By Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief
Author and editor Eduardo Rabasa has become something of an international publishing star, one whose vocal support of the Mexican publishing industry has made him a prominent figure on the international scene. As the co-founder of Editorial Sexto Piso, an independent publisher launched in Mexico in 2002, he has championed the idea of publishing quality books in translation and originally written in Spanish, in both fiction and non-fiction, for a growing audience of readers in the world’s largest Spanish-speaking market.
“Over these 13 years Sexto Piso has established itself as one of the main literary houses in Mexico, building a backlist of about 300 titles,” says Rabassa. “One of the things that distinguishes it is its commitment to publish translations, whereas most independent houses publish much more literature originally written in Spanish.
The company is also one of the very few Latin American publishing houses that has set up an office in Spain. “I think that the Mexican publishing industry has been sort of isolated from foreign markets,” he says. “Only recently, in the last few years, have more publishers begun to attend international book fairs and to build relationships with international publishers. In our case, the countries that we work most with are the UK, the USA, Spain, France, Italy and Germany, probably in that order.”
Eduardo Rabasa is a featured speaker representing Mexico at The Markets: Global Publishing Summit at the Frankfurt Book Fair on October 13, 2015.
Rabassa notes that it is important for foreign publishers to remember that the Mexican marketplace is still modest in terms of bookstores, sales, and readers when compared to there countries of similarly large populations. “At the same time,” he adds, “it’s very vibrant and many of the participants are very active and creative and involved in finding anyway possible to try and get books into readers. Also, many people reference the very low reading levels — about 1.5 books a year per person — as evidence of the paucity of the literary scene in Mexico, but at the same time it is a big country, one with a good number of sophisticated readers, so I think that there is a misconception that you can’t publish quality books and survive in Mexico, but indeed you can.” As evidence of this, he cites the success of Ediciones Era. “I think they are a fantastic publishing house that has published some of the best contemporary Mexican literature and poetry. They are now perhaps the most important independent publishing house in all of Mexico.”
Still, he does not ignore the challenges. Earlier this year, while speaking at the London Book Fair, Rabasa outlined the difficulties and challenges faced by independent publishers. “Mexico is a very unequal society with 50 million people living in poverty. They don’t have time to read books. There is organized crime and corruption, so it’s difficult to have a thriving publishing industry. Apparently there are more bookstores in the city of Barcelona than in all of Mexico. For years there has been a discount system, and the fixed law price that was established several years ago hasn’t been enforced. Some bookstores and publishers abide the law and others don’t.”
On the positive side, said Rabasa, commerce with Spain, which has traditionally been unequal with books moving in only one direction, is opening up. Spain is becoming more receptive to books from Mexico and other Latin American countries. There are some independent bookshops opening, and the boom in Mexican literature winning awards in other countries makes it a good moment to ride the wave of Mexican literature. Independent publishers are trying to operate differently, “We have lived in an eternal state of complaint and isolation and it’s important to break out of this isolation and see how other publishers deal with problems. We need to think of new strategies, such as partnerships with other Latin American countries. Instead of blaming reality, our task as publishers should be to connect with enough readers to continue to be vehicles between authors and readers. The first thing is to change the mentality.”
When looking to develop business relations with Mexico, “personal relationships are very important, in contrast where other countries where processes are more formal and institutionalized,” says Rabasa. “It is important to try and understand the nuances and complexities, as it’s a very particular market that functions with rules that in many other places don’t apply. You can’t come with preconceived ideas regarding how the book market works in other countries, and [you] need to approach it with an open mind and willingness to understand the particulars of the Mexican publishing world.