The Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL) in December served as a battleground for the world’s two dominant publishers of Spanish-language books: Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial (PRHGE) and Planeta. Mexico is the largest Spanish book market in the world by population and the third in terms of sales, following Spain and Argentina. According to Nielsen, 24.6 million print units were sold in the Mexican trade book market in 2019, generating approximately $270 million in sales. Much of that can be attributed to PRHGE and Planeta.
“Planeta and Penguin have been responsible for about 50% of the book sales in Mexico last year,” says David Peman, the manager of Nielsen BookScan in Mexico. Nielsen has reported on book sales in Mexico for two years and now tracks approximately 70% of the print market.
Looking at Nielsen’s data for 2019, Planeta had more bestsellers than PRHGE and led the overall list with sales of the comic book Los compas y el diamantito legendario (The Compass and the Legendary Diamond). The second-bestselling book was the Spanish translation of Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, and in third was the Spanish translation of William H. McRaven’s Make Your Bed, both published by Planeta.
At present, Nielsen’s sales data does not include a huge spike in sales generated by the publication of new low-cost editions, priced between 20 to 100 pesos, from Mexico’s state-owned publishing house, Fondo de Cultura Económica, the largest Mexican publishing house.
At FIL, the rivalry between Planeta and PRHGE was on full display in a giant floor-to-ceiling advertisement for Javier Cercas’s novel Terra Alta and Manuel Vilas’s Alegría, the winner and runner-up, respectively, of last year’s Planeta Book Prize. The prize, which is given for not-yet-published Spanish-language manuscripts, comes with a cash award of €601,000 for first place and €150,250 for the runner-up, making it the second-biggest literary award in the world after the Nobel. Cercas and Vilas were both previously committed to being published by PRHGE, where they were among the house’s bestselling authors, but after the award, the authors both announced that these books would be published by Planeta. News quickly circulated—and was confirmed by a source close to the authors—that each was given a generous signing bonus, said to be €400,000 for Cercas and €150,000 for Vilas.
That said, PRHGE had a good FIL. “While we have many Nobel Prize winners on our list, like Peter Handke and Mario Vargas Llosa, and bestsellers like Arturo Pérez-Reverte and J.K. Rowling, it was our list of ‘influencers’—YouTubers turned authors—who had the best sales so far,” says Roberto Banchik, director general of PRHGE. “In one event with them , we sold 1.2 million pesos’ worth of books, which is double our best day at FIL in 2018.”
The influencers in question were Luisito Comunica (with 28 million YouTube subscribers), author of Lugares asombrosos (Unusual Places), and Kimberly Loaiza and Juan de Dios Pantoja (who together have 17.5 million subscribers), authors of Jukilop. The three drew a crowd of more than a thousand fans whose screams of joy could be heard throughout the convention center.
“While some people may look down on YouTubers, we see them as helping to bring a new generation of readers to books and readers,” Banchik says. “For us, it is a win-win to work with and publish them.”