The city of Barcelona has just 1.6 million residents, yet it dictates much of what Spanish speakers around the world read. Barcelona is home to the two dominant Spanish-language publishing conglomerates, Grupo Planeta and Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial, and it is the hometown of the most influential literary agency working with Spanish authors, Agency Literaria Carmen Balcells, as well as numerous highly regarded independent Spanish-language publishing companies.
It is also the capital of Catalonia, where more than 60% of the residents, in addition to speaking Spanish, speak and read Catalan and identify themselves primarily as Catalan. This cultural division is what, in part, prompted Catalonia to vote on October 1 to secede from Spain and become an autonomous state.
Alongside the Spanish-language industry, a parallel publishing industry in Catalan exists, with nearly 100 publishers working in the language. Newspapers and trade magazines publish bestseller lists for both Spanish language and Catalan books, and Catalonian booksellers give equal shelf space to the titles. When the conglomerates acquired companies such as Santillana (in 2014) and Ediciones B (earlier this year), they laid off numerous bilingual publishing professionals who then went on to start their own book-related businesses, from publishing houses to bookstores.
Catalonia has often presented itself as a publishing entity independent from Spain. For example, the region served as Guest of Honor at both the 2007 Frankfurt Book Fair and at the 2016 Bologna Children’s Book Fair, under its own flag. Of the 98 members of Publishers Association of the Catalan Language, nearly half of the members publish exclusively in Catalan, with the others, including Planeta and Penguin Random House, publishing both in Catalan and Spanish.
Overall, the Catalan-language publishing industry accounts for approximately 10% of the publishing business in Spain. Revenue from the sales of Catalan books accounted for €238 million ($277 million) in 2016. Total sales in Spain for the year were roughly €2.3 billion. Catalan-language publishers produced 11,343 titles in 2016, 13% of Spain’s titles that year; Spanish-language publishers produced 81,496.
After a decadelong slump in book sales due to an economic recession and high unemployment throughout Spain, book sales began bouncing back in 2016. Sales in Catalonia were 3.6% higher last year than in 2015, and sales for the whole of Spain were up 2.7%. Despite the uncertainty about the future, many in the Catalan publishing industry are optimistic that it will survive should the region become independent. Publishing consultant Bernat Ruiz Domènech recently wrote on his blog that streamlined, low-cost publishing models make sustaining Catalan-language industry viable. And, since Catalans tend to print locally, bookstores can be resupplied quickly should a title become a bestseller.
Literary agent Anna Soler-Pont also believes that independence would in no way be a death sentence for publishing in Catalonia. Soler-Pont who has been a vocal proponent of independence, said: “We don’t foresee any threat with possible independence from Spain. On the contrary, we already work around the world, representing clients from 26 different countries in five continents from Barcelona. And we would continue to do so!”