In recent months, the double-digit sales growth of e-books in English has begun to plateau, but since the Spanish-language book market tends to be around three to five years behind the English-language market, e-book sales of Spanish books in the U.S. are just beginning to gain traction. Publishers of Spanish books based both in the U.S. and abroad are positioning themselves to benefit from the hoped-for uptick in sales.
One sign of the growth in importance of e-books can be seen on Amazon, where, on any given day, around 65% of the top 100 books in Spanish are e-books. That number is nearly 50% on bookseller sites like Barnes & Noble.com. The growth in the Spanish e-book market is due to a combination of more publishers offering increasing amounts of titles in this format, and to more devices being purchased by Hispanics. Latinos in the U.S. are increasingly reading and listening to their books on such devices as the Kindle, Nook, and Apple iPad and iPhone. A recent study by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project showed Hispanics adopting e-readers and tablets much faster than the U. S. population as a whole. In 2011, about 5% of Hispanics owned such a device, the study found. In 2012, that number rose to nearly 20%.
In addition, as the total U.S. Hispanic population grows, the demand for e-books in Spanish evolves with it. Research shows that although there are over 50 million Hispanics in the U. S., less than 50% read in Spanish. The actual number of potential Spanish-language book buyers is closer to 12 million, which still makes the U.S. the 10th most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world.
Vendors and Selections on the Rise
To meet the growing demand for Spanish-language e-books, Amazon’s eBooks Kindle en Español store currently offers over 70,000 books in Spanish—more than double the number of e-books in Spanish that were available when the store launched in April 2012. This is around the same number of titles offered by other online retailers like Bajalibros.com and BN.com (Amazon has about 1 million Spanish-language print titles for sale).
From the publishers’ side, Vintage Español, an imprint of the newly formed Penguin Random House, publishes around 50–60 titles a year. “More than 90% of our titles are also published in a digital version,” says Jaime De Pablos, publishing director of the imprint. “We have seen a substantial increase in e-book sales for our print bestsellers.” This trend is also mirrored by Celebra and C.A. Press, the two other Penguin Random House imprints that publish books in Spanish.
Santillana USA director Silvia Matute says that the publisher currently offers around 3,400 titles in e-book format. She expects this number to grow to 4,000 by the end of 2014. The genre breakdown is approximately 65% fiction, 30% nonfiction, and 5% children’s titles.
Open Road Integrated Media is a new player on the Spanish e-book field. “Our goal this year is to offer around 300 backlist titles, including 16 titles from the immensely popular Chicken Soup for the Soul series,” says cofounder and CEO Jane Friedman.
While the number of adult titles offered by publishers is increasing rapidly, children’s titles seem to be on a much slower curve. Spanish-language book distributor and publisher Lectorum Publications currently offers around 150 children’s titles in e-book format. “Initially, we saw a demand for e-books from libraries and schools, but that interest faded quickly, as school budgets were reduced and teachers preferred physical books,” says owner Alex Correa.
Another important factor in upping the number of Spanish-language titles now available for sale is that the vast majority of digital titles offered in the U. S. are titles that were originally published overseas. This has opened a window for foreign-based publishers to finally enter the U.S. marketplace, as the logistics and costs of distributing and selling print books in the country had been prohibitive for many. To maintain their market share, some domestic publishers like Vintage Español, Santillana USA, and Open Road partner with foreign counterparts to also offer these foreign-published e-books to the U.S. reader.
Baker & Taylor is another American company that has partnered with a Spanish company. Last summer it signed a deal with e-Libros to provide e-books in Spanish to libraries in the U.S. These titles are mainly for academic research and include such genres as computer science, economics, engineering, fine arts, health sciences, law, politics, psychology, and European and American classics. According to Diane Mangan, divisional merchandising director, B&T currently offers 15,000–20,000 e-books in Spanish through e-Libros. The distributor also offers digital content from U.S. trade publishers that publish in Spanish, though it currently has a very limited number of trade e-books from foreign publishers. “But we are actively looking to substantially increase the number of Spanish-language digital titles from foreign publishers in the very near future,” says Joe Schick, director of global digital content.
The combination of more titles being available as e-books and more readers with digital devices has led to good growth for some publishers. According to Johanna Castillo, v-p and senior editor of the Simon & Schuster imprint Atria, Spanish-language e-books sales have increased between 300% and 400% in the past three years. In 2013, Atria’s Inquebrantable (Unbreakable), the autobiography of Jenni Rivera, sold 17,000 Spanish-language copies in the e-book format while the English digital version sold nearly 25,000 units.
Penguin Random House has had several bestsellers in recent years. Viviendo by actress and television host Adamari Lopez, sold around 14,000 e-books, while Salvando Vidas by fitness instructor José Fernández reached nearly 12,000 units. These numbers still pale in comparison to the Fifty Shades juggernaut—the combined total for the three e-books in Spanish sold nearly 100,000 units.
Sales for Santillana USA were up 31% from 2012 to 2013, with approximately 15% of the company’s revenue in the U.S. coming from e-book sales. Santillana’s title La verdad sobre el caso Harry Quebert has actually sold more in digital than in print.
Bajalibros.com has seen sales double over the last year. “Some months even show a 50% increase over the previous month,” says founder and CEO Viviana Zocco. She attributes this growth to the increased selection of titles, more Hispanics using devices to read books, and the ease of finding out-of-print titles in a digital format.
Price point continues to be a driving force and a source of contention. As with e-books in English, the price of e-books in Spanish runs the gamut from 99¢ and up. While publishers want to maintain a higher price for their e-books, online retailers like Amazon would rather see these prices go down even further. As a way to generate interest and sales, publishers are working with Amazon to do weekend promotions, when an e-book normally priced at $9.99 and above is lowered to around $3.99 and is featured prominently on the main Kindle en Español page as a way to spark sales.
Marketing E-books in Spanish
As with all books, discoverability is one of the biggest hurdles authors and publishers need to overcome. This is even more problematic for e-books in Spanish, as media platforms are limited. Social media is one of the tools publicists and authors are using to break through the noise. Authors are creating their own web pages and linking them to a variety of bookseller sites for readers to purchase their e-books.
Most major houses have Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter accounts targeted at the Spanish-language reader and linking back to their web pages in Spanish. They use them to announce upcoming titles, showcase author interviews, and provide exclusive content. Bajalibros.com sponsors author events and presentations as a way to generate greater interest for books and create brand recognition. Open Road Integrated Media is reaching out to Spanish cultural centers, libraries, and bloggers to get the word out about its backlist titles.
However, backlist and new authors still lag very far behind in e-book sales. The publicity for a bestseller in print usually carries over to the e-book version and drives sales to both that author’s new and previous titles. The same is not true for backlist titles, and publishers are struggling to find ways to get the word out about a new edition.
Despite working with social media channels to promote their titles, companies in the Spanish-language market acknowledge that it remains difficult to attract attention to backlist and midlist books, whether those titles are in print or digital. For one thing, there is a dearth of Spanish-language book reviewers in the U.S. “Breaking out a new author or new translation continues to be a big hurdle,” says Aleyso Bridger, a literary agent specializing in Spanish-language books. “Like many media outlets in English, there has been a sharp cutback in the number of people reviewing books. Therefore, most of the media attention goes to authors that are already household names.”
The Effect of Self Publishing
As the popularity of self-publishing in general has grown, both Atria and Santillana USA are beginning to look at acquiring works from popular self-published authors. Later this year, Atria will publish an e-only format of the Spanish version of Raising a Bilingual Child.
Libraries are increasingly turning to digital versions to meet the demand for Spanish-language books due to lack of shelf space, restrictive budgets, and consumer demand. According to the American Library Association, 76% of libraries in the U.S. now have access to e-books in Spanish, but not all areas are equally represented. For example, while 95% of libraries in New York State now offer e-books to readers, only 55% do so in Arizona.
The success of English-language e-books appears ready to spill over into the Spanish market. New vendors and publishers are getting into the market, while established players are aggressively defending their hard-earned territory. All the new activity gives the Spanish-language e-book market a solid foundation on which to grow.
Growing Demand for Spanish-language E-books
Amazon’s eBooks Kindle en Español store currently offers over 70,000 books in Spanish.
Vintage Español, an imprint of newly formed Penguin Random House, publishes around 50–60 title a year. “More than 90% of our titles are also published in a digital version,” says Jamie De Pablos, publishing director of the imprint.
Santillana USA currently offer around 3,400 titles in e-book format, says Silvia Matute director of Santillana USA, and she expects the number will grow to 4,000 by the end of 2014.
Baker & Taylor currently offers 15,000–20,000 e-books in Spanish through e-Libros.
In 2013, Atria’s Inquebrantable (Unbreakable), the autobiography of Jenni Rivera, sold 17,000 Spanish-launguage copies in the e-book format while the English digital version sold nearly 25,000 units.
Penguin Random House has had several bestsellers in recent years. Viviendo by actress and television host Adamari Lopez sold around 14,000 e-books, while Salvando Vidas by fitness instructor Jose Fernandez reached nearly 12,000 units.
Bajalibros.com sponsors author events and presentations as a way to generate greater interest for books and create brand recognition.