Frankfurt: An Executive Talk with Planeta CEO Jesús Badenes

In News by Porter Anderson

Jesús Badenes: Many Spanish consumers now say they were sustained during tough pandemic conditions by friends, family—and books.

Jesús Badenes del Río. Image: Grupo Planeta

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

Event Preview: Publishing Perspectives Executive Talk with Grupo Planeta CEO Jesús Badenes del Río, moderated by Porter Anderson at Frankfurt Studio, Hall 4.0, 12 noon October 19, in recognition of Frankfurter Buchmesse’s Guest of Honor Spain.

Badenes: ‘Clear Growth’
As the 2022 edition of Frankfurter Buchmesse gets underway, the first Executive Talk seen at Frankfurt Studio (Hall 4.0)—the trade show’s live-streamed event facility—will be Publishing Perspectives‘ one-on-one conversation with Jesús Badenes del Río.

Badenes, since March 2000, has been CEO of the  Planeta Group’s books division—the largest publishing group in the Spanish-language market, with more than 70 imprints. With Frankfurt Guest of Honor Spain bringing its new pavilion display and programming to Buchmesse this year, the moment is right to access Badenes’ deep first-hand knowledge of the book business, his company’s success, and the challenges he sees in the industry today.

Affable and forthright, Badenes is a steadying personality, a man with a sense of humor fine-tuned by those more-than two decades of experience, and prior positions in finance, business efficiency, and energy.

In outlining basic talking points to be touched on in the conversation, we turn first, of course, to the question of the still-ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the Spanish book business.

“From an overall perspective, and in a similar manner in which it has occurred in some other European and North American countries,” Badenes says, “we have seen clear growth in recent years. The 2021 closing figures show a 16-percent revenue increase over those registered in 2019. The market is still the black in 2022, and will accumulate 20-percent growth in comparison to 2019,” the last year prior to the onset of pandemic conditions.

“If we look at readership time-allocation in Spain during the worst part of the pandemic,” he says, “we first look at ‘frequent readers,’ who make up approximately 50 percent of the population that claims to read books at all–that latter, bigger group being some 68 percent of the total population. The most avidly reading group devoted eight hours and 20 minutes to reading books weekly, compared to six hours 50 minutes before COVID-19. Today, with most restrictive effects of the pandemic over, that ‘frequent reader’ group reports reading seven hours and 20 minutes weekly.”

And the positive contribution of books to coping with the most difficult of the spread-mitigation efforts triggered by COVID-19, Badenes says, has not only been quantitative, since many Spaniards now cite books as having been one of the three more important factors in handling the experience, together with family and friends.

In terms of genres, fiction—including comics—as well as children’s and YA literature “have led this market increase,” Badenes says, “fueled by e-commerce during the pandemic, which has represented 32 percent of the market in 2021. In 2022, on the contrary, we’re seeing a decrease in e-commerce together with an increase in sales registered in independent bookshops.”

The Spain-Latin American Factor

One key question for many about the enormous Spanish-language world is how the industry of Spain itself and the Latin American markets interact. In terms of the pandemic era, in particular, Badenes points out that in some Latin American markets, there’s a less mature development at this point in e-commerce, along with personal financial habits geared more to physical retail than online.  This means, of course, that those markets are likely to have experienced a stronger negative impact from the pathogen’s effects than Spain did, unable to compensate for lagging physical sales with digital retail.

The marketing payoff: “We’ve recovered traditional marketing and communication skills, while keeping our newly developed digital marketing plans in place, as well.”Jesús Badenes, Grupo Planeta

“But, in general terms,” he says, “the shape of the revenue curve has mirrored the evolution registered in Spain. The year 2020 registered a decrease in revenues, but 2021 and 2022 have been recovery years.”

It’s worth noting, too, that 2020 was the year in which “e-commerce and ebooks helped publishers to make their books available to readers,” Badenes says, “especially during March, April, and May, in which brick-and-mortar bookshops remained closed. That year, e-commerce represented 35 percent of book sales in Spain—up from 22 percent in the previous year—and ebooks and audiobooks weighted 7 percent of total sales.”

The year 2021, then, saw a sharp increase of book sales in bookshops, he says, and growth was flat in e-commerce. This year, however, bookshops continue to rise, representing 69 percent of total sales, e-commerce accounting for 25 percent, and digital formats 6 percent.

The readjustment, back to a prominence for physical retail, in other words, is moving along smartly.

In an interesting development in marketing that we’ve heard adamantly echoed this year by James Daunt, CEO of Waterstones and Barnes & Noble, Badenes says, “COVID-19 has reshaped our marketing skills as an organization by improving our digital capabilities.

“Authors and editors have promoted their books very successfully online. With the end of the restrictive measures associated with COVID-19, we’ve recovered traditional marketing and communication skills, while keeping our [newly developed] digital marketing plans” in place, as well.

More on October 19 in Frankfurt Studio

Much more is ahead in our special Publishing Perspectives Executive Talk with Jesús Badenes at noon on Frankfurter Buchmesse’s opening day, October 19. This year Frankfurt Studio will welcome a live audience to each event, and you’re invited to join us. Trade visitors and exhibitors at Frankfurt are encouraged to participate, and we’ll be happy to entertain questions you may have for Badenes during our exclusive conversation.

Frankfurt Studio is again in Hall 4.0, ground floor—turn left after entering from the Agora.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Spanish publishing market is here, more on Grupo Planeta is here, more on the Latin American markets is here, more on Frankfurter Buchmesse is here, and more on the Guest of Honor Spain program is hereMore from us on the still-ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

For more special programming at Frankfurter Buchmesse—including sessions with Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial CEO Núria Cabutí; HarperCollins UK CEO Charlie Redmayne; Scholastic CEO Peter Warwick, and Curtis-Brown Group CEO Jonny Geller—join us for the inaugural edition of Publishing Perspectives Forum, a two-day program of leading and influential professionals in the international publishing industry discussing today’s challenges, dynamics, and trends.

Attendance is free of charge for all Frankfurter Buchmesse exhibitors and trade visitors. The program language is English. You’ll find full details and developing news here. Note that while our talk with Jesús Badenes is in the Frankfurt Studio facility, the Publishing Perspectives Forum events are in Messe Frankfurt’s Congress Center, second level, Room Spektrum.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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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.