By Carlo Carrenho, PublishNews
The moment it became clear that the digital revolution had finally taken hold in Brazil happened shortly after last year’s Frankfurt Book Fair. On December 5th, 2012, Amazon, Google and Kobo opened for business in Brazil within hours of each other. Apple had opened iBookstore a few months earlier, but only sold books in American dollars. This “big bang” has most recently led—no surprise—to making 2013 the “year of the ebook” in Brazil.
That said, not all credit goes to the foreigners: indigenous companies have fought hard to claw away some of the attention and market share from these would-be digital imperialists. Gato Sabido (the first Brazilian ebookstore, going back to 2009); IBA, which is owned by Grupo Abril, one of the largest media companies in Brazil; Saraiva, owner of the largest bookstore chain in the country, and Submarino, an online superstore not unlike Amazon, each have their own aggressive ebook and digital publishing programs.
Ebook growth in Brazil is fueled by tablet and smartphone sales, rather than sales of ereaders. According to research company IDC, 5.9 million tablets will be sold in Brazil in 2013, and Nielsen—which opened for business in Brazil this year—reports that retail sales went up 400% in the first half of 2013 compared to same period in 2012. Even more impressive is the fact that 94.9% of the tablets sold in the first quarter of 2013 run on the Android platform.
As for smartphones, according to a study by Morgan Stanley earlier this year, Brazilians had 70 million smartphones, making it #4 in the world in use of such devices. IDC expects 28 million more smartphones to be sold in Brazil in 2013. It should then come as no surprise that telecom companies like Vivo, Claro, and Oi are also starting to offer ebooks through low-priced subscription models.
But the real story here may not be in trade sales to consumers, but in the higher education segment, where government purchases account for an overwhelming amount of sales and revenue: approximately US$644 million worth of books in 2012, representing more than 26% of publishers’ revenues. While this segment remains largely dedicated to print, signs of a shift are beginning. Starting this year, the government has begun evaluating ebooks and digital content for use in schools.
When it comes to content licensing, the CAPES Periodicals Portal offers Brazilian graduate students free access to about 31,000 journals and 150,000 ebooks. In 2011, CAPES spent US$71 million on digital periodical licenses and ebooks for its library. Foreign publishers are taking notice: Wiley has just opened an office in Brazil, and Springer looks to be doing the same shortly.
If you’re a foreign publisher looking to do business in Brazil, the most important city for publishing may not be São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro, but Brasilia.