Like a photographic mosaic, Spanish-language book publishing presents a cohesive picture of steady growth from a distance. After the 2000 census revealed that the 35.3 million Latinos in the U.S. are the country's largest minority and its fastest-growing demographic, the number of Spanish titles published here increased by a third, according to R.R. Bowker. In the last five years, major players across the industry have ramped up their commitment to the market, from publishers like Random House and HarperCollins to wholesalers like Ingram and Baker & Taylor and retailers ranging from Borders Group to Wal-Mart.

But look closer, and the image blurs. The number of Spanish-language titles published annually remains small, hitting a high of 7,108 in 2003. And with an estimated annual revenue of $350 million (a figure that's often quoted, but not well substantiated), the Spanish market is nowhere near as large as the market for audio books, which the Audio Publishers Association recently estimated at $800 million in yearly sales.

Jane Friedman, CEO of HarperCollins Worldwide, whose long-term growth strategy for the company is predicated in part on Spanish-language publishing, compared the current market to the audio market in its infancy, noting that every category has to start somewhere. "When I founded Random House Audio Publishing in 1985, we were lucky if we had one shelf in a bookstore," she says. "Now it's morphing into downloadable form. Spanish-language publishing is really just at its birth stage now."

But if the Spanish book market has recently made a developmental leap in the quantity of available titles, breadth of distribution and level of retail sales, that leap has followed an awkward gestation period. During the 1990s, the lack of bilingual staff in key positions within the book industry, combined with limited retail space for Spanish titles and sparse media coverage, crippled the efforts of several major houses to start dedicated publishing imprints.

Though many houses have experimented with the market in the last 15 years, those that have remained seriously committed to Spanish-language publishing, such as Random House and HarperCollins, are the exception rather than the rule. The majority are publishing one-off translations of their biggest bestsellers, such as Rodale's La dieta South Beach (The South Beach Diet, 2004) by Arthur Agatston. But that may soon change: rumors are flying that Simon & Schuster is planning to start a new Spanish publishing imprint.

U.S. Houses Take Big Steps

Of the U.S. publishers in the market, Random House currently has the largest stake. Its Random House Mondadori imprint, which rose from the ashes of the failed Random House Español imprint in early 2003, imports about 120 titles a year from Spain and Latin America (where Mondadori, Italy's largest publisher, is a major presence). Last year, the imprint began to hit its stride with titles like Con los pies en la tierra (With My Feet on the Ground), a paperback self-help guide by Univision anchorwoman Giselle Blondet that was imported from Mexico last April and has sold 29,000 copies.

One reason Random House Mondadori has been able to achieve such a respectable level of sales is its four-person sales team, the only dedicated bilingual sales force in U.S. publishing, led by sales v-p Carlos Azula. The crux of Random House Mondadori's strategy, says Azula, is to keep returns low (a burden that falls most heavily on the sales reps, who must pitch titles to many buyers who don't read Spanish) and to continue refining its ability to choose successful imports.

Azula's group also handles sales for the Knopf Group's 10-year-old Vintage Español imprint, which recently announced expansion plans. The imprint will now have its own editorial director, Milena Alberti-Pèrez, reporting to Vintage/Anchor publisher Anne Messitte, and will increase in size from 12 titles in 2005 to twice that number in the next five years. Best known for its literary fiction—like last fall's Memoria de mis putas tristes (Memories of My Melancholy Whores) by Gabriel García Márquez, which quickly became Random's top-selling Spanish-language title, with 120,000 hardcovers and paperbacks sold to date—Vintage Español will add self-help, health and personal finance titles. The imprint will also continue to publish Spanish translations of its major English bestsellers, such as Bill Clinton's Mi vida (My Life, 2004), which has sold 62,600 hardcovers so far.

Vintage's move appears to be a competitive response to rise of HarperCollins's three-year-old Rayo imprint, which will publish 75 books in 2005, and placed three books on the list of top 10 bestselling titles for 2004 compiled by Críticas, a sister publication to PW that covers the Spanish-language market. The brainchild of publisher and editorial director René Alegria, Rayo publishes almost all its titles simultaneously in English and Spanish, to reach the widest possible range of Latino readers. "The largest growing population within the Hispanic market is English-dominant Latinos, and that means the future is bilingual," says Alegria, calling the assumption that most Latinos speak only Spanish "a fallacy."

Acquiring books in either language that can find an audience in both, Rayo offers a wide range of titles. Recent books include literary fiction by Latino authors, such as Ernesto Quiñonez's Chango's Fire/El fuego de changó (2004), and commercial nonfiction like Girl Trouble/La atrevida (2004) by Christopher McDougall, about Mexican pop star Gloria Trevi. Overall, Alegria says, the author who best represents the imprint is Univision anchorman Jorge Ramos, whose book on the influence of the Latino vote in the 2004 presidential election, La ola latina (The Latino Wave, 2004), has sold 40,000 hardcover copies in Spanish.

While Rayo lacks dedicated sales reps comparable to Random's, it has more staff on the publishing side, including an associate publisher, two editors and a senior publicist, several of whom are bilingual.

Beyond the major houses, at least one university press is also looking toward a bilingual future. The University of Wisconsin Press leads the field with an extensive bilingual program. Founder Irene Vilar expects to publish six to eight titles in 2005, half of them in Spanish. For Wisconsin, the challenge is finding ways to offset the cost of translating, producing and distributing Spanish-language books for titles with relatively small print runs. So far, Vilar's strategy involves copublishing arrangements with houses in Spanish-speaking countries and territories. For example, the 2004 title San Juan, ciudad soñada (scheduled to be published in an English translation as The San Juan Reader in 2005), was a joint effort with Puerto Rican publisher Tal Cual Editores. "For us, this project was going to be risky and expensive," says Vilar. "This way we split all the costs and revenue with Tal Cual. We have something like 800 advance orders and they are selling a lot in Puerto Rico as well."

Foreign Houses Hold Their Ground

As U.S. publishers move further into the Spanish-language market, the major Spanish houses that pioneered the effort are starting to feel the pressure. Santillana—which is based in Spain and operates in 22 countries—has had a U.S. presence for 33 years and views the U.S. as its fastest-growing market. Best known for titles by Spanish and Latin American literary authors like Arturo Pèrez-Reverte and Mario Vargas Llosa, the company imports about 200 titles domestically a year. But while Santillana saw its strongest growth in year-to-year sales in 2002, its U.S. sales for 2003 and 2004 didn't quite measure up. That suggests that newcomers like Random, Rayo and Urano, a Spanish house that opened an office in Miami two years ago—all of which are publishing books in Spanish by U.S. authors—are having a competitive impact.

But Santillana isn't sitting still: it has responded by acquiring world Spanish rights to works by major American authors such as Dr. Phil McGraw. Overall, Silvia Matute, director of the general books division for Santillana USA, is confident that as Spanish-language offerings and distribution improve, they will spur enough growth in the U.S. market to accommodate multiple houses. "The increase in the Hispanic population from 2001 to 2002 has not been large enough explain the growth we've all experienced," she says.

Planeta, the world's largest publisher of trade books in Spanish and the seventh-largest publisher in the world, has also built its U.S. business on imported titles. Based in Spain, the company established an office in Miami in 1994, and will import 6,000 titles domestically in 2005, with an emphasis on literary fiction and commercial nonfiction. While Planeta's U.S. sales director, Marla Norman, reported that the company's sales have increased 30% over the past two years, there are signs that it, too, is feeling competitive pressure from U.S. publishers who are creating original content for U.S. Latinos. Last year, Planeta launched a line of books in English; though most of them are translations from Spanish, the house also plans to incorporate English titles written with a Latino sensibility.

Wholesalers Pull It Together

With titles coming from so many different directions, wholesalers have always had trouble finding their footing. But if one thing differentiates the most recent Spanish-language groundswell from earlier ones, it's that Baker & Taylor and Ingram have developed stronger systems for sourcing and selling Spanish-language books.

In November, Baker & Taylor increased its stake in the market by acquiring the Spanish-language book distributor Libros Sin Fronteras, a 17-year-old U.S. company based in Washington state that has built its nearly 50,000-title inventory through direct relationships with more than 200 publishers. For Michael Shapiro, who founded the company and will stay on as v-p for Spanish-language materials, the company's biggest challenge going forward is inventory management. That's because the number of available titles in Spanish has increased roughly five-fold in the last five years, and also because most imported titles are not returnable. Helping his customers overcome the language barrier is another major hurdle. To assist English-speaking librarians and booksellers who are buying Spanish titles, Baker & Taylor is working with OCLC, a nonprofit computer library service, to create accessible bibliographic data.

Ingram, meanwhile, partnered three years ago with the Argentine bookseller Grupo ILHSA, allowing the wholesaler to offer its customers more than 30,000 Spanish-language titles from 10 countries. The company also dedicated a staff person to buying titles for the Spanish market about two years ago, according to Evelyn Warren, the distributor's director, strategic marketing and communications. While the arrangement with Grupo ILHSA has given U.S. retailers access to wide range of Spanish titles, the inventory falls under Argentine rights agreements, which can differ from U.S. agreements. That has made it easier for foreign editions to compete illegally with properly licensed U.S. editions. And while Ingram has taken steps to resolve rights conflicts, the company often relies on U.S. publishers to alert it to problems, fostering some lingering disgruntlement.

Reaching Customers Where They Live

In the last 15 years, the Spanish-language marketplace has transitioned from one dominated by very small, independent, nonbookstore outlets to one where major independents, chains, online booksellers and even mass-merchandisers and price clubs are stocking Spanish books. "More American publishers are moving into the Spanish book market, and foreign publishers are distributing better in the marketplace, so access to Spanish-language books is increasingly easy," says Mitch Kaplan, owner of the two independent Books & Books stores in Miami Beach and Coral Gables, Florida. In addition, more highly commercial titles are entering the market. English bestsellers like El código Da Vinci (The Da Vinci Code, Umbriel/Urano, 2003) and Las cinco personas que encontrarás en el cielo (Five People You Meet in Heaven, Hyperion, 2004) are now available in Spanish much more quickly than in the past. "The Spanish edition can piggyback off some of the English publicity, if it's coming out at more or less the same time and has the same cover," says Borders Spanish-language buyer Aaron Feit. "If the Spanish edition comes out a year later, the publicity has already died down."

For Borders and Barnes & Noble, where Spanish-language books are a double-digit growth category at a time when there aren't many high-growth segments in the industry, one significant challenge is to get Spanish books into the right stores. Though Borders now stocks Spanish-language books in all its stores, and Barnes & Noble has Spanish sections in 540 of its 663 stores, the majority of the books are concentrated in the major markets, even as the Spanish-reading population has become more widely dispersed across the country. Still, Borders has gone further than most other retailers in experimenting with Spanish-language titles at three stores in Puerto Rico, where English and Spanish books are shelved side by side. And Barnes & Noble is starting to see growing sales of Spanish-language titles in North Carolina and in a large number of suburban stores.

While Barnes & Noble also sells Spanish books on its Web site, (which recently dropped the Spanish boutique tab from its home page, making the section more difficult to find), B&N has found that the best way to increase sales of books in Spanish is to make it a "community-based initiative," according to director of merchandising Mike Ferrari. "We're trying to tell customers that we are where they live," added Spanish-language buyer Amanda Schilling, pointing to local story time and author events in Spanish, organized by bilingual managers.

Powell's in Portland, Ore., a large independent in a secondary market, is also reporting sales increases in the category, leading the store to double the size of its Spanish section. "The people who control the pursestrings noticed that every time they throw more money at me, sales increase," says Spanish-language buyer Stephen Strausbaugh. The Harry Potter books in Spanish have been the bestselling Spanish books at the store in recent memory.

While there are always improvements in distribution and merchandising to be made, for sales reps like Random's Carlos Azula, getting Spanish-language books into traditional retail channels is no longer the biggest challenge of his job. "The problem is getting books into Wal-Marts, Kmarts and Walgreens," he says. In the last two years, he has made considerable inroads at those retailers in the last two years, but it's still "difficult for these companies to give up space for something they know they're going to sell and take a chance with Spanish books."

Missing Pieces

With distribution and retail shelf space expanding, it's easy to see why publishers think the market is ripe. But one piece of the puzzle still isn't in place: the number of media outlets promoting Spanish-language books remains small.

If Spanish-language books have an Oprah, he is Univision anchorman Jorge Ramos, who promotes books on Despierta Leyendo (Wake Up Reading), a program that runs on the first Friday of every month. On the program, Ramos recommends three Spanish-language books: a work of fiction, one of nonfiction and a children's book. He also reports on the bestseller list from Críticas magazine and sometimes conducts author interviews. Bookstores in areas with large Latino populations—such as Miami and Los Angeles, where the Univision evening newscast has more viewers than the news on any of the big three networks—notice the impact when Ramos recommends a title, says Kaplan of Books & Books.

Beyond Univision, however, there are relatively few major publicity channels for books and authors. Some Spanish-language dailies—such as the Miami Herald's Spanish-language sister publication, El Nuevo Herald, which has a readership of 100,000—are creating or expanding their book and author coverage. But Spanish-language radio, which claims 12 million listeners, remains largely undeveloped in terms of book-related programming.

While all of the industry players PW spoke to agreed that the Spanish-language publishing and retail infrastructure is reaching critical mass, they admitted that consumers of Spanish-language books still don't represent as high a percentage of the country's 35.3 million Latinos as they would like. Without more verifiable sales data and market research about Latino consumers, and a stronger media component behind more titles, reaching them will remain a game of trial and error, which could keep Spanish-language publishing an insular sector with many cheerleaders but without clear direction for some time to come.

But for publishers and the rest of the industry, the prize is too big to ignore. As Jorge Ramos puts it, "By the year 2125, Latinos will be the majority in this country, and eventually the United States will be the largest Spanish-language market in the world. Because of the purchasing power of Latinos in this country, there is no question it would be much more profitable for companies to publish books in Spanish in the U.S. than in any other country. Last year, more than 50 million books in Spanish were sold, and that's a lot of money." —with reporting by Adriana Lopez, editor of Críticas magazine

Top Publishers of Spanish-Language Adult Books

Planeta 6,000 7
Santillana 216 10
Random House Mondadori 120
HarperCollins/Rayo 30
Vintage Español 12