Despite the challenges posed by a global pandemic that has slowed publishing’s supply chain and shut down schools and libraries, IPG’s Spanish-language book distribution program continues to grow. With nearly 8,000 titles for adults and children in its catalog, the Chicago-based company’s list of frontlist and backlist titles features editions originally published in Spanish and works in translation.

IPG distributes Spanish-language titles published by 40 presses, most of them in Spain and Mexico, though it hopes to represent publishers in other Spanish-speaking countries as well. “We intended to finally go to Buenos Aires this year to reach more publishers in Argentina and South America,” says Kelsey Wayne Mrjoian, IPG’s Spanish distribution program manager. Those plans fell through after the Buenos Aires International Book Fair was canceled in April because of the pandemic, however.

Covid-19 has also disrupted shipments of books from overseas, forcing IPG to “shift focus a little bit,” Mrjoian says. It is encouraging its client publishers—especially those that have low inventory in IPG’s warehouse—to pursue print-on-demand options. “We want to capture sales they might lose out on if the book takes too long to ship, or if the customer needs the book right away,” she explains.

Mrjoian recalls how print-on-demand filled gaps for IPG’s publishers when warehouses closed in Spain this past spring. “That’s when we really pushed publishers to enroll in our POD program,” she says. “We were able to still fulfill a lot of orders.”

There’s also a shift toward e-books in the Spanish-language market that IPG is trying to accelerate during the pandemic. According to Mrjoian, publishers in Spain are only now realizing that they have to build up their presence in the digital book market in case of print supply chain issues and difficulties with in-person shopping, particularly during the holidays. “It’s been a challenge to get them to create e-books or to give us the rights,” she notes.

While only 40% of IPG’s Spanish-language titles are children’s books, that is the category that has seen the strongest demand in recent years, Mrjoian says. She explains that more schools are offering language instruction, and there’s more demand for children’s books and graphic novels from adults studying foreign languages. The distributor’s Spanish-language program had its most profitable year in 2019, and the gains were largely driven by children’s books and YA fiction, she says.

Though overall sales have declined in 2020, children’s and YA fiction sales remain healthy. “People are at home, but they are reading more,” Mrjoian says, which balances out lost sales due to school and library closings this past spring and summer. “Some of our publishers have seen growth in 2020. Despite everything, it’s still been a good year.”

Mrjoian also points out that while there is steady demand for Spanish-language books in parts of the country with large Spanish-speaking populations, such as Arizona, California, Colorado, and Texas, as well as Chicago and New York City, orders for Spanish-language books come in from all corners of the U.S. “Spanish is being incorporated in schools at a younger age, and in more areas of the U.S.,” she says. The result is that IPG is trying to build its catalog of children’s titles even more.

Mrjoian is hopeful about the holiday season. “I think we’re doing everything we can do to ensure that we’ll have as good of a holiday season as possible,” she says. “We’re optimistic, but we are prepared for the challenges facing the industry in general.”

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