For Isabel Polanco, the Madrid-based chairman and general manager of Spain's Grupo Santillana, the United States, as the third largest Spanish-speaking nation, is perfect territory for Spanish-language publishing. Unlike other Latin American and Spanish publishers, such as Fondo de Cultura and Planeta, that have recently opened offices in the U.S. to better manage their sales, Santillana, Spain's most recognized publishing house with a presence in 22 countries in Latin America and Portugal, started doing business in the U.S. in 1972.
According to Polanco, whose family founded Santillana in 1960, the house's editorial mission in the U.S. is based on a belief in the importance of Spanish literacy in North America. "There's a huge potential in education and in the diffusion of the Spanish language in the United States," said Polanco. She points to the demand for children's and YA materials for schools and libraries that lack sufficient books in Spanish for a community where 46.4% of Hispanic children speak Spanish.
While children's sales are a profitable sector and one that assures future readers in Spanish, Santillana has received most of its international prestige by being home to celebrated writers such as Nobel Prize winner José Saramago, Elena Poniatowska, Carlos Fuentes, Rosario Ferré and Mario Vargas Llosa. The publisher's literary imprint, Alfaguara, has carved a niche for itself in the Spanish-language market for literature in the U.S., and Vargas Llosa's The Feast of the Goat (La Fiesta del Chivo) was a bestseller for Santillana last year, with 30,000 copies sold in the U.S.
Santillana started slowly in the U.S. by placing sales staff in Hispanic epicenters such as New York, Miami and Los Angeles. The group first specialized in educational materials for k 8 and in Spanish- and English-as-a-foreign-language materials aimed at libraries and classrooms. Santillana's business has been steadily increasing and the company hopes for even better years ahead in light of the 2000 census, which estimated that over 35 million Hispanics currently live in the U.S. For Santillana, the American market is predicted to become the fastest growing area for sales in the world next to Brazil and Mexico. In 2001, sales in the U.S. increased 63%.
Currently, the publisher's 30-employee hub is in Miami, with Carlos Davis as president and publisher of the U.S. branch. The company also has about 20 marketing people in offices around the country. Santillana has expanded its editorial division in the last few years to include an active trade list consisting of 650 nonfiction, fiction and children's books for the U.S. market. By the end of 2002, Santillana's trade unit plans to import a total of 262 new titles for adults and children through international imprints like Alfaguara, Aguilar, Alamah, Taurus and Punto de Lectura. Children's titles are issued from imprints such as Alfaguara Infantil y Juvenil and Altea.
Santillana's list is impressive in comparison to those of major U.S publishing houses with Spanish-language imprints, such as Random House Español, which publishes close to 24 titles a year, and HarperCollins's Rayo, which produces close to 12 titles of co-editions in both English and Spanish annually. "We know that there are other publishing houses dedicated to the same ventures," said Polanco. "We have been pioneers with fascinating editorial adventures to tell. Now we know that these experiences will help to make us more well-known and reputable in a market that we believed in before anyone else did." Looking at the bigger picture, Polanco welcomes the arrival of new imprints that cater to readers of Spanish, believing that the competition will only help to grow the market and satisfy the various needs of a very diverse cultural group.
Some industry insiders have faulted Santillana for being too European in its literary tastes to appeal to a segment of U.S. Latinos who want more of what mainstream America is reading. Polanco, who has taken advice from Peter Mayer of Overlook Press on global tactics, has already reacted to this need. In May 2000, Santillana launched Punto de Lectura (Book Mark), a paperback imprint for mass market bestsellers, publishing 96 titles annually under the imprint. The books use an American cover aesthetic (vs. abstract designs with occasional nudity) and are the standard U.S. paperback size.
Santillana U.S.A. distributes 16 adult titles a month from its entire list, and Silvia Matute, director of the general books division, observed, "U.S. buyers can't handle more than that." Matute believes book buyers in the U.S. only maintain a certain capacity for Spanish-language titles. The company does not do any original publishing in the U.S.
To help ensure consistency in distribution, Santillana has two warehouses in Miami that stock more than 1,000 titles. But Santillana still works with Baker & Taylor, Downtown Books, Lectorum, Ingram and plenty of other smaller distributors who sell to libraries and bookstores.
In a related development that could help Santillana penetrate the U.S. market, Spain's media giant Prisa, which is Santillana's parent company and owner of Spain's El Pais newspaper and the Crisol bookstore chain, recently opened offices in Miami and New York though precise plans haven't been announced. Polanco believes the synergy between Prisa's communications and entertainment groups will only help to expand Santillana's potential. "The United States is not an intermediary station," said Polanco. "It's a central point for us."