By Liana Suppressa
In recent years, while European book markets have remained almost flat or have even declined, the emerging countries are seeing a new chapter of the global business of books emerge in terms of exposure, opportunities and sales.
But are these emerging economies actually evolving solidly, and how?
Last month I flew to the other side of the ocean to visit the 17th Bienal Do Livro in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the biggest book fair in the country which every year alternates between Rio and Sao Paolo. This ten-day event is dedicated to consumers, but now includes a new interesting area and program specifically for book professionals.
The Country That Never Sleeps
Brazil has always been a very fascinating market for agents: huge but also extremely heterogeneous from a territorial, economical, demographic and social point of view. It has a population of over 200 million potential readers but — according to Brazilian Book Chamber datas — only 25% of them had read a book in the last three months.
The last few years have seemed to be Brazil’s moment. The country has arguably been one of the big “ones to watch,” inspiring the greatest ambitions among leading players worldwide.
Agents took notice. For the past decade, the need for books and growing cultural industries in Brazil produced many great opportunities, both regarding acquisitions of translation rights from foreign agencies — among which, included my company, Atlantyca — and for Brazilian talents to be exported worldwide.
Thanks to this favorable scenario, in the past years Brazilian publishers bought rights to many internationally acclaimed books through valuable deals and turned them into huge bestsellers, just as in the rest of the world. Think John Green, Jeff Kinney, George R. R. Martin.
In children’s books, a strong interest in acquisitions from foreign countries was generated also by the opportunity for Brazilian publishers to apply to the national and regional government programs for the direct purchase of textbooks, reading books, and related educational materials by the Ministry of Education. These books were then distributed to public schools throughout the country.
The Scene, Today and Now
Unfortunately — as it has already happened and is happening in the majority of the emerging countries — Brazil finds itself in a fragile state, facing difficulties due to currency exchange rates, distribution problems and government indecision in regard to urgent social issues. This makes it harder to sustain a positive overall outlook and has had a direct impact on book business.
Most disruptive was the announcement earlier this year that the Government officially cancelled a large part of the aforementioned annual purchase of books to distribute in public schools. This, together with the severe distribution and production problems linked to the very high exchange rate of the real against the dollar, forced publishers to be more cautious in acquisitions of book rights.
So, is the door still open to enter in Brazil, or it’s time for publishers to look elsewhere for opportunity?
Enthusiasm and Innovation at the Bienal do Livro
At the Bienal do Livro I saw that the enthusiasm and openness of publishers and of readers towards international authors is still very strong. If anything, the amazing, packed-with-people event with David Nicholls hosted by Intrinseca on the opening day of the Bienal certainly proved it. In children’s books, publishers always look eagerly at the international landscape and there’s a growing interest for middle grade and YA titles, both fantasy and contemporary realistic stories.
But can the market be relied upon? Will the Brazilian publishing landscape change soon again? For sure there will be new challenges for publishers to face, but I am confident that there will always be space enough for beautiful stories in Brazil.
Liana Suppressa is a foreign rights agent at Atlantyca, Milan, Italy, where she represents Children’s and YA titles for several Italian publishing houses across U.K., Nordic countries, Brazil, Turkey, Greece, Israel, Hungary and Poland. A graduate of Università Cattolica, she has five years of experience in sales in the publishing industry, and a background in marketing and communications.