By Maria Fernanda Rodrigues
At first, Fernando Baracchini didn’t seem destined for a career in publishing. Though he grew up as scion to the Ribeirão Preto-based book chain Paraler, instead of helping his mother Marylene with the stores he opted instead to pursue his first love: motorcycle racing. But after a serious accident in California, where he was studying business administration at UCLA (and held jobs at places as diverse as Burger King and The Wall Street Journal), he returned to Brazil to go into the family business. He opened his own book distribution business and, in 2007, the publishing house Novo Conceito — now the Brazilian home of numerous bestselling authors, including Nicholas Sparks and Emily Giffin.
In 2010, the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull’s ashes frustrated Baracchini’s plans to acquire rights to some promising bestsellers at the London Book Fair. He then traveled to BookExpo America with his wife and partner at Novo Conceito, Milla, to try to chase down the missed opportunities. At that time, the couple had just signed Nicholas Sparks, with plans to publish Dear John, the first of the author’s titles to be released in Portuguese by Novo Conceito. While in New York, they invited the bestselling author, who they had yet to meet, to dinner. Sparks declined, but invited them to visit him at his home in North Carolina, where Sparks showed them some genuine Southern hospitality: picking them up at the airport in his pick-up, touring them around town, showing them around school that he supports, and introducing them to his family. Afterwards, Sparks confessed he only invited the publishers because he expected them not to accept.
It turned out to be the start of a fruitful friendship: In the past year, Novo Conceito has published five of Sparks’ books, which have gone on to sell a total of 1.3 million copies. Booksellers ordered 60,000 copies of the most recent title, A Walk to Remember, before it even went on sale.
Fernando and Milla may be relatively new to the trade publishing business, but their background in book distribution (which is not a small business in a country of 27 states and 5,565 cities spread across 50% of South America) gives them certain advantages. For 15 years they ran Tecmed, which was specialized in distribution of STM titles. Then in 2008 Tecmed merged with trade book distributor Superpedido, forming the biggest book distributor in Brazil. Earlier, Tecmed has started publishing medical titles and by the time the Baracchinis launched Novo Conceito the couple was confident the new house would succeed.
They delegated the new house’s daily administration to several editors, who then went on to almost publish several bestsellers, including Zodiac by Robert Graysmith and Masterpiece by Elise Broach. Though Novo Conceito was then based in São Paulo, Fernando and Milla continued to live in Ribeirão Preto, some 319 kilometers away in the countryside. When they finally resigned from their book distribution joint venture, they moved Novo Conceito to their hometown and took over as publishers. Today, the publishing house represents 30% of the revenue for Tec Gestão e Participação, Fernando Baracchini’s holding company, which also includes the online bookseller www.comprajato.com.br and the paint distributor Tecc Tintas.
With Nicholas Sparks, Emily Giffin, Elizabeth Chandler and numerous other international authors, Novo Conceito has established a firm presence in the Brazilian book market and has been a regular feature on the bestseller lists. Certainly, some titles came to them by chance, but they’ve also tapped into a growing audience of new readers: girls and their mothers eager for easy-to-read and sweet love stories that are affordable to buy. And they help to develop interest in these previously unknown authors by touring them throughout Brazil. Last November, Nicholas Sparks visited five Brazilian cities (and girls went crazy!) and there are plans to bring him back before Christmas. Emily Giffin, their latest bet, will attend to Rio de Janeiro’s International Book Fair in September to sign her latest book in Portuguese, Heart of The Matter.
Novo Conceito’s growth has been dramatic. According to the publishing house, revenues grew 90% from 2008 to 2009, and — reflecting the renewed focus of the owners — it grew a whopping 800% from 2009 to 2010. There are now 200 titles in the catalogue.
“We are doing great and we will be very fine in five years,” predicts Fernando Baracchini. “We sold nearly two million books in 2010 and none of our first-run titles sold less than 20,000 units,” he noted. Novo Conceito maintains a tight list, publishing no more than three books per month. Last week, seven of the top 20 bestselling fiction books on PublishNews’ bestseller list were published by Novo Conceito. “I really don’t understand the current model that says that you have to publish 10 books to have one hit,” he says.
And now things are about to get even bigger. The current issue of Avon’s catalogue features Nicholas Sparks on the cover, as well as on numerous internal pages. Avon, which has an extremely powerful door-to-door sales force in Brazil, with 1.3 million saleswomen carrying over two million magazines from the North to the South, expects to sell 500,000 copies of each title. That said, Avon pays little for the books themselves, so the additional revenue will be proportionally lower. (Read more on our earlier coverage of the growing door-to-door book sales in Brazil)
Thur far, Novo Conceito’s list focuses on the international fiction that Fernando and his American scout discover abroad. Next year, in 2012, he plans to launch a new imprint for business, self-help, and Brazilian authors. He also plans to enter the digital world, albeit on his own terms, and is studying ways of delivering e-books directly to the consumer. “We will create a new business model for e-books,” he says. “I don’t want to sell books through my website, but I also don’t want to delegate the task to bookstores.”
Novo Conceito may be located far from the Brazilian publishing centers of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, but being outside the mainstream pleases Fernando and Milla. Ribeirão Preto is the third city in São Paulo’s state, has just 600,000 inhabitants but is known for its heat and the best draught beer in the country. Accordingly, the couple keep a low-profile and are better known among booksellers (which is great for business) than among publishers. From their off-the-beaten-track base they are able to publish entertaining stories that they believe will make people happy — and they are able to sell and distribute them to the entire country. Now that’s a formula for success — and happiness — if there ever was one.