The past several years have seen significant shifts among the largest publishers in the U.S., and those changes have not only affected the publication of English-language books, but books in Spanish as well. Of today’s Big Five publishers, three—Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, and HarperCollins—publish the majority of the bestselling Spanish-language trade titles sold in the U.S. Macmillan focuses on books that are educational and those teaching English as a second language, while Hachette Book Group, through its Faith Words imprint, has published some Spanish-language translations of popular religious and inspirational authors.

There have been many ups and downs in the U.S. Spanish publishing industry over the past two decades, and to understand the ebb and flow of Spanish-language publishing it is necessary to look back at the cycles of publisher optimism that has sometimes distorted realistic expectations. At the beginning of the 21st century, Spanish-language readers in the U.S. were considered the next big thing, with many articles heralding the Hispanic market as an untapped frontier of publishing.

The feeling of optimism had been fueled by the 2000 U.S. census, which indicated that the U.S Hispanic population had increased nearly 60% between 1990 and 2000, from around 22 million to more than 35 million. In 1999, Department of Commerce data estimated that the value of Spanish books was $368 million, which was larger than the U.S. market for Bibles. Those figures led a number of publishing houses to make significant investments in their Spanish publishing programs at the start of the decade.

Random House made a major commitment to the Hispanic market with the launch of Random House Español. The effort brought together Spanish titles that were being published by Random House’s divisions and sister companies. The imprint focused on publishing celebrity bios, healthcare titles, reference works, self-help, and practical how-to books. HarperCollins also entered the market with its Spanish-language imprint, Rayo. The imprint published approximately 12 titles a year for and about Latinos, in both English and Spanish.

Reader’s Digest introduced a Spanish-language list to the U.S. market with translations of its leading trade titles. Harlequin expanded its Harlequin Bianca and Harlequin Deseo series, launched in 1996.

Miami-based Santillana Publishing USA debuted its publishing program under the Alfaguara imprint, with a publishing program of 8–10 titles annually.

In 2005, Simon & Schuster’s Atria imprint launched Atria Books Español to publish books in both Spanish and English. Penguin launched the Celebra imprint in 2007, focusing on nonfiction titles in both English and Spanish by Hispanic celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, Shakira, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Mario Lopez, Thalia, George Lopez, Rita Moreno, and others. In 2009 Random House’s then 15-year-old imprint Vintage Español signed a joint-venture agreement with corporate cousin Random House Mondadori that increased the number of titles offered annually, from 15 to 55.

The market, however, failed to live up to expectations. By the end of the decade, the Random House Español imprint had ceased to exist, Rayo was downsized and no longer publishing new titles, and Reader’s Digest dropped its effort. A weak economy and the demise of Borders, a key retailer of Spanish-language books, were two important factors in softer-than-expected sales. And even though the U.S. Hispanic population increased by 43% between 2000 and 2010, the government’s estimate of the value of the Spanish-language market in 2010 was $350 million, less than the 1999 estimate.

As the economy began to improve after the Great Recession, more changes took place in the business. In 2011 Penguin launched a new Spanish-language imprint called C.A. Press, publishing a wide variety of genres for the U.S. and Latin American markets. After the Penguin and Random House merger in 2013, however, the C.A. Press imprint was absorbed into the Celebra publishing division. Santillana USA’s adult trade division became part of Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial in 2014, after being acquired from Spain’s PRISA.

Earlier this year HarperCollins expanded its reach into the Hispanic market by creating two new Spanish-language publishing divisions: HarperCollins Español and HarperCollins Iberica. HarperCollins Español will do roughly 50 titles a year in the Americas, and HarperCollins Iberica will release about 30 titles a year in Spain and Portugal.

Larry Downs, senior v-p of Spanish Publishing for HarperCollins, says the company once again sees an opportunity in the Spanish-language market. “Rayo had some tremendous titles, and we want to build upon the imprint. We also want to leverage some of the great titles that HarperCollins has,” Downs says, pointing to the recent success the company has had with the Spanish-language edition of American Sniper. He went on to explain that the titles published by Harlequin (which HC bought last year) in Spanish are not part of the 50 titles he will be overseeing. Harlequin is continuing to do Spanish-lanaguage books under its Bianca and Deseo lines.

Vintage Español and Atria Book Español have continued to thrive and publish many bestsellers throughout the years.

Some of the Players

Despite all the years of changes, several of the people leading the major U.S.-based Spanish-language imprints have lots of experience in the business.

Johanna Castillo, v-p, executive editor at Atria, has been with the publisher since the inception of Atria Books Español. The imprint publishes around 5–10 titles in Spanish a year, focusing on literary fiction, inspirational writing, memoir, and practical nonfiction.

Raymond Garcia, who founded Celebra in 2007, mainly publishes celebrity-driven adult nonfiction and children’s fiction titles by mainstream Hispanic authors in both Spanish and English. The imprint publishes approximately 10 titles in Spanish a year.

Silvia Matute, formerly director of trade for Santillana USA, is now president of Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial USA. The group publishes around 25 fiction, nonfiction, and children’s titles annually and distributes titles from its sister companies in Latin America and Spain.

Jaime DePablos is editorial director of Vintage Español, which publishes 20–25 titles of adult fiction and nonfiction per year and imports approximately 40 titles a year from Latin America and Spain through its partnership with Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial.

Larry Downs is the senior v-p of Spanish Publishing for HarperCollins Publishers.

Erik Riesenberg, v-p of PromoLatino, is an industry professional with over 15 years of experience in the Spanish-language bookpublishing industry.

Below, more on the subject of Spanish-language publishing.

BEA, LéaLA, and Expolit Book Fairs Highlight Books in Spanish: Spanish Publishing 2015

Books in Spanish 2015