Print Books Bottom Out in Spain, But One Bookseller Defies

In Spanish World Book News by Edward Nawotka

By Julieta Lionetti

You can say it’s the digital tipping point, but you will be fooling yourself. You can say it’s because of piracy, but you’d be consciously lying. According to the March 27 report of the INE (National Institute of Statistics), 2011 was the lowest point for the Spanish book industry in 10 years. The number of new titles decreased by 2.4%, while number of copies printed plunged 24.4%. The average print run continued plummeting to 1,345 copies, a 22.4% decline compared to 2010. The long tail is here to stay — of a total of 74,244 new titles, 37.4% had print runs of between 900 and 1,999 copies, while only 1.9% reached print runs of over 5,000.

One day later, on March 28, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports (MECD) published their account (PDF download), focused on e-books and their development during the same year. Although ISBNs don’t give you the complete picture, it’s worth noting that digital titles represent 17.9% of new registrations in the database, which is a 55% growth compared to 2010. Catalonia and Madrid remain the Meccas of e-publishing, as they always have been the center of traditional book production.

Although e-book growth is clearly accelerating, a trend that is expected to continue in 2012–13, their economic value — 2.4% of total revenue — does not compensate for the downturn in their print counterparts. In order to grow, digital needs a huge investment that publishers will be very cautious, if not reluctant, about undertaking in this bleak scenario.

Looking at the statistics, you can fathom their implications. Fiction print books lead the drop (-34.1%), followed by coffee table editions on the fine arts, graphic design and photography (-28.2%). Textbooks, with 42.9% growth, and children’s literature (up 10.2%) are the only genres showing healthy upward movement. Spaniards, suffering from the deepest economic crisis in their post-war history and enduring unemployment rates above 24% of the active population, spend their dwindling euros on “useful” print matter.

Things aren’t completely stagnant, though; you can always find an optimist. Antonio Ramírez, the beloved bookseller of Librería La Central in Barcelona, plans to open a new bookstore in Madrid next September. And it will be huge —  filled with 75,000 volumes and located in Callao, one of the most animated squares in the center of the city. Like many other bookstores outside Spain, La Central will offer a variety of goods that could appeal to its high-brow public — Moleskine notebooks, sophisticated pens, games for intellectuals made of hardwood. Almost 700 square feet will be dedicated to a gourmet restaurant. This new adventure in catering to the literati is the result of La Central partnering with Italian conglomerate Feltrinelli, a publisher that owns 104 bookstores in Italy. Another sign that times are changing, for good.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.