Spanish-Language Publishing in U.S. Nears Critical Mass
Karin N. Kiser -- 9/18/00
New imprints, improved distribution and promising online possibilities
are making this huge market more reachable

Also In This Article:

Since PW last reported on the Spanish book market in the U.S., significant changes have taken place in the industry, including new statistics, new publishing ventures and new players in Internet bookselling.

First and foremost among the news are the numbers.

Estimates gleaned from 1999 Department of Commerce data put the Spanish book market at a value of $368 million. It is larger than the U.S. market for Bibles and rivals that of the mail order English-language book business in the U.S.

Mexico is the leading book importer with $69.2 million dollars of books, a figure that becomes $173 million when adjusted to reflect list price. Spain comes in second with $45.8 million, with Colombia, Ecuador and Argentina rounding out the top five. Some of these books are undoubtedly in English, as many U.S. publishers print titles overseas, but the numbers are still telling.

Other noteworthy statistics include the following:
  • According to the Modern Language Association, well over 650,000 college and university students are enrolled in Spanish language classes each year.

  • At the Kindergarten level through grade six, more than 1000 elementary and middle/junior-high schools across the country offer Spanish as a Second Language classes. In the Miami-Dade school district alone, more than 128,000 students are taking Spanish classes.

  • The State of Texas spends roughly $135 million annually on bilingual and ESL instructional expenditures for its top six school districts (Houston, San Antonio, Fort Worth, Dallas, Austin and El Paso).

  • Approximately half of the 20,000-plus public and academic libraries in the U.S. have Spanish-language collections.

  • According to TheNew York Times, the estimated annual buying power of Hispanics is expected to surpass $440 billion this year.

Despite the new numbers, data still remain scarce about U.S.-based publishers with Spanish books. Nearly 200 publishers in the U.S. and Puerto Rico reportedly publish books in Spanish and collectively account for $38 million dollars in annual sales.
Books (from top) from
Marlow, Warner and Doubleday
offer Latin material or Spanish
This 10% market share may seem small, but it d sn't include sales by houses such as Santillana Publishing USA, Fondo de Cultura Económica and Grupo Editorial Planeta, all of which import the bulk of their stock for U.S. distribution. Market share held by U.S. publishers is certain to increase as more local players such as Reader's Digest, Random House, Ideals Publications and others try their hand at Spanish-language publishing.
New Publishing Ventures
Reader's Digest
plans to introduce a Spanish-language list to the U.S. market this fall, beginning with translations of 10 of its leading trade titles. All of the books originated in RD's direct mail programs in Mexico, Spain or South America.

Topping its list of Spanish releases are Alimentos que curan, alimentos que dañan (Foods That Harm, Foods That Heal), a practical guide to the links between food and health originally published by the Mexico affiliate, as well as Cómo estimular la inteligencia de sus hijos (How to Stimulate Your Child's Intelligence) and El asombroso cuerpo humano (Amazing Human Body).

"The growing importance of the U.S. Spanish-speaking market has prompted us to offer these products in the U.S. trade," notes RD's Chris Reggio. "We plan to introduce into the U.S. approximately eight new Spanish-language titles per year. We will market the titles through direct mail channels and work with booksellers and other Spanish-language book outlets to make co-op advertising allowances available."

Random House is also making a major commitment to the growing Hispanic market with the launch of Random House Español. The effort will bring together in one catalogue the Spanish titles currently being published by RH's divisions and sister companies.

"We're listening very carefully to the U.S. Hispanic market and publishing the kinds of titles they're asking for," says publishing director Lisa Alpert. RH Español's program will include celebrity bios, healthcare titles, reference, self-
Random title celebrates
a Latin legend.
help and practical how-to books. Kicking off the list for the holiday season is Recordando a Tito Puente: El rey del timbal, the first in-depth look at Puente's music career since his death.
Random House's spring lineup will include Inteligencia astrológica (Astrological Intelligence) from bestselling author and Latino radio show host Andrea Valeria and Bendita entre las mujeres: Encuentros con la Vírgen María (Blessed Among Women: Encounters with Mary and Her Message).

Plaza y Janés, Random House's sister company in Barcelona, will release six Stephen King titles in the U.S., including The Shining, Carrie and Salem's Lot. This fall, Doubleday will publish Katie Couric's El Niño Nuevo, a children's book that will be released in both Spanish and English editions. With its combined strength, Random House Español is looking to become one of the largest Spanish-language publishers in the U.S. "We're really honored to be in this position," says Alpert. "The Latino population adds a richness to this country, and we'd like our books to reflect that."

Ontario-based Harlequin Books is scheduled to introduce two new series of romance novels: Jazmin and Julia, adding to the success of the Harlequin Bianca and Harlequin Deseo series launched in 1996. According to Hispanic project manager Blanca Tovar, the new lines combined will offer eight contemporary romance stories per month beginning in 2001.

Tovar cites three key reasons for expanding Harlequin's Hispanic publishing effort: demographics, increased Latino buying power and qualitative research showing that Hispanic women are reading romance novels like never before.

"Hispanic women are driven by impulse purchase and by word of mouth advertising," notes Tovar. "We plan to work hand in hand with distributors, develop advertising and promotional activities for each market and become involved with Hispanic community events and cultural festivals." The new series will be available at local Latino supermarkets, drugstores, bodegas and independent Hispanic bookstores.

At the other end of the geographic spectrum is Miami-based Santillana Publishing USA. Santillana debuts its publishing program under the Alfaguara imprint in October with two titles: a Spanish-language edition of Player's Vendetta by Cuban-American John Lantigua and an anthology by Alberto Fuguet and Edmundo Paz Soldán examining the "Latin American" or Latino experience in the U.S. According to director Leylha Ahuile, editorial plans include publishing 8-10 titles per year, beginning in 2001.

New entrants into the Spanish book market are not limited to large trade publishers alone. Ideals Publications, a small religious/inspirational publisher based in Nashville, entered the market earlier this year with a translation of The Story of Easter, a religious board book for children.

Why the sudden interest in the Spanish market? "We recognized that the growth of the Spanish-speaking population in this country was fantastic, and we thought we could sell additional copies of already successful titles to this market," notes director Marty Flanagan.

This hunch proved correct for Ideals. Since the publication of the Spanish edition of The Story of Easter in January, Ideals has sold well over 6,000 units. The title was chosen by the White House as one of many books read during the annual Easter egg hunt. Ideals has just released four additional board books in Spanish and expects to sell between 10,000 and 20,000 units of each over a two-year period.

Ideals' goals for the Spanish book market are simple: publish 8-10 children's titles per year and become a niche player with a successful back list. Their next marketing initiative is to develop bilingual editions of leading backlist titles, particularly those involving holidays and popular Old and New Testament characters.

Gurze Books's (Carlsbad) first foray into the Spanish book market will include translations of two of its self-help books on eating disorders: Anorexia Nervosa: A Guide to Recovery and Bulimia: A Guide to Recovery, both scheduled for release in Spring 2001.

Market demand and low financial risk combined to convince them to enter the Spanish book market. "For several years, clinicians have been asking for materials that their Spanish-speaking patients can read," reports publisher Leigh Cohn. "As a small company with such a narrow niche, we can respond to market needs as they arise. We can also afford to turn a profit at lower sales figures than the major publishers, so there is essentially no risk involved in bringing these Spanish books to press."

Even Hallmark Cards ventured into the Hispanic market within the last year with its new greeting card line, Hallmark en Español. Offering more than 300 Spanish cards in retail outlets nationwide, Hallmark's new line is designed to appeal to a broad range of Hispanic cultures, including Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban and South American.

In addition to everyday occasions, Hallmark en Español will address special cultural events such as Quinceañera (celebrating of a girl's fifteenth birthday) and Día de los Reyes (the day when many Latin Americans exchange presents celebrating the arrival of the three gift-bearing wise men). There are also special cards bearing the image of the Virgin de Guadalupe, a patron saint of Mexico.

New in Distribution
New players and initiatives in the Spanish book industry are affecting the distribution scene as well.

Independent Publishers Group (Chicago) will begin distributing Spanish-language titles in Spring 2001 with the launch of its first Spanish catalogue. "This is a market that is only going to bet bigger," says president Mark Suchomel. "I think retailers and libraries would devote space to Spanish-language books if they could obtain them with the ease and under the same terms as books in English. We believe we will be the first major distribution company to aggressively target the Spanish market in this way."

Although Suchomel characterizes the current demand for books in Spanish as modest, he feels it is important to provide this service now, providing an efficient and profitable way for U.S. and international publishers to explore the U.S. Spanish-language market.

IPG's current sales force will promote the new Spanish catalogue together with the English one, while an in-house staff will approach more specialized retailers and wholesalers.

Mexico City's Lectorum, S.A. de C.V.,a trade publisher, and Madrid's Distribuciones Alfaomega recently joined forces to create L.D.Books, a Spanish book distributor with offices in Miami. Representing 15 publishers from Mexico, Spain, Argentina and Venezuela, L.D. Books currently stocks more than 1200 titles, with 120 new titles being added each month for U.S. distribution.

How do they plan to distinguish themselves from the more than 100 other Spanish book distributors in the U.S.? "Despite the large number of distributors of Spanish books, we feel there is little broad-based distribution at the wholesale level, which limits the growth of the industry," says L.D.'s U.S. sales manager Manuel Merelles. According to Merelles, they will focus exclusively on wholesale distribution, rather than sell direct to the end consumer or open a separate retail outlet.

Other newcomers to the U.S. market include Grupo Editorial Mexicano and Hoja Casa Editorial, both based in Mexico City. Group Editorial Mexicano produces cultural videos traditionally sold door-to-door in Mexico, and plans to open a U.S. sales office by the end of the year to target trade channels.

Hoja Casa Editorial, headed by Consuelo Sáizar, one of the leading ladies in Mexican publishing, has arranged with a New Jersey-based fulfillment center to warehouse one title for the U.S. market. Why just one title? Specialization is key, according to Sáizar. Hoja plans to target U.S. public and academic libraries with Milenios de México, a three-volume encyclopedia on Mexico's history and culture scheduled to debut in the U.S. this month. With plans to sell 10,000 copies by the end of next year, importing Hoja's entire title base would dilute the sales and marketing focus of the lead title. "Rather than attempt to target several channels at once with multiple lists, we're determined to do one thing and do it well," Sáizar confirms.

Spanish book distribution has always been tricky in the U.S., primarily due to the lack of a single supplier with hundreds of thousands of titles in stock. Ingram and Baker & Taylor now both have a catalogue of Spanish titles, but are stocking those titles readily available in the U.S. via local publishers and select distributors.
Even guidebooks get
Spanish translations.
Publishers have two primary means of distributing their Spanish titles in the U.S. The direct approach requires international publishers to open local sales offices or warehouse facilities. Spain's Santillana has had a U.S. presence since 1972, Mexico City's Fondo de Cultura Económica celebrates its 11th year in San Diego and Spain's Grupo Editorial Planeta has been in Miami since 1994.
A second option, available to both international and U.S.-based publishers, is to work with distributors specializing in the Spanish book market. With well over 100 distributors in the U.S. handling Spanish books, the players are continually changing. Most of them are relatively small, stocking anywhere from 3000 to 10,000 titles. Most distributors also define themselves by market niche, specializing either by geographic region, sales channel, subject matter or country of import.

This tendency to specialize requires publishers to work with several distributors, as most do not cover all sales channels, stock all genres or offer the type of national distribution common to their English-language counterparts.

Who are some of the main distributors?

New York-based Lectorum Publications is reportedly the largest distributor with more than 20,000 Spanish titles in stock. Headed by Teresa Mlawer and Carmen Rivera, Lectorum covers trade, library and school channels. For the last 10 years, Lectorum has also had a publishing presence. Its list of 70 titles includes Spanish translations of Dr. Seuss, Franklin and other popular children's titles. Plans are also underway to add original works by Hispanic authors to its publishing program.

Distributors specializing in public library sales include Bernard Hamel Spanish Books (Los Angeles), The Bilingual Publications Company (New York) and Libros Sin Fronteras (Olympia).

The education market is covered by distributors such as National Educational Systems (San Antonio) and Continental Book Company (Denver) for the K-12 level and by Sch nhof's Foreign Books (Cambridge) and Ideal Foreign Books (Richmond Hill) on the academic end.

Discount stores like Wal-Mart, Target and K-Mart are served by the same mass merchandisers that cover the mainstream: Advanced Marketing Services and Levy's Home Entertainment being the top two.

Virtual Bookstores Another option for publishers seeking additional sales venues is online distribution. Whereas has revolutionized the distribution system for English books, more than a dozen start-ups are attempting to do the same with Spanish books. Is there a Spanish-language equivalent of Who is buying Spanish books online?

According to Cheskin Research, a market research firm in Redwood Shores, the rate at which Hispanics in the U.S. are buying computers far outstrips that of the general population. Their study indicates that 42% of the nation's 9.3 million Hispanic households has a computer. That represents a 68% increase over 1998, compared with a 43% increase in computer ownership for the general population.

Data from Neilsen Net Ratings indicate that about five million of the 30 million Hispanics in the U.S. are online. A separate study by Forrester Research in Boston puts that figure at closer to 10 million. Españ, an online Spanish book retailer, conducted a study showing that 48% of Hispanics with Internet access bought a book or magazine online last year. has traditionally placed little emphasis on Spanish books. When PW last covered the Spanish book market, customers were required to know either the name of the author or the title of the book to search the site for Spanish-language titles.

For Barnes and Noble and Borders online stores, the search capability was and continues to be equally limited. Customers can type in "Spanish" as a keyword search, but this accesses thousands of titles having the word "Spanish" in the title or subtitle, not necessarily books written in the Spanish language.

Luckily things are changing at with respect to Spanish books. In June of this year, added a page of Spanish titles to its navigation menu, thereby allowing customers to search Spanish titles by author, publisher, title or subject. According to Amazon's Kathy Kinney, the "Latin store" now features more than 20,000 available titles. The change is likely a response to the dozen or so Internet sites that have sprung up within the last year offering thousands of titles in Spanish. Although online bookstores having U.S.-based warehouses are few, they are quickly multiplying as the race to create an Amazon-like Spanish equivalent heats up.

Españ began operations in October with a warehouse facility in Massachusetts and an arrangement with Baker & Taylor for domestic distribution. From its database of 25,000 Spanish titles, roughly 80% are in stock. According to book manager Mateo Alvarado, Españ has invested well over $50 million, a large portion of that to build name recognition among Spanish-readers in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

Other online booksellers with warehousing facilities in the U.S. include and New York-based, in business since March, refers to itself as the "multicultural store where you can buy books and music from around the world in many languages." began operations in April with a U.S. office in Miami Beach. It reports having 85,000 titles available through its site, all of which are warehoused and shipped via Book Information Service's 19 warehouses throughout Latin America and the U.S.

In the short time has been online, it has enjoyed "explosive growth," according to CEO Alfredo Boccalandro. "Sales are over $250,000 a month, with the highest concentration of sales in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, the U.S. and Venezuela."

Other sites to look out for include Colombia-based, Brazil-based, Argentina's and, the Spanish site of Bertlesmann. calls itself "la primera librería virtual de América Latina," or Latin American's first online bookstore, and reportedly has a database of over 62,000 Spanish titles. Future plans include opening offices in Mexico City, Austin and Miami, although warehousing is currently limited to the Bogotá location. began operations in November with warehouses in Spain, Argentina, Mexico and Brazil and plans to open a warehouse in the U.S. as well. The title mix varies by country, according to Juan Saldívar, who heads up the Mexico operation, although the Mexico online catalogue lists 600,000 titles., formerly, has since joined forces with Buenos Aires's Editorial Ateneo, Librerías Gandhi in Mexico and Spain's Librería Bosch to offer warehousing capability in each of the three countries. Calling itself "La librería en español más grande del mundo," or the largest Spanish bookstore in the world,'s title database totals 450,000, 70% of which is in stock.

Bertlesmann, the international publishing giant that holds a 40% stake in, plans to build the leading Internet media and entertainment shop worldwide. Bertlesmann owns 14 Internet bookstores including, its Spain-based site. Plans are underway to create a site in Italy and to continue online expansion into Latin America.

Given the sheer number of virtual booksellers, how do they rate in terms of selection, price, search capability and customer service? Common to most of the start-ups is a variety of technical, navigational and customer service glitches.

For some of the Spanish book sites, the potential buyer must engage in a lengthy process of registering his name, address and password, and practically place an order before discovering what the shipping costs would be, whereas other sites list the shipping costs per country and shipping method up front.

A few sites contain enough graphics and flash screens to make the site slow to download and tiring to browse. Others provide few content descriptions and book covers. Many decline to list information about the company's background. Some fail to list a mailing address, telephone or fax number, thereby creating the appearance of a fly-by-night operation.

I attempted to order a featured title from several sites and found that still leads the way in customer service. Of the six books ordered back in May, one arrived damaged and two others have yet to arrive. Es.bol, Submarino, Tematika, Español and Espiral were notable in terms of selection, price and search capability.

U.S. distributors of Spanish books also form part of the online market via their web sites. Distributors offer the benefit of local warehousing here in the U.S., but those having the all-important shopping cart feature are few. Libros Sin Fronteras ( and Latin American Book Source ( are two distributors that offer a wide selection of Spanish titles, as well as online shopping capability.

Astran ( allows for online ordering via credit card payment, but d sn't list shipping charges anywhere on the site, not even once the order has been placed. Chulainn Publishing Corp. ( has a shopping cart feature, but only for a dozen titles listed on their "special offers" page. Beyond the limited featured selection, customers must email them to request information on other titles. Continental Book Company ( allows for online ordering, but only after the customer types in the title information.

Web sites from distributors such as ABC's Book Supply, Aims International Books, El Dorado Books and International Book Distributors require customers to fill out an online order form, print it out and fax it to the distributor for fulfillment. Others such as Adler's Foreign Books and Bilingual Educational Services require customers to submit an online request for price information and availability.

Despite these customer service challenges, the online market for Spanish books is certain to explode as Spanish-readers both in the U.S. and abroad gain greater access to cyberspace.

Given the increased buying power of Latinos and the number of publishers and distributors adding Spanish books to their title mix, sales in brick-and-mortar stores are sure to steadily increase as well.

Karin N. Kiser is executive director of Kiser & Associates, a San Diego-based
consulting firm specializing in marketing services for the Spanish
bookindustry in the U.S. She can be reached at