By Edward Nawotka
“Spanish-language literature still suffers from a lack of prestige around the world when compared with that of English, French or German,” said Joaquín Díez-Candedo Flores, Director General of Mexican publishing house Fondo de Cultura Económica, during an interview with Publishing Perspectives at last week’s Guadalajara International Book Fair (otherwise known as FIL, or Feria Internacional del Libro de Guadalajara), which wrapped up on Sunday. “It’s a long-term phenomenon and one we’re trying to address.”
Fondo de Cultura Economica is one of the largest, if not the largest, publishing house in Mexico. A state-supported institution, it’s role is to publish books the offer a “cultura contribution” and it’s list –- which amounts to some 9,000 titles (of which 200 or so new titles appear each year) includes omnibus editions of leading Mexican intellectuals and writers, children’s titles, reference works (such as a new Spanish-language translation of The Oxford Dictionary of Music), and other translations from French, German and English in social sciences, humanities and popular science. The publisher also runs 20 bookstores in Mexico, as well as nine international branches spread across Central and South America.
“Because much of our funding comes from tax revenues and we are a non-profit we don’t have the commercial pressures that other publishers do,” said Flores, who noted that he’s impressed by the strength of the independent literary publishers in Mexico, such as Sexto Piso (from Mexico City) and Almadia (from Oaxaca). “It’s a lively market. These publishers have managed to flourish in the market -– surviving and growing -– for many years now. It’s impressive.”
If the FIL is any indication, Mexican publishing in particular and Spanish-language publishing in general, is indeed burgeoning.
At home in the US, the Spanish-language market is in “maintenance mode,” said Larry Downs, VP and Publisher of Grupo Nelson (a division of US-based Thomas Nelson Publishers). “But,” he add “from my perspectives, the international Spanish market is a growth market. There are certain channels, for example, where that is especially true: the religious trade channel in Mexico is, I believe, where the Brazilian religious channel was seven to ten years ago.”
Over the years FIL has become an important hub for US publishers who want to meet their numerous Central and South American clients in one place. “If you’re serious at all about Spanish-language publishing, this is the fair,” said Downs. Of the Big Six US publishers, both HarperCollins and Random House hosted modest booths at the fair to represent their English-language properties (Random House was present at FIL this year for the first time), alongside those sales rep groups that included Cranbury International and Zimpfer Books.
Still, the exchange of titles between the US and Spanish-language markets remains largely one-way. “There’s asymmetry between the cultural production in Latin American countries and the US,” said Flores of Fondo de Cultura Economica. “There is still generally very little translation in the US and we just don’t find that much interest in American for what is happening in Mexico.”
Elsewhere, that is different. “Mexico was just invited to the Salon du Livre in Paris and there were 40 new translations of Mexican works commissions,” said Flores. “It was a big surprise to French readers and to us. It made a really big impact.”
One thing that might help the cultural trade imbalance between the US and Latin America is the launch of LéaLA, a new Spanish-language book fair sponsored by FIL and to be held at the Los Angeles Convention Center from April 29 – May 1 next year.
The organizers are anticipating some 10,000 attendees and several notable authors have already committed to make appearances, including Carlos Fuentes, Laura Restrepo, Alberto Ruy Sanchez, and Jorge Volpi.
The launch follows Los Angeles’ stint as Guest of Honor at FIL in 2009. “LéaLA is one of the most exciting developments we’ve had in the Spanish-speaking US market in recent years,” said David Unger, FIL’s US representative.
More information about this new event can be found at www.lea-la.com.