Religion Titles Are Hot as Salsa
Kimberly Winston -- 9/18/00
Spanish readers, though largely Catholic, are gobbling up
various inspirational and lifestyle religion titles, too

In This Article:

If the Spanish-language market is hot, the Spanish-language religion market is boiling over. For two years in a row, most Spanish religion/spirituality houses have reported to PW sales growth rates of 25% or higher, a sure sign the Latino cultural boom rumbling through music, television and film is also making itself felt in this segment of publishing. And one of the biggest reasons for that, these publishers say, is the recent awakening of retailers--from chain superstores to small religion independents--to the needs of the Spanish-reading consumer. But while retailers are more open to Spanish-language religion books, most publishers say booksellers still have further to go in understanding the deeper cultural and spiritual values of the Spanish-reading consumer.

A Spreading Market

Inspirational titles from
Portavoz (top), Mundo
At Editorial Caribe, the Spanish-language unit of evangelical Christian publisher Thomas Nelson, sales are up 25% over last year, says Marcela Gomez, marketing and advertising director. Gomez attributes the recent growth to "a real evening out" of sales between the West and East coasts, something she links to a migration of Latino families from the western states--where Caribe sales were the highest last year--and from Central America. But the most significant change Gomez notes is in the CBA market's attitude toward Spanish-language books. "In the beginning, they knew we existed and were happy to know we were there, but there was little attention to having a Spanish-language section in their stores," she says. Now many Christian chains and independents have approached Caribe for help in establishing Spanish sections.
This Caribe title blends
Christianity and diet.
A particularly hot topic at Caribe are Bible-based health books. "This is really a new thing in the [Spanish] religious market," Gomez says. "Before, we used to focus on the Holy Spirit and counseling, but now Christian people have realized you have to take care of your body." New in this category are La dieta Weigh Down (The Weigh Down Diet) by Gwen Shamblin (Oct.) and La cura bíblica (The Bible Cure) series, with a volume each for depression, cancer and diabetes, by Don Colbert (Sept.). Gomez says Bible reference and study books are also popular in the Spanish market right now, noting many calls for Bible dictionaries and a Bible reference library on CD-ROM. In this category, Caribe is most excited about Concordancia Strong (Strong's Concordance) by James Strong (winter 2001), some five years in the making.
One change Caribe has seen in the last two years is a big welcome for its titles among discount clubs. Sam's Club has carried several Caribe Bibles in its large Spanish-speaking regions in Illinois, Florida and Puerto Rico. But the results were mixed. "It worked fine in the States, but in Puerto Rico it was very hard for the booksellers," Sanchez reports. "They lost a lot of their customers and called us to complain." Caribe has spent much of the past two years trying to rebuild those relationships.

Expanding Lines Vida, the Spanish-language arm of Zondervan, has seen 32% growth in the past year and has upped its annual releases by 22%, to 43 new titles over the year. "Our industry is in the best shape ever," says new editorial director David Coyotl, who credits the growth to better sales and marketing efforts and a consolidation of some markets. The fact that Wal-Mart and Sam's Club have carried Vida's core catalogue "reflects the great acceptance" of Spanish products, he says. Coyotl notes that eschatology remains a popular subject with Hispanics, and Vida had great success with Fe Viva (Fresh Faith) by Jim Cymbalaand has seen high interest in Apolcalipsis sin velo (Apocalypse Revealed) by Tim LaHaye. Also strong are books on church growth, leadership and the family, like Una iglesia con propósito (The Purpose-Driven Church) by Rick Warren and Limites (Boundaries) by John Townsend and Henry Cloud. Coyotl also reports great interest in Spanish titles from CBA stores and will take advantage of Zondervan's recognition in that market at the next CBA show by forgoing its own booth and exhibiting under the same banner as its parent company.

In the past two years, Editorial Portavoz, a division of Kregel Publications, has seen a growth rate of 25 to 30%. Cathy Vila Stepanovich, Portavoz's supervisor of sales and marketing, lays the credit to the company's move to expand significantly its lines from study Bibles and reference books to general trade books for children and adults. The move was made when the company realized the potential among Spanish-speaking adults who want to pass the language and culture on to their children. Portavoz sees high demand for two of its children's titles, La biblia del siglo XXI para niños (The 21st Century Bible for Children) by Jeff Stephanie and La aventura bíblical (The Adventure Bible Handbook) by various authors. Also popular for the house is its Tocado por un angel series, based on the TV show Touched by an Angel, the first two titles of which are Espíritu de libertad luna (The Spirit of Liberty Moon) and Amor tenaz (Tough Love), both by Martha Williamson.

This year the house published its first American evangelical author, Anne Graham Lotz, with La vsión de su gloria (The Vision of His Glory) and found that despite the fact they had been in business 30 years, there was still a hurdle to leap when it came to selling this book. "There is a cultural barrier," Stepanovich explains. "It is not necessarily true that just because an evangelical author is popular in the English market, they are going to go over to the Spanish market." So last May, Portavoz brought Lotz and an interpreter to Expolit, the largest Spanish-language religion book show held annually in Miami. The house will wait to see how this first foray g s before publishing any other such English-language authors.

Trying Fiction TooMiami-based Editorial Unilit, an evangelical Christian publisher, has made some big changes in the past year, phasing out its distribution business in favor of developing its editorial line. Larry Downs Jr., v-p of sales and marketing, says the company made the shift due to rapid growth in editorial sales over the last several years--as high as 30% in 1998. Part of Unilit's changes include taking a cue from its English-language counterparts and ramping up its fiction list, a category Downs believes could be the next hot spot for the Spanish market as a whole.

Unilit is off to a good start with sales of 160,000 copies of Dejado atrás (first in the Left Behind series), a record for Spanish fiction, Down reports. In the future, Unilit's fiction mix will include romances, medical/scientific thrillers and YA. Future titles include Esta es tu casa (At Home in Mitford) by Jan Karon (Nov.), La marca (The Mark, Left Behind #8) by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins (Nov.) and the trilogy Blood of Heaven by Bill Myers (spring 2001), with Spanish titles yet to be assigned. The online market is opening up for Unilit and for Spanish titles in general, Down says. "The calls from online retailers have been something to sit up and take notice of," he adds, noting that most of these retailers made the initial approach to Unilit.

Help for BooksellersThe blossoming of the Spanish-language religion market has brought some pretty steep learning curves for many booksellers. "Our buying group came to the realization that none of us speak Spanish, and we don't know what we are doing," admits Kevin Brisbon, senior product buyer for books and Bibles for Berean Christian Stores. "We needed that trustworthy communication from a publisher or a distributor to say this is what you need, this is what people will buy." Berean, with half of its 21 stores in Latino-heavy California, has now established a formal relationship with a Spanish distributor to help them create Spanish sections that will soon include gifts and greeting cards., too, recently hired a Spanish editor, created a Spanish section and breaks out Spanish-language religion books as a stand-alone category. While all Spanish-language publishers are happy to have their products receive this kind of attention, they agree there is still work to be done on both sides of the market. Caribe's Sanchez hopes to see more English-oriented stores hire Spanish-speaking clerks, but sees the hurdles there. "Stores may not be sure it is worth the investment," she says. "They just don't know if it will be profitable to open their doors to another culture." But when they do, Spanish publishers must be there to support them, says Vida's Coyotl. "Their effort needs to be backed up, because point-of-purchase materials and promotion are usually needed, and that requires adaptation and sensitivity" from the booksellers.

Baptist Spanish Publishing House in El Paso has seen a dramatic rise in the number of CBA stores approaching them for help in establishing a Spanish section. Miriam Diaz, BSPH's marketing director, relates that pleas for help were so numerous at July's CBA International convention that the house established a "how-to" program for bookstore managers. "I think they are finding that more and more Hispanics are coming into their bookstores, and even though they may be second- or third-generation Americans, they are trying to stick to their roots in Spanish books," she says. Particularly hot for BSPH are books that speak to the needs of what the English-language Christian market calls "small group ministries." Selling well in this category is Iglesias celulas (Cell Group Basic Training) by David I. Sinnell. Another hot topic among Hispanics in the CBA market are "books on the new tolerance," Diaz says, and explains this as the broader society's acceptance of things the Bible condemns. Strong in this category is Es bueno, es malo (Right from Wrong) by Josh McDowell (1997).

BSPH has also seen chain stores open their doors a little wider--especially if the product is not overtly religious. One success in those outlets is El padre que yo quiero ser (The Father Connection) by Josh McDowell (1998). "The title d s not say it is a religious book," Diaz points out. "It is more on values and morals, yet it is Bible-based material. We try to get them [chains] to take these books first to push the door open to the rest of the line." To capture other new accounts, BSPH established a "call center," calling booksellers to ask what their Spanish-speaking customers need. So far, this strategy has brought the house 15 to 20 new bookstore accounts each month.

Growth in New AgeJust as in the English-language market, the Spanish-language New Age market is hotter than ever. Llewellyn states Spanish New Age titles now account for 8 to 9% of sales, up 3% over last year. Maria Lickfelt-Bloomberg, product manager of Llewellyn Español, says New Age books have always found a place with Spanish readers because many Latino cultures have a connection with magic and the supernatural. Particularly strong at Llewellyn Español now are books on angels--a hot category in the English-language market a number of years ago--including Angeles, guardianes y guías espirituales (Spirit Guides and Angel Guardians) by Richard Webster and Angelorum: el libro de los ángeles (Return of the Angels) by Migene Gonzáles-Wippler. Lickfelt-Bloomberg reports that all of Llewellyn's angel titles sell 10 times the amount in Spanish that they do in English.

Llewellyn is also trying a new tactic to reach Spanish readers with a hybrid series just for them--no English version exists or is scheduled at this time. The first of six planned titles is Esencia de la aromaterapia (Essence of Aromatherapy) by Doña Carolina da Silva. Equal parts fiction, magical realism and how-to, the series purposefully blends aspects of Latino culture such as strong family relationships and a reliance on oral tradition. Lickfelt-Bloomberg sees this series as going after a whole segment of the Spanish market Llewellyn has yet to target--American-born Spanish speakers of immigrant parents. The second in the series, Fuego angelical, will be published in October.

For Llewellyn Español, the chains have been where the biggest action is this past year. In the past four months, chain sales have "just taken off," Lickfelt-Bloomberg told PW in August, and the company expects to see that market grow a phenomenal 72% this year. She credits much of the boom to Barnes & Noble's recent dedication of endcap space to Llewellyn Español titles, and reports that a Borders in Puerto Rico sells more Llewellyn Español titles than any other single store. She also says Ingram's publication of a Spanish catalogue has brought home the size and weight of this market to the bookseller.

Inner Traditions, another New Age house, has also seen its Spanish-language line grow since it began catering to that market in 1992. Though Spanish-language books account for only 3% of Inner Traditions' sales, they are an important part of its publishing program. "Spanish people are very hot for our kind of publishing," says publisher Ehud Sperling. Well-liked by consumers are books on numerology and Santeria. Very popular
Astrology, too, is big with
Latinos; this one is from
Inner Traditions.
right now among this year's titles are Astrología dinámica (DynamicAstrology) by John Townley and Transmutación (Shapeshifting) by John Perkins. The company hopes to carry its success with Spanish-speaking adults over to the teen market with a new imprint, Bindu Books. The first books have yet to be assigned Spanish titles, but those slated for translation include The Thundering Years by Julie Johnson and Teen Astrology by M.J. Abadi. "I think this will be hot because the teen market is hot, period, and we want to address religion and spirituality to them from our point of view," Sperling says. One market Inner Traditions has noticed opening up is book clubs, especially Columbia House's Spanish-language club.
Catholic EffortsWhile evangelical and New Age publishers have been quick to go after the Spanish-language market, the same is not necessarily true of Catholic publishers. While many Catholic houses produce Spanish titles, the majority are pamphlets, tracts and resources not intended for the general trade. Pete Dwyer, director of sales and marketing at Liturgical Press, sees the reason for the void in trade books as twofold. "The Catholic market has tended to take for granted the Spanish customers, whereas the CBA market has gone after them as new territories," he says.

But the Hispanic Catholic market in this country--as high as 80% of all U.S.-based Hispanics, according to the Catholic Almanac--is not to be ignored. One Catholic house seeking to better develop that market is Libros Liguori, the Spanish side of Liguori Press. In the past year, Libros Liguori has restructured and hired Sylvia Sanchez for the newly created position of editor. One of her first tasks will be to revamp Libros Liguori's catalogue to include more resource materials, especially catechisms and Bible studies. "We are seeing a tremendous need for resources," says Sanchez, who notes that hot topics for Libros Liguori are "anything that has to do with faith formation and spiritual training."

Anglo Authors Only?Looking at all of the Spanish-language religion titles available from U.S. publishers, one thing becomes painfully obvious--almost all of them are Anglo authors who have been translated into Spanish. Why are there not more Spanish-speaking authors scoring big hits with Spanish readers? Unilit's Downs thinks it is a matter of geography, that where a Spanish publishing company is based will directly affect what authors its chooses to promote. "How is a publisher from Argentina really going to penetrate the U.S. market and get his author well-established, produce enough sales for consideration?" he asks. "It is much easier for us, as a U.S.- based publisher, to build on the base here in the U.S." At Editorial Portavoz, Stepanovich laments a lack of manuscripts from Spanish-speaking authors. "You think we'd be inundated with them, but they are not there," she says, and explains part of the reason may be the relative newness of evangelicalism in what has traditionally been a Catholic culture. But Caribe's Gomez thinks it is a matter of creating customer awareness. "[Foreign] authors don't have a platform here, so it is hard," she says. Caribe is trying to leverage its success for authors whose native tongue is Spanish. Forthcoming are De gloria en gloria (From Glory to Glory) by Argentinian Claudio Freidzon and Apóstoles y profetas (Apostles and Prophets) by Colombian Héctor Torres. Caribe is launching a publicity campaign in the U.S. to promote these titles.

One indicator that Spanish-language books are here to stay was the inauguration of a Spanish Pavilion at BEA this past June. But religion/spirituality publishers have mixed feelings
Ehud Sperling of
Inner Traditions.
about its success. Ehud Sperling says Inner Traditions had a booth in the pavilion, but that "nothing significant" came out of it. Still, he is not disappointed. "I don't think of BEA as an order-writing show," he explains. But Llewellyn was moderately disappointed with turnout at the pavilion. "I think we expected more traffic of people looking for Spanish books for their stores, but it wasn't as busy as we anticipated," Lickfelt-Bloombergadmits. The company has yet to decide whether it will return to the Spanish Pavilion or expand its usual Llewellyn booth with Spanish titles. Meanwhile, Expolit earns raves. "There is an interest [in Spanish books] at CBA, but most booksellers, if they are really interested in Spanish, go to Expolit," says Portavoz's Stepanovich.
Sales director
Cathy Stepanovich
at Portavoz.
With so much percolating in the Spanish-language religion market, it is hard to determine what corner of it will heat up next. At Editorial Portavoz, Stepanovich sees music as the next big thing and notes that her company will launch its own music line, Halel Producciones, at Expolit next May. Libros Liguori's Sanchez predicts Catholic Spanish readers will want to penetrate the Bible more deeply with study Bibles and exegesis aids. But she also thinks publishers must keep their fingers on the pulse of how religion is present in people's everyday lives and publish more books on that subject, especially for the next generation of readers. "I think consumers are looking for that, and I think the publishers need to pay attention to it," she says.