Most of the books in Spanish found in the U.S. market are imported from Spain and Latin America, and distributors and wholesalers have played a significant role in making Spanish-language titles from large and midsize overseas publishers available here. As demand for Spanish-language books in the U.S. has grown, more independent and smaller presses are making their way into the market via established and new distributors.
One of the newest distributors to enter the market is Miami-based American Book Group (ABG), which began representing publishers from Mexico and Spain in 2015. Some of the Mexican publishers that it represents are Grupo Planeta’s BookIt series and its Diana imprint, children’s publisher Tres Abejas, New Age publisher Acqua Ediciones, and Sélector USA, a joint initiative between ABG and Mexico’s Editorial Sélector. ABG’s Spanish clients include Editorial Sol 90, which offers books with beautiful computer-generated illustrations.
ABG’s director of sales, Ernesto Martinez, attributes the company’s early success in signing clients to having a warehouse in Miami, giving publishers access to the U.S. market through print-on-demand, and distributing e-books.
In addition to working with foreign publishers, ABG has found a niche in representing major U.S. houses that publish Spanish-language books to independent bookstores. “Many independent-bookstore owners want to offer books in Spanish but don’t know the language or the market well enough to make a selection that will appeal to their consumers,” Martinez explains. “We help them in selecting titles. It’s really about consultative selling.”
ABG primarily sells to independent bookstores, libraries, wholesalers, museums, and schools, as well as Hispanic retailers such as Hispanic grocery stores and retailers focused on meeting the needs of the Hispanic consumer. When asked what makes ABG different from other distributors, Martinez says that, unlike other distributors, “we are not here to disrupt the market, but to offer our service to publishers.” He adds, “We have a focus on metadata and making sure the complete information is available. We are also very selective in the titles we offer and provide consulting services to buyers.”
ABG has also expanded into publishing. In addition to the recently launched Sélector USA imprint, ABG publishes a series called MariaGarcia: Tu Guía Latina (Maria Garcia: Your Latina Guide), a series of practical how-to books, where part of the content is delivered through the book and additional information is available on a dedicated website.
Lectorum is a well-established and growing distributor that has been in business for 56 years and that was purchased by Alex Correa in 2009. The company works with more than 200 publishers and has a wide selection of children’s and YA books, which make up 70% of its catalogue, with adult trade titles comprising the remaining 30%. Of the books that it distributes, close to 80% are imported from Spain and Latin America (Mexico, Argentina, and Colombia are its primary providers). The balance of its list comes from domestic publishers and consists mainly of nonfiction books.
Lectorum is the sole distributor of Spanish-language books for the Chicago and New York City public school systems. School and library sales represent about 50% of Lectorum’s total while the other half comes from retail chains, distributors, and wholesalers.
Over the past few years, according to Correa, the category product mix has changed: “In the past, about 40% of our sales were fiction and 60% nonfiction, but the market has transformed and now the numbers have inverted.” He attributes much of the change to the effect transformations in school curriculums have had on the school market, where demand for fables and for fiction books has increased.
The types of books requested from libraries and the trade market have not changed much in the last couple of years, with translations often doing better than original works in Spanish. In the school market, however, the demand is still strong for original works in Spanish and for books that reflect the colloquial language and the local culture from a wide range of countries.
Dual-language programs in the school market have also fueled the demand for books in Spanish. “Places you would not think of having a high demand for books in Spanish, such as Utah, are creating a shift that is inclusive instead exclusive of non-Hispanics,” Correa says. “Dual-language or bilingual programs are designed for Hispanic and non-Hispanic children—they are designed for a global generation.”
One of Lectorum’s bestsellers for 2016 is Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School, which has sold more than 10,000 copies thus far this year. Another bestseller has been a Cuban cookbook by Veronica Cervera, La cocina Cubana de Vero. In October, Lectorum began distributing the international bestseller El monstruo de colores (The Colored Monster).
Although Correa has an eye for which books will work in the U.S., he is at times surprised by the success of certain titles. For the 20th-anniversary edition of El flamboyant amarillo (The Yellow Flamboyant), by Puerto Rican author Georgina Lazaro, published this year, he expected sales of about 3,000 copies, but in eight months Lectorum sold more than 12,000 copies. Another surprise has been La calle es libre (The Street Is Free) by Kurusa Monika Doppert, a book with annual sales of about 600 copies, but which this year has already sold more than 8,000 copies. “Some books become classics and with time school districts include them in the curriculum and that can have a huge impact on the number of copies sold,” Correa explains.
Lectorum’s plan for the Guadalajara International Book Fair is to provide visiting U.S. librarians and educators with tablets equipped with scanners so that they can create their own wish lists of books. Additionally, a day before FIL, Lectorum will take its clients to visit a local vendor of DVDs and CDs and have staff on hand to help the clients with the selection process.
IPG has a long history of distributing books in Spanish and, over the past few years, has been growing its list of publishers and titles. This year alone, IPG added six new publishers to its roster of more than 40 Spanish-language publishers. About 80% of those publishers come from countries with large publishing industries, such as Spain, Mexico, and Argentina.
IPG has exclusive U.S., Canadian, and Puerto Rican distribution rights for many of the publishers that it works with. Children’s and YA books make up about 70% of IPG’s offering, with the remaining 30% coming from adult fiction and nonfiction. In general, nonfiction sells better than fiction for IPG. The distributor’s top accounts are Amazon, Brodart, Ingram, and Baker & Taylor, with the school and library market doing better than retailers.
Diana Calice, managing director of IPG’s Spanish distribution program, says that the company has added new clients to respond to shifts in the marketplace. “The sale of books in Spanish has been increasing and I think that part of it is due to a new generation of Hispanics and non-Hispanics that want to learn Spanish,” she says. Calice explains that often parents don’t speak Spanish but want their children to learn the language. That trend has sparked sales of bilingual books, which allow parents to read along with their children. IPG offers a specialty catalogue of just bilingual books and books that are available in both languages.
One of IPG’s bestselling authors is Walter Riso, published by Editorial Océano of Mexico. Calice points out that Riso’s books consistently do well in the U.S. market and that his latest book, Maravillosamente imperfecto, escandalosamente feliz (Beautifully Imperfect Outrageously Happy) had great presale numbers before it even reached their warehouse in September. Another bestseller for IPG is El único e incomparable Iván (The One and Only Ivan) by Catherine Applegate—a 2013 Newberry Award winner that Calice says “continuously sells outrageously well.”
In general, children’s and YA books do well for IPG, with YA in translation doing better than original works in Spanish, Calice says, noting that there is less of a YA offering from Spanish-language publishers than from their U.S. counterparts. Self-help for adults continues to do exceptionally well, Calice adds.
Bilingual Publications Company is a boutique operation that selects each title with urban libraries in mind. Owned by Linda Goodman, Bilingual Publications currently works with about 100 publishers, of which 60% are from Spain, 15% are from Mexico, 5% are from other countries (Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico), and about 20% are from the U.S. Goodman notes that, to meet the growing demand for books from Central America, Bilingual Publications will be looking for them at FIL. Its product offering is evenly split between children’s/YA and adult trade. Goodman says that the strongest demand among children and young adults is for fiction, whereas for adult books there is greater demand for nonfiction. A recent strong area in adult nonfiction has been for practical self-help books.
Bilingual Publications clients are public libraries in the U.S., with an emphasis on urban, big-city libraries. “These libraries have a greater need for culturally diverse books in Spanish,” Goodman says.
One of the trends that Goodman has seen in the last couple of years has been a growing demand in adult collection building at libraries. She explains that librarians are being asked by their patrons for more books on home repair, computer skills, raising children, and health and wellness. Goodman has also seen a decrease in the demand for literary fiction, but has seen a growing demand for light fiction such as chick lit and romance. Comics as well as manga are also seeing an increase in sales, and YA sales are going through impressive growth.
Although Baker & Taylor is a wholesaler and not a distributor, it is still an important provider of books in Spanish to the U.S. market. About three years ago, B&T stopped importing material from Spain and Latin America and now relies on distributors. “B&T still stocks material in Spanish, but only from U.S.-based publishers and those offered by U.S.-based distributors,” says Diane Mangan, director of merchandising, children’s, basics, small press, Spanish, and digital at B&T.
B&T currently works with around 250 Spanish-language publishers. Approximately 80% of B&T’s sales come from an estimated 20% of these publishers. As is the case with B&T’s distributors, most of the publishers B&T works with are from Spain, with Mexico and Argentina following in second and third place. B&T has between 50,000–60,000 active Spanish-language titles at any given time with about 250 new releases being offered every month.
Mangan explains that literary and historical fiction are doing very well, but that adult nonfiction still accounts for about 35% of B&T’s sales. A similar percentage of its sales comes from children’s and YA, and the balance from adult fiction. Not surprisingly, one of its bestsellers this year is the new Harry Potter title Harry Potter y el legado maldito (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child). Another title that is doing very well is the latest novel by Nobel Prize–winner Mario Vargas Llosa, Cinco esquinas (Five Points).
B&T’s sales of books in Spanish are split between school and public libraries and between online and bricks-and-mortar retailers. B&T continues to see a very strong increase in the sales of Spanish-language books—a 33% increase over last year, with purchases from public libraries up 40% over last year. When asked about B&T’s future plans, Mangan says, “We plan to continue working with the current business model, as it allows us to stock more titles and a higher number of copies of each title.”
Although each of the distributors sees slightly different trends occurring in the market (largely dependent on who their primary customers are—schools, public libraries, trade, etc.), one common denominator is the growing demand for books in Spanish. With the consolidation of the major publishers, customers are turning to smaller and more niche publishers to satisfy that demand.