Bookwire Says Spanish and Latin American Ebook Penetration is Accelerating

In News by Adam Critchley

The publication of ebooks is beginning to grow among Spanish-language publishers as editors embrace digital, according to Bookwire, a distributor of the format, at CONTEC Mexico.

Elena Bazán, who manages Bookwire’s Mexico operations, takes a selfie with Margarita Guerrero, Bookwire’s Spain manager, in Mexico City’s Zócalo during the 2019 CONTEC Mexico conference. Image: Elena Bazán

After looking at physical-store bookselling challenges in the Spanish-language markets, the 2019 CONTEC Mexico conference this month, produced by Frankfurter Buchmesse vice-president Marife Box Garcia, turned to what digital distributor Bookwire sees as a fast-rising uptake on ebooks in the Latin American venues. —Porter Anderson

By Adam Critchley

Is This a Changing Vision of Digital and Ebooks?
Ebook penetration is growing rapidly in Spain and Latin America as local publishers embrace the format, according to the report this month from ebook distributor Bookwire. The Frankfurt-based company’s representatives say that the two markets led its sales growth worldwide in 2018, with a 65-percent increase over 2017.

In a presentation at the two-day CONTEC event in Mexico City this month—the 10th event in the international outreach CONTEC series, organized by Frankfurter Buchmesse—Bookwire managers said they now distribute more than 33,000 ebook titles across both markets. That’s up 25 percent over 2017 figures, with 2018 revenues rising 30 percent worldwide over the previous year.

According to Elena Bazán, Bookwire’s manager in Mexico, the growth of ebooks in Spanish-language markets is being driven by a new openness on the part of publishers in the vast Spanish-language world, a new receptivity to digital formats and a vision of the ebook as something at least complementary and in some cases a central strategy of evolving publishing business.

“Bookwire offers publishers in all countries the same software and services,” Bazán told Publishing Perspectives, “but we work differently in each region, depending on the type of publishers and catalogues, with actions responding to the needs of each” locale.

The Bookwire presentation indicated that Mexico accounts for 17 percent of the company’s Spanish-language sales, and is now the company’s second-largest Spanish-language market after Spain itself, which accounts for 48 percent. The United States market stands third in Bookwire stats, with 10.2 percent.

Mexican publishers’ reported new embrace of the ebook contrasts with the trepidation that traditionally has surrounded the format in the region.

In 2012, a mood of nostalgia for print mixed with a reluctant acceptance of the need to adopt a digital strategy pervaded a symposium on ebooks held in Mexico City. And despite initial growth, ebook sales growth in the country had stalled by 2016, according to figures from the country’s national publishing chamber CANIEM.

Needless to say, it’s to Bookwire’s advantage to be able to report rising fortunes for digital sales in these enormous markets. Founding CEO Jens Klingelhöfer’s  company now says it represents more than 400 publishers in Spain and Latin America, and 47 percent of ebooks sold in Spain are international, a testament to the cross-border reach of the Spanish language.

Margarita Guerrero makes Bookwire’s presentation on digital publishing and distribution in Latin America and Spain at Frankfurter Buchmesse’s CONTECT Mexico 2019. Image: Elena Bazán

Platforms, and Digital Reading as Complementary

This reported new enthusiasm for ebooks and audiobooks is being characterized as a reflection of changing reading habits, which are being influenced, of course, by the penetration and competition of online streaming services including Netflix, with access to content by subscription tending to win out over the old buy-to-own model, according to Bookwire’s Spain and Spanish–language markets manager Margarita Guerrero.

“One of our challenges is to continue to position ourselves among Spanish-language publishers and see more titles in Spanish published worldwide.”Elena Bazán

This proliferation of streamers and other platforms in Mexico other countries in Latin America, coupled with increased Internet penetration, means that readers now have more options, while publishers are becoming more open to the digital format, Guerrero said during her presentation. There’s also a growing confidence in digital as a complementary rather than replacement medium for print, she said.

During the presentation, Bazán invited the audience to abandon the use of the word cannibalization and dispel their fears that the digital formats rob publishers of print sales. The goal, she said, is to see the growth of digital as a natural consequence of competition and the globalization of content. Publishers should be asking if their companies are prepared for digital, with digital strategies in place.

“With the exception of bestsellers, ebooks should be launched simultaneously in all business models–pay-per-download and subscription–and publishers should be analyzing both local and global digital trends and purchasing trends.” Bazán said.

“One of our challenges is to continue to position ourselves among Spanish-language publishers and see more titles in Spanish published worldwide,” she said. “We will also be seeing the audiobook as a watershed for the Spanish-speaking publishing world in the coming years.”

According to Bookwire figures, 65 percent of Internet users in Mexico use the medium to read or listen to content, and the number of online readers is expected to grow as Internet penetration grows. That penetration increased from 63 percent in 2017 to 67 percent in 2018, according to Bookwire figures.

“Subscription is the business with the strongest growth, and which can represent 20 percent of a publisher’s revenues for ebooks and audiobooks, and we see this percentage growing.”Margarita Guerrero

And while subscription reading is the fastest growing segment in the Spanish-language markets, unit purchases, or buy-to-own, still offer the widest profit margins to publishers, Guerrero said.

“Both for ebooks and audiobooks, the greatest profit margin is in the simultaneous availability of all business models,” she said. “This guarantees reaching all” parts of the consumer base “in all territories. And while one business model can be adopted, it’s important to not exclude any distribution possibility.

“The global nature of the digital business model must be taken advantage of to guarantee a presence in all territories,” Guerrero said. “Subscription is the business with the strongest growth, and which can represent 20 percent of a publisher’s revenues for ebooks and audiobooks, and we see this percentage growing.

“There’s a clear trend in consumption of streaming over ownership,” she said, “and we think that subscription platforms, especially those with fixed fees, will gain a lot of ground in coming years.”

More from Publishing Perspectives on México is here, more on Bookwire is here, more on digital publishing is here, and more on the CONTEC programming from the Frankfurter Buchmesse is here.
Porter Anderson contributed to this report.

About the Author

Adam Critchley

Adam Critchley is a Mexico-based freelance writer and translator. His articles have been published in Latin American Literature Today, Brando, Forbes, GQ, Gatopardo, Publishers Weekly, Travesías and Vinísfera, among other publications, and his short stories have appeared in The Brooklyn Review, El Puro Cuento and Storyteller-UK. His translations include a series of children's books based on indigenous Mexican folk tales. He can be contacted at