By Emily Williams
There has been a lot of talk about digital content in Spanish-language publishing over the past three years, and publishers have started the e-book ball rolling with major digitization and e-distribution initiatives, but one key link has still been missing: the final retail connection with the consumer. The booksellers in Spain seem to be dragging their heels, and so far no big online retailer anywhere in the Spanish-speaking world has had the e-commerce chops to put all the pieces together — reliable content + big selection + ease of purchase.
Now we have our first big-time Spanish-language e-bookstore and it comes not from Barcelona or Buenos Aires but . . . New York? What is this? A major online bookseller hawking e-books from an international cast of publishers and it’s geared toward readers in . . . the US? That notoriously close-minded, navel-gazing market?
Believe it or not, that’s the truth of it. When we last spoke to Patricia Arancibia, International Content Manager at Barnes & Noble, she was busy talking to publishers from all over the world at her first Frankfurt Book Fair. Last Thursday, all that hard work bore fruit with the launch of the first dedicated Spanish-language e-book store in the US — and arguably the most complete Spanish e-book retailer to date anywhere in the world: NOOKbooks en español.
Best is Better than Biggest
The launch is the culmination of a long and painstaking set-up process, traveling from country to country and arranging contracts with publishers large and small — virtually any house that has titles of interest to US readers, the capacity to produce their books in ePUB format, and the rights to sell them in the US. The payoff has been worth it, says Arancibia: “We have [titles] from 75 publishers already, there are ten more that are signed and the content is going to be added in the next two or three weeks, little by little. There are [e-books] from I think now eight countries, but there’s more coming. There is a very nice diverse list and it’s been growing. We launched Thursday and the next day we already had 133 more titles!”
Asked how many titles the e-store had at launch, Arancibia declines to give exact numbers. “I don’t want to play that game. When we started there was a whole discussion about saying we were the largest bookstore, and I said I think it’s more important that we are the best. We do have the best selection, it’s clear.”
Arancibia’s focus was on bringing the widest range of marketable trade e-books in Spanish to the US market, and she is proud of the results. “Seventy-five percent of the books we have are not available in any other online bookstore in the US yet,” she points out. “Being the first to bring e-books en español to the United States is also nice. We’re going to start to send a newsletter in Spanish, starting today, completely in Spanish for e-books and Nook. People seem to be very happy. We knew that US Latinos were starving for books in Spanish, and it looks like they are happy we are bringing them!”
There are few e-book retailers in the Spanish-speaking world that could compete with BN.com’s selection or pricing, but — at least for now — the store will sell to US consumers only. “There are 48 million people living in the United States and four million more in Puerto Rico who can buy these books,” says Arancibia, “Thirty-five million people here speak Spanish at home according to the Census Bureau.”
Publishers and Prices
NOOKbooks is working with a range of international partners to supply its e-books en español, from major digital platforms like Libranda and Grupo Urano, but also smaller houses like Editorial Vestales, a small romance publisher in Argentina. Some of these indie houses have just two or three people.
“Libranda is the largest, most important platform — we have Random House and Santillana and all the big houses there,” Arancibia explains. “It’s kind of the strawberry on the cake. It’s a pleasure for a bookseller outside of Spain to sell Libranda. It was a tough negotiation in the sense that there are a lot of players within Libranda. There are . . . 92 imprints or something within Libranda, so you have to have a lot of people who are happy about doing it. We’re also particularly happy about the [participation from] independent publishers like Red Ediciones. It’s awesome. We have a lot of smaller Latin American houses. And [digital independent] Leer-e, because it’s very nice having the big Latin American authors like García Márquez and Isabel Allende and Vargas Llosa, to have some of their titles there.”
At launch, the prices in the NOOKbooks store attracted the immediate attention of online commenters, both from readers — who were thrilled about the accessible pricing — and others concerned about the erosion of value in the book market.
So, who sets the prices? “The pricing is determined by the publishers,” says Arancibia. “Many of them did research on how the US pricing market was, and they did ask us advice in some cases — what is the pricing between a hardcover and an e-book, or a paperback and an e-book, or a mass market paperback and an e-book. They clearly did their homework, they clearly looked at the US market very smartly. And in cases like Santillana, Random House [Mondadori], Grupo Urano, these are people who have US operations, so they know how pricing works here.”
Then, as a US retailer, BN.com has certain freedoms. “The US doesn’t have a fixed price for books or e-books, so if we have a reseller contract we can also discount, just as we do for e-books in English or print books in Spanish,” Arancibia explains. “That helps a lot to make the prices look competitive.”
For Arancibia, the pricing question is all part of creating the most appealing store for customers. “People are also looking for free books, we have tons of free books, we have tons of very cheap books, we have a ton of very decently priced books,” she says. “I think it’s important. The Spanish-language book industry for digital is just starting and I think it’s important to put some emphasis on starting well. We all want to have more titles available, to have more rights issues solved, we do hope that agents and authors and publishers reach agreements to have more books in digital, but it’s also important — both as a bookseller and as a customer — that you go there and you have books that you actually want to read. So that was always the goal, and in that sense we have a ton of books, but also we have a ton of very good books.”
Room to Grow
The store has gotten off to a good start, but Arancibia acknowledges there is still room for growth and improvement. The NOOKbooks en español site is integrated into the English side of BN.com, for example, and while searches for author names turn up both Spanish and English titles, searches for Spanish terms don’t always pull up the right results. “The search I think was working very well, but we are definitely working on making it better,” says Arancibia.
She points out that the Spanish-language e-books are still vastly outnumbered by the English-language selection. “Searches always work on relevance, and it’s going to take a while to have enough of a mass of books in Spanish for all the pages to balance. We’re working on that. But again, we just started. There are tons of things that we’re planning on improving and doing better, but so far so good!”
With all the contracts signed and the pipelines in place, that mass of e-books in Spanish is getting bigger every day, as Arancibia cheerfully points out. “From now on everyone with whom we are working already is going to be growing their list, and there are many people we have signed and are starting to upload the [titles] to our bookstore, and there are people we are very close to signing . . . and then there are more people with whom we are going to be talking about signing later. It’s great, it’s growing growing growing almost on a daily basis, it’s very sweet.”