The pandemic produced numerous challenges for book distributors, not the least of which was how to get much-needed books and supplies to students who, during lockdowns, had no access to school libraries. This challenge was particularly acute for students who learn in Spanish. One solution was to provide digital-learning resources. Lectorum, the Spanish-language book distributor based in New Jersey, reacted quickly to the demand.
“We had met with Makemake, a young company from Colombia, during the previous Guadalajara Book Fair [FIL] in November 2019,” says Alex Correa, president and CEO of Lectorum. “The founder was a very young and enthusiastic entrepreneur, Catalina Holguin, who had previously developed an e-book platform for Colombia’s national library system. When customers started asking for e-books in spring 2020, this proved very fortuitous.”
Correa moved quickly to finalize a distribution agreement to market the Makemake platform in the U.S., and in 2020 started reaching out to libraries and other customers.
Makemake initially offered 600 children’s books, for readers in pre-K through high school, but has since expanded its library to 1,200. The books primarily come from Latin American publishers and authors—including those from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico—and thus are often unique to the North American market. “We have been very selective in including only books of the highest literary and artistic content,” Holguin says. The company has plans to add several hundred more titles to the library by the end of the year. Most of the titles are fiction, with limited nonfiction, and can be downloaded on users’ devices.
The platform is designed to be child and parent friendly, and it integrates with a variety of educational platforms, including Google Classroom and Microsoft 365. It offers downloadable reading guides and other tools for educators. The initial buyers in the U.S. were the Los Angeles Public Library and Austin Public Library, two systems that cater to a large population of Latino and Spanish-speaking readers. “They have been very active in promoting the online library to their patrons,” Correa says.
Other customers include public libraries and schools in Berkeley, Boston, Denver, and Oakland. Interest is especially strong in the Northeastern U.S., Correa says. Subscriptions are available for a year at a time and the institution or school can determine the number of titles they select, typically starting with a collection of a minimum of 300.
Though the print book market came back very strong in the second half of 2021, demand for Spanish-language e-books and digital learning materials is still growing. “They are a strong resource for remote access and available 24/7,” says Correa, who noted that not all schools allow children to bring books home each day. “We know that other platforms are coming to the market, but there is no other one right now that offers the content quality that we are able to offer with Makemake.”
One of the surprise stories of the year so far has been the popularity of several Spanish-language books in the U.S. trade market, including Emma y las otras señoras del narco by Anabel Hernádez, published by Grijalbo and distributed by Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial. The book alleges that numerous high-profile celebrities, including Ninel Conde and Galileo Montijo, have been helped in their careers or been in relationships with powerful drug dealers. As such, it has drawn lots of buzz and is widely available in outlets ranging from independent bookstores to Walmart. It debuted at #6 on PW’s bestseller list for the week ended February 7; since publication, it has sold more than 35,000 copies, according to BookScan.
Invencible, Latin Grammy Award–winning singer Chiquis Rivera’s memoir, published by Atria, landed at #20 on PW’s trade paperback bestseller list for the week ended February 21, when it sold more than 5,500 copies. Isabel Allende’s latest novel, Violeta, was published in Spanish and English simultaneously in February, and the Spanish-language edition from Vintage Español has sold more than 6,300 copies.
Planeta partners with Lantia
EBL, based in Nashville, is a partnership between Planeta, the large Spanish-language publishing company based in Barcelona, and Lantia of Seville (which also publishes Publishers Weekly en Español). The company, which launched in 2020 last year, offers self-publishing services with a twist: it can operate in both English and Spanish and promises to deliver international distribution. What’s more, the collaboration offers the opportunity to have a book translated into Spanish or English should the author desire it.
“Planeta is actively seeking new authors from the self-publishing scene,” says Lantia CEO Enrique Parrilla. “Planeta saw an opportunity to find new self-published authors in the United States. And since Lantia has worked with Planeta and managed their self-publishing in Spain for many years, the partnership made sense. In Spain, we have had a lot of success developing talent and seen many authors who started in self-publishing transition into traditional publishing. We feel we are bringing the same professional development to the U.S.”
One particular strength EBL brings to the market is a network of more than 400 artists and illustrators. “This group is geographically diverse and works in a variety of appealing styles,” Parrilla says. “It is a unique asset we have that can really assist aspiring children’s authors in particular.”
The company did research to determine best practices for the American market prior to launching, including meeting with the National Writers Union, which expressed an interest in helping more of its authors reach the Spanish-language market.
In all, Lantia says it’s published 87,000 titles from more than 60,000 authors since it was founded in 2013. It now works with 4,200 points of sale and 3,000 libraries across Spain and the Americas.