Avalon en Español: iPad Brings Digital Revolution to Biblio-diverse Latin America

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• Today’s launch of the iPad across South America should spark a “digital revolution” and significantly shift the Latin American publishing landscape.

By Xpectro (Pablo Francisco Arrieta)

BOGOTA: South America is a green continent. We have lots of areas covered by green forests, fertile lands for agriculture, mountains, flowers, thousands of different animals and insects. One of the most precious concepts for us is the eco-diversity that starts in Mexico and descends into Argentina. Nature, either wild or inside our cities, is exuberant and rich.

And we also have populations as diverse as our natural environment could be. Inside each society we have readers, and although they may not be as devoted or constant as in other countries, we really enjoy producing and consuming books. We share, with some subtle variations and local dialects, a common language. So, one could imagine a fertile land also for publishers, where pages and contents fly around like birds.

But that’s not quite true.

The keyword for publishers, especially if they are medium or small, is mobility. The biggest quest for them is to be able to move their books and contents around the continent, to have their publications in front of potential readers in stores, delivered to them, presented by specialized publications, recommended by other readers… They have to do it working around the geography, political systems, almost impossible customs regulations, cultural differences and in the end fight for attention in an ever complicated world where all kinds of media fill the daily lives of our citizens.

And then we have big publishing houses. Large corporations from either Spain or developed publishing countries like Argentina, Mexico or Colombia, have the power to overcome the odds and, ultimately, have their publications present in all the region. This, in the end, leads to a more unified marketplace, no matter the country where you are located.

After a month jumping from country to country, attending the local book fairs in Lima (Peru), Bogota (Colombia), La Paz (Bolivia) and San Jose (Costa Rica and the rest of Central America), I have had the opportunity to realize that, after walking around the exhibition floors and taking part in the different events, the changes in the publishing world imposed by the huge digital presence. All of the events, in one way or another, were used by local professionals to express their concerns with the problems faced with mobility and diversity of the contents offered what is known as biblio-diversity.

In a region of the world where ebook readers are a novelty still and no big manufacturer has even officially launched their products (apart from Spain where e-Ink readers and iPads are a reality, but they are still develop- ing a coherent way to sell digital content to the new market), it’s really interesting to see these kind of events flourishing worldwide. Earlier this year, the Frankfurt Book Fair organized a conference about the digital arena, oriented to the Brazilian market; it was a good opening, and a lot of the key players of the other events were either speaking or taking part as audience members, so the conversation spread to the rest of the region with different responses, but the same sense of urgency.

You can imagine that the sessions were filled with publishers trying to explore the new possibilities of digital media not only to tell stories and deliver content to readers, but as a new and more inclusive path to move contents around our countries. The possibility of overcoming the harsh realities faced by small and medium publishers were covered by fear, more than welcomed with curiosity. In many cases, instead of feeling that this was going to be an alternative and a possibility to expand markets and audiences, the digital world is seen as a more menacing space thanks to piracy fears and cheaper prices concerns. Even concepts like print on demand (a very interesting option in realities like ours) were not completely accepted based on the little options that we have (only Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and Argentina have companies actually offering this services as a real option). There is opportunity, but with little actual experience that publishers and markets have with digital commerce (in any field), it is really complicated to understand the options.

As a first step, publishers should taste the digital offerings to get a first person impression of what is like. And, although complicated these days, you can see many devices in the hands of several professionals; well, at least in Bogota and Sao Paulo, in the other countries it was harder to find them. If they tried to interact with this new universe, they would experience the wonderful (or dreadful) ways to sell the content at this moment in time. To be sincere, the only big option for digital readers these days is Amazon, followed by some local initiatives as Publidisa’s Todo eBook, Ghandi, Libreria de la U, Libreria Norma, el Aleph, Musimundo, Siglo del hombre edito- res, Profética, Casa del Libro, El Corte Inglés… all of them located in Spain and different Latin American countries (Colombia, Argentina, Chile, México).

The Ferias del Libro were a good moment to realize that some initiatives are happening below the radar of local authorities, by entrepeneurs who are testing their luck in this unchartered area. And the experience for buyers and readers of digital content is not yet up to the international standards, as many critics in the region have pointed out.

Things move so quickly that, from the moment I started writing these words to this point a huge thing has changed: the iPad is being officially released in South America today. Lines of consumers are expected and surely there will be a huge media impact. So, this article was written in the last week of the preparation and it’s published in the week of the release of the digital revolution in Latin countries. Are publishers ready for the situa- tion this is going to open? The time to speak and plan, watch and wonder, is coming to an end. And if there is no Spanish publishing soon, the market is going to suffer a lot.

I only hope that, amongst the early adopters, hundreds (if not thousands) of professionals of the publishing world are getting their own personal tablets. It’s impossible to taste, feel the reality and discover the opportunities that this development brings for our regions without tasting it in first person. It’s not an “office related activity”, not a job, it’s a transformation happening on a personal level. And, if they want to learn how to please their consumers and attract them, the best way is to become one. Is it good? Are there problems? Not easy enough? Expensive? Are there Spanish-language readers abroad? How easy it is to get nice EPUBs and apps in this language at this moment in time? Well, if publishers and book related professionals realize that, everyone would be better in the end.

The last date this year for a book fair is going to be Guadalajara, where the Mexican market is the host for the most relevant book fair in the Spanish speaking market. And then the panorama will be different since some readers, at least in tablet mode, are going to be released. For sure, the talks will change the mood and there must be more projects than ideas to offer to readers. And then, probably, we would be watching Avalon rise… en español.

Xpectro, aka Pablo Francisco Arrieta, is a digital publishing consultant and educator based in Bogota, Columbia. He will be a presenter at this year’s TOC Frankfurt.

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Guest contributors to Publishing Perspectives have diverse backgrounds in publishing, media and technology. They live across the globe and bring unique, first-hand experience to their writing.