Brazil has never been more present in the news than it is today. However, it’s not the potential of its economy nor its football talent that is grabbing the headlines, but rather it far right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, and his controversial agenda. The Brazilian book market, meanwhile, is facing the toughest crisis in its history.
PW recently caught up with Marcos Pereira, president of the Brazilian Publishers Association (SNEL), and publisher of Editora Sextante, one of the largest trade publishers in Brazil, to get his views on the crisis facing the book business, on the Bolsonaro government, and the state of the Brazilian economy in general.
The Brazilian book market is facing probably the largest crisis in its history, and its two largest bookstore chains now face bankruptcy. What are your expectations for 2019?
It’s important to note that Saraiva and Cultura are going through Judicial Recovery, an instrument similar to Chapter 11 reorganization under the U.S. bankruptcy laws. This means that they still have almost 100 stores all around Brazil. They also are the most recognized brands associated to books, and are trying hard to turn around their businesses and survive. Both companies need new management and capital investment, which will probably mean changes in ownership. My expectation for 2019 is a decline of about 10% in total sales, as a result of less novelty sales, and fewer bookstores.
There is a new government in Brazil, as Jair Bolsonaro took office last January. What are your expectations for this government in relation to the Brazilian book market?
Jair Bolsonaro has an economic agenda that is very positive, I would say essential, for our country. With the reforms, we expect more investment and a decline in the unemployment rate. We also expect optimism, which is always good for the book industry. On the educational side, it’s very important that the new Ministry of Education continues the policy of promoting readership in public schools, which includes investments in libraries, development of teachers, and distribution of books to the students.
You have been a strong advocate for the fixed price policy in Brazil. Do you think it will eventually become a reality?
I became an advocate for the fixed price policy when I was elected president of the Brazilian Publishers Association at the end of 2014, when I decided to study the international experiences with fixed pricing more thoroughly. There is a bill currently being discussed in the Senate, and we are working with our new congressmen in order to turn it into a reality. It’s not an easy task, considering the disinformation and negative public opinion.
Penguin Random House recently acquired control of Companhia das Letras in Brazil. Do you expect a fiercer competition with them and other international groups, or do you feel protected by the Portuguese-language barrier?
One characteristic of the Brazilian market is the number of strong competitors, local and international, in all categories. In the trade market you can name Planeta, Harpercollins (Thomas Nelson and Harlequin), Leya, and now Penguin Random House, all with very different business strategies. Competition is part of the game, and I don’t think the Portuguese-language barrier is that strong. But as I have said before, Brazil is not for amateurs—one has to understand the peculiarities of our market to succeed.
What is your take on digital books in Brazil? What is the size of the market and do you expect it grow?
The digital book market in Brazil is very concentrated, as in other countries, in one player. My guesstimate is that sales in 2018 represented 6% of the trade market, which is very healthy. I believe there is room for growth, and my forecast for our companies is 15% in 2019. Keep in mind that there is no distribution crisis for e-books.
What about audiobooks?
Yes, absolutely. We will have new companies coming to the audiobook market in 2019, and we are producing more than 50 titles right now to launch our program at Sextante.
What Brazilian author the world is missing because it hasn't been translated into English or other major languages?
I would say Jorge Caldeira, author of Mauá: Empresário do Império and also História da Riqueza no Brasil, the latter published more recently. These are two great books to understand Brazilian history.
Carlo Carrenho is a publishing consultant and founder of PublishNews.