By Adam Critchley
GUADALAJARA: With 500 million speakers worldwide, the Spanish language offers huge potential for e-book sales, but Hispanics in the US remain the largest market for the format, followed by Spain and Mexico.
With VAT on e-books at 21% in Spain, where book sales have slumped since the onset of the financial crisis, it is Latin America — led by Mexico — that is expected to spearhead the growth in Spanish-language e-book sales, and where libraries should pave the way, a panel of experts agreed during a debate on digital publishing organized by guest nation Chile at the Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL), which runs throughout this week.
Latin American libraries’ acquisition of e-books would bring huge benefits to the population, whose countries lack bookstores and libraries, with access to books impeded by the countries’ vast territories and geographical obstacles, particularly in remote communities.
US Hispanics Lead the Way
In the US, where 50 million Hispanics are the most active e-book buyers in the Spanish-speaking world, the lack of shelf space and, crucially, increasing demand on behalf of readers, has meant that more libraries are adding e-books to their catalogs.
According to the American Library Association, 76% of libraries in the US now have access to e-books, but there remains a digital divide. While 95% of libraries in New York state now offer e-books to readers, only 55% do so in Arizona, for example.
Adán Griego, a librarian at Stanford University, pointed to the fact that the current generation of university graduates is accustomed to reading on a screen, marking a shift in reading habits and preferences that will shape demand over the coming decades.
In Latin America, the e-book represents a huge opportunity for governments to provide their citizens with access to quality content while overcoming the problem of distribution, according to Pedro Huerta, Director for Amazon Kindle Latin America.
Amazon already has 45,000 titles available in Spanish but has yet to enter the Mexican market, despite this being the market earmarked for the strongest growth in e-book sales in the coming years.
Mexico Benefits from Proximity to US
Asked why Mexico leads e-book adoption in Latin America, above Argentina and Chile, Huerta points to Mexico’s proximity to the USA, a tendency among the upper middle classes to travel, and a southward, cross-border bleeding of trends that influence Mexican consumers, as well as Mexicans’ willingness to adapt to and adopt new technology.
Javier Sepúlveda of ebookspatagonia, Chile’s largest digital bookstore, highlighted the benefits e-books offer authors, placing their work within reach of readers in multiple markets, while eliminating the geographical barriers that even exist within the same country and which afflict countries across the region.