By Elianna Kan
2015 is slated to be the year of Amazon’s descent on Mexico, according to an article published this past November in Mexico’s El Financiero newspaper, announcing Amazon’s purchase of its first warehouse and distribution center in Cuautitlán, Izcalli in the state of Mexico. This is undoubtedly a major step in Amazon’s move to spread its operations to Latin America.
“Mexico is the door to Latin America, the key, the bridge,” affirmed Manuel Dávila Galindo Olivares, Manager of Digital Content for the country’s leading bookseller, Librería Ghandi. So it should come as no surprise that Amazon would begin its infiltration of the region with Mexico.
Ghandi.com is one of a number of Latin American online bookstores that feel Amazon’s presence looming over them as they attempt to bolster their own online operations while also developing the Spanish-language ebook market. But according to Dávila Galindo, Ghandi is still confident they can out-run Amazon. As Mexico’s most recognizable bookstore chain, Ghandi brings more than 40 years of experience in brick-and-mortar sales and about 15 years of experience in e-commerce. That kind of expertise, knowledge of the local consumer, and a strongly established brand, is something Amazon may find difficult to replicate. Indeed, Ghandi.com is currently in the process of strengthening its presence throughout Latin America by striking agreements with small publishers to print and distribute their titles in Mexico — thus expanding their print offering and creating inroads in print distribution across the region.
Ghandi has also entered into the ebook market, offering digital content as well as a self-publishing platform. Mexico currently leads the way in digital publishing, though the ebook industry in Latin America has yet to take off, barely comprising 1% of all book sales in the region. Limited internet access and lack of e-readers (not to mention low literacy rates nationwide) have so far inhibited the industry’s further growth. But Dávila Galindo insists that those who do read in Mexico are voracious readers. About a third of the orders placed on Ghandi.com are mixed orders — comprised of both print books and ebooks — which suggests that ebooks are not replacing physical books; they’re supplementing them and people are simply reading more. He remains hopeful that the ebook may actually help promote literacy in Mexico.
A number of companies in the ebook business abroad share Dávila Galindo’s optimism and seem enthusiastic about the potential growth of the Latin American digital market. Simplicissimus Book Farm, an Italian digital distributor and developer of self-publishing software, recently opened up an office in Mexico and was busy at the Guadalajara Book Fair this past year brokering agreements with small publishers and distributors alike, including Ghandi. According to Viviana Paredes Estapé, Manager of the Simplicissimus Latin America operation, unlike Europe’s saturated ebook market, Latin America is ripe with opportunities for digital companies looking to expand. She has no doubt the ebook will prove advantageous for smaller publishers, helping them flourish by allowing them to bypass impediments to print distribution throughout Latin America and permitting them to test potential markets outside their own countries, before investing in the cost of print.
Casa del Libro, an independent bookstore chain owned by Spain’s publishing group Planeta, also wanted in on the emerging Latin American ebook market and opened up an office in Mexico a year ago. According to Jaume Sués Caula, Director of Digital Media, Casa del Libro’s expansion into Latin America was partially due to the unsolicited demand they were observing for books that were otherwise unavailable in the region and instead, were being ordered and shipped from Spain. Since arriving in Mexico, they’ve been focusing their energy on search engine optimization to ensure that Spanish-language customers choose Casadellibro.com over other online booksellers.
In addition to selling print books, Casa del Libro wields one of the largest Spanish-language ebook catalogues with about 135,000 titles available for download. And though ebook sales only comprise about 0.7% of all book sales in Latin America — compared to about 2.5% in Spain — Sués Caula is confident that digital books will start to play a larger role in the Latin American book industry. Already he’s observed more openness on the part of local publishers to embrace the medium: until the last year or so, 4 out of every 5 ebooks sold were international bestsellers and big titles from major publishing houses in Spain. Now, independent presses throughout Latin America have started experimenting more with digital content, having understood the financial advantage of the ebook. In Mexico, for example, cutting the cost of storage, printing, and shipping means a book that would have cost about 200 pesos can be sold for 100 or 120 pesos, with a larger share of the earnings going to both the author and the publisher.
At present, demand seems to be outpacing supply, something that will push the ebook industry to grow at a quicker pace and hopefully aid in democratizing the Spanish-language publishing industry, speculates Sués Caula. Currently, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, and Peru are the region’s leaders in ebook sales.
Only time will tell what the Latin American publishing industry has learned from the trials and tribulations of their peers to the north and east, but between cultivating a stronger print distribution network through e-commerce and developing their ebook industry, there’s plenty of potential for future growth.
Whatever their tactics, if any one of these Latin American e-commerce and ebook retailers is to have an edge over iTunes or Amazon, they’ll have to continue capturing the public’s attention while cultivating strong personalized relationships with small to mid-sized publishers in the region. But they know that already. “You can’t have an emotional or intellectual relationship with Amazon, a machine; but you can have a relationship with a bookstore,” says Dávila Galindo.