In 2016, Argentina's book market generated $540 million in revenue, compared with $905.5 million in 2015. The numbers, which highlight the dire state of the country's publishing sector, were compiled by the Argentine consultancy Promage, which released the figures on Thursday at the Buenos Aires International Book Fair.
The 40% plunge can be directly attributed to changes in government policy instituted by Argentine president Mauricio Macri, who was inaugurated in December 2015. Among the moves affecting the industry was one to float the Argentine peso in international foreign currency exchanges, which resulted in devaluing the currency by nearly 50%. A decision to cease almost all government purchases of textbooks, which had accounted for $132 million in sales for the publishing industry in 2015, was also quite damaging.
"[Last year] was particularly difficult," said Javier López Llovet, general director of Penguin Random House for Latin America and Argentina. "People keep buying books, but they are buying less. If, in 2015, they went to the bookstores and bought two, three books, now they buy one. If the economy of Argentina were better, we would do better."
Publishers had hoped a change in government would give a boost to the book business, particularly after Macri appointed a former book publisher, Alejandro Pablo Avelluto, as his minister of culture. But Avelluto told PW shortly after he took office that "publishers should not expect special treatment."
One of the few bright spots under Macri was the end to a bizarre practice concerning imports, one stipulating that for every peso worth of product imported, the importer needed to export an equivalent sum in "Argentine product." After the regulation was changed, imports of books jumped 75%, from $40 million of in 2015 to $70 million in 2016, according to Promage.
As of 2014, Argentina had the third largest Spanish-language book market in the world, according to the International Publishers Association, trailing only Spain and Mexico. When updated statistics are released later this year, the drop in revenue may put Argentina into fourth place, behind Colombia, which has has a larger population and has been politically and economically stable in recent years.
Leonardo Neto is the editor of PublishNews Brazil and contributed reporting from the Buenos Aires International Book Fair.