Asymmetry in the Spanish Book World: Spain vs. Latin America

In Spanish World Book News by Julieta Lionetti

Latin America absorbed 20% of Spain’s books, while Spain took in just 2% of Latin America’s.

By Julieta Lionetti

A language spoken by 450 million people may appear as a huge opportunity to many publishers and retailers, but the reality of the Spanish book world says we may be wrong if approaching it from an indiscriminate global point of view. And population isn’t equal to dollars.

Quantifying the different markets that make up the Spanish language is a painstaking chore. Statistics have different interpretations on both sides of the Atlantic and, in many cases, are based more on guess work than hard data. Still, we have to try.

During 2010, Spain produced 76,206 titles, with an average print-run of 1,734 copies. There are no statistics about what percentage of this production has been exported to Latin America, but the external trade is said to represent 18-20%. Mexico, Argentina, the United States and Colombia, in that order, are the main buyers of books published by the Spanish book industry.

The Spanish speaking portion of Latin America, with a population ten times bigger than Spain itself, had a similar production of around 70,000 titles. Argentina was the main contributor with 26,387 titles and an average print-run of 2,788 copies for a population of only 40 million, which speaks of active reading habits among the Argentines.

The Spanish Big Three — and other medium-sized publishers with headquarters in Spain — are very strong throughout Latin America, with 17% of the authors published in the region during 2010 coming from Spain, according to CERLALC (PDF download). Though this percentage may seem extreme, it represents a huge drop in influence compared with the 25% that Spanish authors represented in Latin American production as recently as 2006. All things never being equal, a meager 3% of titles published in Spain have been written by Latin American authors, who have failed to develop an audience among Spaniards.

Meanwhile, American authors translated and published in Latin America, accounting for 39% of the total output of the industry.

Commercially, the asymmetries persist: while Latin America received at least 20% of the Spanish production, exports to Spain only accounted to 2% of books produced in Latin America.

Javier López Llovet, CEO of Random House Mondadori for Latin America, commenting on the strategies that the region should develop facing the upcoming digital (r)evolution, said: “Spain is caught in the dynamics of the American market, trying to articulate its strategies with UK or Germany. Our reality is quite dissimilar and the main challenge ahead is to rethink our industry from the subcontinent in order to be successful and have a say in how the next avatar of the book industry will be for us.”

About the Author

Julieta Lionetti

Julieta Lionetti lives in Buenos Aires. She has over 20 years experience in the publishing industry. She works in Spanish, Catalan, French, English and Italian. She lived in France, Sweden and Spain.