By Andrés Delgado Darnalt
Publishing multinational Oceano has just unveiled its new ebook catalogue for the Spanish-speaking market. The company, one of the key Spanish-language publishers in Latin America, includes imprints for fiction, non-fiction, academic and children’s content. Oceano is now making its first inroads into digital publishing and hopes to spread the global frenzy in ebook sales throughout Latin America. The program is being coordinated by Oceano’s office in Mexico, the group’s biggest distribution and sales hub on the continent.
Alejandra Montemayor, Ebook Coordinator at Oceano Mexico, is heading up the group’s move towards e-publishing. “Oceano decided to base the program here on account of the expansion of the market in Latin America and particularly because of the presences of key publishing actors in Mexico, including Apple, Amazon and Google Play. We’ve also got some important local players like Gandhi and Sanborns, and Latin American platforms like Bajalibros.”
The ebook catalogue comprises over 300 titles in children’s literature, fiction, non-fiction and religion, all previously published in print editions. Oceano’s current strategy is to explore the market and build a critical mass of titles with its backlist catalogue, which has been undergoing digitization throughout the last year. In addition the company is planning to release print and ebook titles at the same time in order to analyze sales patterns and relationships between content types and formats.
Sales in Smaller Nations
“Apart from Spain and United States, we are seeing considerable sales from readers in Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico. These last two are small countries, and one of our theories is that the supply of print titles there is small compared to the number of readers, which is why ebooks are so popular,” says Montemayor, who took postgraduate studies in Digital Communication and has previous experience as digital consultant.
For Oceano, ebooks should offer an added value to the print book market. Such is the case, for example, of a fashion book already in print, La mejor version de tí, by Argentinian writer Gisela Mendez — the ebook version now includes a new chapter on “green fashion.” So far, ebook sales have mirrored those from print, with the majority of sales coming from self-help and spirituality, finance and erotica. Self-help authors Walter Riso, Jorge Bucay and Yohana Garcia are among Oceano’s most popular authors.
Challenges to Digitization: Format and Pricing
“More than choosing topics, we decided to leave aside titles whose digital migration gave us some difficulties. This has been the case with poetry; we’ve got beautiful books, but when converted into ebooks, the text and rhythm change when zooming in and out on the screen. We are trying to figure out the best format for this genre. Some cooking and illustrated books, for example, are posing us with a similar challenge”.
Recent clashes on ebook pricing have lead Oceano to carry out a personalized approach to individual members of the book supply chain (e-retailers and bookshops), with discussions ongoing in order to arrive at a market-based price. In Mexico this challenge is framed by the country´s current fixed book price law. For Montemayor this is an advantage over the US market, which has been saddled with “ebook price wars that ultimately diminish the value of the market in the face of readers and lead to the closure of independent retailers.” She adds, “Our strategy is to respect the fixed book price law in Mexico. However we need to help stabilize the economic value of ebooks and avoid selling at a loss. Therefore we need to familiarize readers with the fact the good ebooks have considerable costs behind them.”
Montemayor admits that up to now ebook sales have not been comparable to print, with sales for ebooks forecasted to reach between 1–2% of total sales by the end of 2014. “This is reasonable, given that other publishing houses have hit sales of between 3 and 4% during their first year.” For the moment Oceano is discussing plans to diversify and customize the catalogue for other Latin American countries.
Oceano’s decision to venture into digital publishing has been taken somewhat late when compared to other publishers who have already gone digital. However, Montemayor believes this is a key step for the company to become more creative and have a clearer view of how their books are read. “I don’t think that ebooks are a flash-in-the-pan phenomenon. Technology is moving forward with giant steps and e-reading devices are changing the way we read and write. Initially we are collecting basic information from our readers but as we grow we plan to carry out more exhaustive research on when, where and how our e-books are read.”