4.1% read books online.
Although figures highlighted by the “Latinobrómetro” relating to the purchase or download of books online revealed a market in its beginning stages—under 10% in every country—the potential is evident.
According to Bookwire’s report on the Spanish and Portuguese digital markets, governments in the region will continue to play an important role in promoting digital content creation and demand. All of the data available indicates that there is a direct correlation between reading and levels of social and economic development. The emergence of the digital era is providing governments and publishers with a new opportunity to increase the number of readers in the region. Public library e-lending will be key in achieving an increase in the number of readers by providing free access to e-books, thereby removing a key economic barrier.
It’s still early days, but the convergence of these facts and trends suggest 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 catalog 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. Dosdoce.com has published over 40 studies and reports on the use of new technologies in the publishing sector, and provides strategic management consultancy services.