Spanish-Language Digital Publishing: A New Report

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

In a batch of new analysis based on Bookwire’s Spanish-language clients, a coda cautions the industry about ‘What We Need To Learn.’

In Segovia, during the ‘pandemic summer’ of 2020, this shot made on August 24. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Javier Gonzalez

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

A Seventh Report from Bookwire and Dosdoce
By the time you get through the new Evolution of the Digital Market report for 2021, it may be 2022. But you can’t say that this extensive, 70-page PDF doesn’t offer a lot of information.

Released today (May 18), this is the seventh iteration of the annual assessment from the Frankfurt-based Bookwire‘s Spanish arm and the long-established consultancy Dosdoce in Bilbao. It’s produced by gathering information from at least 840 publishers in Spain and Latin America. Those 840+ publishers are customers of Bookwire, described as “involved in distribution via the Bookwire OS platform.”

Publishing Perspectives’ international readership is well aware of the digital-book distributor Bookwire, much in our coverage of late for its announcement of a forthcoming NFT marketplace for book publishing and for the second “All About Audio” conference it will offer on Thursday (May 20). Bookwire’s co-founding CEO Jens Klingelhöfer will be speaking on Tuesday (May 25) in a Guest of Honor Germany program on “Ebooks in the Time of the Pandemic” during the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

Dosdoce and its founding CEO Javier Celaya is a longtime analyst and speaker in European publishing who has worked with Bookwire for several years.

The Evolution of the Digital Market (Ebooks, Audiobooks, and Podcasts) in Spain and Latin America this time, of course, is looking what many of us have come to call “the pandemic year,” although the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic is not over and one of the most intriguing questions now is how well the “digital acceleration” will hold up following the most acute stages of the health emergency.

Top-Line Points From the Report

Image: ‘The Evolution of the Digital Market (Ebooks, Audiobooks, and Podcasts) in Spain and Latin America’

If you’re short on time, get a look at these two figures:

  • In 2020, ebook and audiobook sales in the Spanish-language markets’ publishers responding to Bookwire and Dosdoce saw increases of 112 percent for ebooks and 137 percent for audiobooks
  • Downloaded ebook sales generated a 97-percent increase in turnover for publishers in 2020 over 2019
  • In all seven years of this report series’ life, gains have been recorded, but in 2020 that aggregate gain among the 840+ publishers was 113 percent
  • Ebook subscription platform revenues for publishers in 2020 in Spanish-language content increased 112 percent

And along the way, you find interesting highlights from the information on which the report is based. Some examples:

  • Digital exports have accounted for 50 percent of digital revenue for Spanish publishers
  • Mexico generates 16 percent of ebook sales by Spanish publishers “across the Atlantic”
  • During the most severe lockdown months in the relevant territories “digital consumption multiplied four times”

By the end of this year, the report’s authors are estimating that there will have been 14,300 Spanish-language audiobook titles available. “Judging by the trends in international markets,” the report’s text reads, “everything points to a 25- to 30-percent increase in audiobook sales in 2021, thus reaching €13 million in Spanish-language markets (US$15.9 million).

The average price in 2020 of a Spanish ebook was €6.06 (US$7.41), and the average price of a Spanish audiobook was €13.49 (US$16.49).

And with all deference to the old sayings about content’s importance, when it comes to audiobook sales channels, the report says, the subscription is king, accounting for 86 percent of sales. The platforms driving those sales, as might be expected, were Storytel, Audible, Scribd, Kobo, and Podimo. In podcasting, streaming platforms of course hold the lead (Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible, iVoox, Podimo).

As for the markets themselves, Spain is anticipated to be seen as the leading Spanish-language market for audiobooks this year, with Mexico as the second driver, and the United States as the No. 3 market for Spanish audio–the rest of Latin America following.

Manuel Gil: ‘What We Need To Learn’

Image: ‘The Evolution of the Digital Market (Ebooks, Audiobooks, and Podcasts) in Spain and Latin America’

In putting this article together, Publishing Perspectives this week is involved in recording some conference events for the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, in which Guest of Honor Germany’s professional programming will include a look at audiobooks and the Arab world. What’s being heard from specialists in Cairo, Berlin, Strasbourg, and elsewhere is that “new habits” have been created during the pandemic so far, habits expected to persist. There’s a consumer readiness for e-reading and audio that wasn’t so strongly in place before the pandemic, these observers say.

And while the reports of big gains in sales and activity in the digital markets of the Spanish-language world in 2020 are heartening, what some in the business may find more interesting in this new report is a set of points headed, “What We Need To Learn.”

“These past events,” the report’s text reads on Page 57, “indicate that publishers will have to adapt to a challenge … and that a transition to a largely digital ecosystem is inevitable.”

Manuel Gil

It turns out that this is Manuel Gil, the director of the Feria del Libro Madrid in one of several articles included in this year’s report.

Gil has the institutional memory to recall and review quickly the 2008 economic crash and the devastating 35-percent decline suffered by the Spanish market for almost five years before even a slow return got underway.

With the steadiness of someone who has seen the kind of genuinely profound hit that can befall a book market and a society, Gil goes on to lay out some considered notes of advice that may well be the most important part of this helpful report. Don’t look back too long, he seems to tell us. Learn from what just happened, and look forward. Several selected points:

  • Provide multi-format, multi-media and multi-device catalogues, with a precise emphasis on ebooks and audiobooks
  • Develop a multi-channel strategy with a solid, previously tested efficient and speedy e-commerce basis
  • Boost book visibility via communication models based on social networks and the Internet, focusing on videos and podcasts
  • Diversify printing model distribution on demand … sell before publishing
  • Think about drop-shipping models to speed up services to readers
  • Generate marketing models for subscription platforms
  • Diversify business models for digital lending models to libraries
  • Renew human-resource training in order to boost technological skills
  • The future of the book will probably be cross-media
  • Integrate sustainability and eco-publishing know-how to reduce the carbon footprint

Image: ‘The Evolution of the Digital Market (Ebooks, Audiobooks, and Podcasts) in Spain and Latin America’

Two overarching lessons are coming across here from Gil.

The first is that while there certainly still are details to be appreciated and analysis to be developed around various parts of the book industry during the circumstances and struggles of the virus-mitigation efforts and the assault itself of the pathogen–where we need to put our attention now is how we respond, how we react, what we take to heart, what we do to adjust, what we need to learn, as he puts it.

Throughout world publishing, for example, you can hear a remarkably consistent observation: Where e-commerce was already in place, the book world did best. The salvation many feel was granted to the books industry in many markets had less to do even with digital formats than with digital buying capacity and how ready the consumer was to use it.

As welcome as this report is, perhaps it can signal that we’ve now moved through the gee-whiz stage of grateful assessment where markets did well, move on to targeted support for markets that were damaged, and, most importantly of all, start “building back better,” as a certain easily recognized politician likes to put it.

“We are faced with the evolution of a demand-driven economy, rather than a supply-driven one,” he writes, “making a digital context essential rather than selling paper. We must not fail to take advantage of this crisis as we will be faced with others and the industry must be prepared.”

This report, and Gil’s fine warning have arrived at a good time. You can download the report and read it here in English and here in Spanish.

At a flea market in Madrid, May 9 of this year, as a state of alarm is lifted. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Oscar Martin

More from Publishing Perspectives on Spain’s market is here, on Latin America is here, on audiobooks is here, on ebooks is here. More on Bookwire is here, and more on Dosdoce is here.

And more from us on the coronavirus pandemic is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

Facebook Twitter

Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.