By Maria Fernanda Rodrigues and Ricardo Costa of PublishNews.com.br
SAO PAOLO: For the past several years Brazilian booksellers and publishers have watched and waited, content to let their colleagues abroad debate the positives and negatives of digital publishing.
But two events in 2009 changed things. First was the Jornada de Nacional de Literatura de Passo Fundo (National Literature Journey of Passo Fundo) where some 20,000 students, teachers, researchers and authors gathered together at for a one-week discussion about technologies related to the experience of reading. The second was the opening in December of Gato Sabido, the first Brazilian eBookstore, which started with just 130 titles in Portuguese. Three months later, the e-bookstore has 850 titles in Portuguese as well as 100,000 titles in English.
Suddenly, the Brazilian e-book market, at least on the retail side, is starting to boom.
On March, 31, Livraria Cultura, a prominent Sao Paolo-based chain, also started selling e-books. The title selection is quite similar, with Livraria Cultura offering 500 e-books in Portuguese and another 120,000 international titles.
Next month, Saraiva, the highest grossing bookseller in the country, will also begin selling e-books. They are expected, like Barnes & Noble in the United States, to release their own e-book reader soon thereafter, something that would likely make them the leader in the e-book market as well. In addition, chain booksellers FNAC and Submarino are also studying how to get into the market.
The move made by the booksellers into the e-book world is forcing the publishers’ hand, pushing them to think harder about and come up with solutions on how to deal with e-books.
First E-book Conference
To help ease this transition into digital publishing, the Brazilian Book Chamber (CBL), the Frankfurt Book Fair and The Official Press of Sao Paulo State organized the 1st International Digital Book Congress, which ran last week, from March 29th to 31st, in Sao Paulo. More than 550 curious professionals took part in the discussions.
Topics of discussion included DRM, formats, social media, devices, publishing, selling, public perception, pricing, piracy, literacy, and contracts. All the basics were covered. Speaking at the opening on Monday evening, Juergen Boos, director of the Frankfurt Book Fair, directed Brazilian publishers to try new things. “You have to experiment, talk to your peers and be flexible,” he said. “If you try and do not succeed, you just try again.”
Boos noted that since many of the publishing houses in the country are still family-owned, the process of digital transformation and implementation may be slower than where the industry is dominated by a few large corporations.
Several foreign speakers also offered their thoughts, including Arantxa Mellado, from Ediciona.com; Patricia Arancibia, manager for international content acquisition for BarnesandNoble.com; Jeff Gomez, director of Starlight Entertainment and consultant for creative issues or companies such as as Disney and Coca-Cola; Calvin Baker, chief content officer of ScrollMotion; Michael Smith, director from IDPF; Diane Spivey, director of contracts and copyright at Little, Brown; and Pablo Arrieta, from Monitor CD.
The Brazilian publishing industry divides Brazil’s 172 million people into two categories: the 95 million who identify themselves as “readers” and the other 77 million who call themselves “non-readers.”
One feature of the conference was the release of a new report on “Brazilian readers and the digital book” compiled by The Book and Reading Observatory, the Brazilian Book Chamber and The Official Press of Sao Paulo State, which offered insight into how those “readers” felt about books.
Anecdotally, the study revealed that Brazilians place great value on the printed book and respect for books in general. Many said they were comfortable downloading music from the Internet, but they were reticent to do the same with books. However, as of 2008, 4.6 million Brazilians identified themselves as “digital book readers,” though it is probably they meant they had read a book online; some 7 million had said they “downloaded books” (though, again, this statistic needs to be examined more closely for intent).
At the conference it was the consensus among the speakers that the world is facing a radical revolution in the way people read. Some, looking forward, see the future as all-digital. Others, while acknowledging that e-books will be a significant force, still have faith in the longevity of the printed book.
“Nobody will kill the book and the future will respect the past”, said Pablo Arrieta, who hails from Columbia. He believes that in order to survive, books must be very visually attractive. As an example, Arrieta cited the work of Cosac Naify, a 12-year-old Brazilian publishing house known for its high quality editions. For every book published, the company takes great care in selecting the paper and typefaces, cover and illustration — producing books that are as close to artwork as possible.
Boutique Publisher’s Online Success
Cosac Naify is not among the biggest publishing houses, but it has a strong reputation for producing high quality books. And, it should come as no surprise, that the company has already begun experimenting with digital publishing; from time to time making a book available as a free download from its Web site.
Their blog offers unpublished content from their books, as well as providing a provocative mix of articles, illustrations, interviews and pictures. Last month, for example, they published a photo essay shot in Paris about Enrique Villa-Matas’ last book, Doutor Pasavento. And Cosac Naify has already attracted 500 fans through Facebook and some 6,000 Twitter followers.
It is not yet clear what the impact of this digital marketing is having on sales, but Cassiano Elek Machado, publisher of Cosac Naify, believes that the company is on the right path. And even as they continue to experiment online, they are not in a hurry to create a digital catalog. “We want to do so, but we still see some uncertainties on the best way to that,” he said, adding “And besides, we believe in the printed book and a good edition is one of our assets.”
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