There is no denying the growing influence the Hispanic population is having on the demographic, social, cultural, and political shifts taking place in the U.S. But lately there has been a growing focus on the religious beliefs of Hispanics and their impact on American churches, thus affecting the religious Spanish-language book market.

The frenzy of books published about the first pontiff from Latin America, Pope Francis, drew much attention from the media and consumers, but for quite some time the media has been underlining the shifts in faith taking place among U.S. Hispanics. NBC Latino published a piece in February 2013 titled, “Latinos Are the Fastest Growing Segments of the Evangelical Movement, the Catholic Church, and the Church of Latter Day Saints.” Shortly after, Time magazine’s cover story of April 15, 2013, “The Latino Reformation: Inside the New Hispanic Churches Transforming Religion in America,” featured Rev. Wilfredo De Jesús, book author and named in 2013 as one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People.

There are two major shifts taking place among Spanish-language faith-based book consumers. One is a growing demand for faith-based books, and the other is the rapid loss of followers of the Catholic Church in Latin America and the fast growth of evangelicals—a trend being mirrored among U.S. Hispanics. These trends were best summarized by Cathy Hickling, director of press relations and publicity for Whitaker House: “There is a revival among Hispanics in the U.S. for faith-inspired books; growth in the evangelical church is creating a demand by this consumer group as never seen before.”

According to a 2012 Pew Research Center Hispanic survey, 83% of Hispanics claim a religious affiliation, a share slightly higher than among non-Hispanics (80%). Given the deep Catholic roots in Latin America, it is not surprising that 62% of Hispanics are Catholic, compared to just 23% of non-Hispanics. Although Hispanics are only 16% of the U.S. population, they are 33% of U.S. Catholics.

These shifts are also being reflected at the cash register. Faith-based books are sold through various channels, and many are not tracked by Nielsen BookScan. Nonetheless, it is not surprising to find several religious-inspired titles and at least a couple of Bibles among the top 20 Spanish-language bestsellers reported by BookScan each week. On a single day in February, Grupo Planeta sold over 72,000 copies of Nada que perder (Nothing to Lose) by Edir Macedo—an unprecedented number of copies for a Spanish-language book in the U.S. Macedo is one of the most prominent evangelists in Brazil and around the world, and has made the Forbes Billionaires list. Rev. De Jesús’s book, Fe asombrosa (Amazing Faith), was a bestseller for the Assemblies of God.

There are over a dozen religious book publishers in the U.S. that publish in Spanish, and several distributors and booksellers that import books primarily from Spain and Mexico. Although several secular publishers came out with books on Pope Francis, it remains to be seen to what extent they will enter this market. Publishers Weekly spoke with several players in this, and the overall consensus is one of growth and expansion as Hispanics look for ways to improve their lives.

With more than 2,500 published titles, Editorial CLIE from Spain has one of the largest catalogs of Spanish-language Christian books. Grupo Nelson, part of Thomas Nelson, which was acquired by HarperCollins Christian Publishing in 2012, has reached an exclusive distribution agreement with Editorial CLIE. This agreement, along with HarperCollins’s ownership of Editorial Vida, which is part of Zondervan, and the acquisition of Thomas Nelson, gives HarperCollins control of over 50% of the of the Christian publishing market in both languages.

Larry Downs, publisher of Grupo Nelson and Editorial Vida, shared with PW the changes taking place at HarperCollins Christian Publishing. “With limited shelf space at retailers, we have become more selective on higher-opportunity books,” Downs says. “We have gone from publishing 100 titles a year to about 40, most being translations of English-language bestsellers such as John Maxwell and Max Lucado.” Downs points out that Editorial Vida will continue to publish around 80 titles a year with less than a third being original works in Spanish.

Charisma Media has been around for 35 years and has been publishing in Spanish as Casa Creación the past 16 years. They currently publish 50–60 titles a year in Spanish, and 40% of their sales come from the U.S. and Puerto Rico, with Puerto Rico being their number one market among all their Spanish-language markets. Approximately 80% of their titles are translations, and they seem to do better than original works in Spanish. Building new readers is still a challenge, but ministries such as those of Joyce Meyer and Joel Osteen, which encourage reading, are helping build an audience for books.

Casa Creación’s Hispanic readers are primarily adults aged 35–44, and these younger readers tend to be more educated and are more likely to read in English than in Spanish. However, Tony Rivera, marketing coordinator for Casa Creación, points out, “The Spanish-language media is realigning to include English-language content, but many of these educated Latinos will also want to read in Spanish as being bilingual is an asset in today’s market.”

Established by veteran missionaries to Spain Harold and Esther Kregel, Editorial Portavoz relocated its publishing program in 1982 to Kregel, Inc., in Grand Rapids. Today it offers over 500 evangelical titles in Spanish and publishes 30–40 titles a year with some of the most successful books being Bibles for adults and children. Portavoz is also one of the hosts of the annual summit of the Spanish Evangelical Publishers Association (SEPA).

Whitaker Corporation, which encompasses Whitaker House and Anchor Distributors, publishes 15–20 titles a year in Spanish and distributes over 1,000 titles through Anchor Distributors. They have been publishing in Spanish for over 20 years but have been doing it more aggressively in the past five years. The growth in the Spanish-language book market is what encouraged them to make a greater commitment to meeting the demands of this consumer. Although much of the growth has come from foreign sales, the U.S. market has also tripled for them in the past five years. Spanish-language books account for slightly more than 10% of their sales. Bob Whitaker Jr., president of Whitaker Corporation, comments, “One of the things we have realized is that Hispanic consumers are not as price sensitive as we had originally thought. Many of our Spanish-language titles are now priced the same as the English-language version.” Although translations make up about 80% of Whitaker House’s Spanish-language book sales, their goal is to find more Latino writers and offer a wider selection of original works in Spanish.

Bob Whitaker Jr. laments that they don’t publish Bibles as they are the number one sellers on the distribution side of the business. Content and not price is what is driving the selection of books being offered. Just as in the secular Spanish-language book market, fiction has not done as well for Whitaker as how-to books that provide answers for those seeking guidance on how to deal with life’s challenges.

Editorial Unilit has been publishing books in Spanish since 1989. They currently publish 120 titles a year but are looking to reduce that by half as the market is not able to absorb all of the titles. Michael Proenza, director of marketing for Unilit, points out that independent English-language bookstores are now making room for Spanish-language books and that the sales of Bibles have increased in the past few years. Overall, Unilit’s sales of books in Spanish have increased significantly in the past few years but not without challenges. Proenza says, “The growing number of evangelicals is creating a greater demand for certain books. Information is not as centralized as materials for Catholics. Therefore, a wider range of material is required.”

The Assemblies of God have been publishing in Spanish since the 1920s, but it wasn’t until 2010 that they began to focus on and expand their Spanish-language offerings and branch out into the trade market. Aside from publishing 10–12 titles a year, they also distribute the books of other publishers but are very selective in their collection. Previously they distributed their titles through Zondervan but now distribute their own books and are focused on building relationships with retailers.

PW spoke with Rebekah Clute, Spanish editorial services manager for Assemblies of God, about the changes in this market in the past few years. She said, “The Spanish-language market is no longer an afterthought for publishers. They are realizing the shifts in the demographic—a growing number of Hispanic consumers and with greater levels of education. Publishers see these consumers as a buyable market and are being more proactive in reaching them and producing quality material in Spanish.” Clute went on to say that publishers have had to step up their game as there is greater competition for this consumer. Hispanics are also more enamored with technology, so e-books and apps are all part of the mix of what needs to be offered in Spanish, particularly for the children’s and young adult market. The Assemblies of God began this year to publish story apps in the Kid Bible Heroes series with games and interactive animation built into them. These apps provide customers the option of reading in English, Spanish, or Portuguese.

A relative newcomer is Convivium Press, based in Miami with offices in Venezuela. Convivium primarily provides resources in the fields of religious studies and Christian living of classic authors and contemporary voices. Their model is a bit different as they publish primarily in Spanish but also offer the works of Hispanic voices in English. They publish works mostly on theology, philosophy, Bible and Semitic studies, Christian spirituality, and literature with a theological perspective.

For most publishers, an area of growth will continue to be Bibles. To a lesser degree, reference material is also likely to see growth. The sale of books online and e-books will continue to grow and at a much faster rate as more inexpensive electronic reading devices enter the Latin American market. This is encouraging publishers in the U.S. and abroad to increase their offerings of e-books in Spanish.

Religious publishers have never fully relied on bookstores for the sale of their books, so the diminishing shelf space that has afflicted secular publishers has not affected them to the same degree.

Peter Cerra, senior director of sales and marketing for Editorial Portavoz, shared his thoughts on how the market has transformed in the last five years: “The U.S. market has shifted. In some cases, bookstores have reduced their Spanish-area footprint. They either have a lack of traffic in their stores, or lack of bilingual sales associates, or a lack of knowledge in how to promote the product to the Spanish-speaking community. The Spanish-primary bookstores and distributors have maintained their sales or grown in the same time period.” Cerra is optimistic and thinks that if booksellers work at attracting Spanish-language consumers, they will gain a loyal client base. Ernesto Martinez, formerly with BookMasters and now national sales manager with Giron Books, explains that traditional bookstores have been hesitant to sell religious books, possibly due to a lack of understanding of the communities they serve.

For publishers such as Whitaker Corporation, big-box stores and chain retailers have become key points of sales. They also sell their books through hospital gift shops, pharmacies, and to some extent grocery stores. Diane Rogers, Whitaker’s Spanish sales manager, says, “It is becoming easier to sell into independent Hispanic book stores as they are more familiar with what their readers are looking for.” Editorial Unilit has even been able to offer their books through gas stations and airport retailers.

With limited shelf space at retailers, both retailers and publishers have become more selective of higher-opportunity books. Also to make up for this lack of shelf space, most publishers have increased their sales efforts in the specialty sales market beyond ministries and church groups. Diversification in distribution and sales channels has become the name of the game—faith-based books can even be found for sale at Avon’s and Herbalife’s national conferences. In order to diversity their sales efforts, Editorial Vida and Grupo Nelson recently launched, an online portal made specifically for Spanish-speaking leaders, which includes free book excerpts, pastoral advice, and access to an online store that offers Spanish-language products.

A shift in religious beliefs has also affected where faith-based books are sold. Proenza of Editorial Unilit points out, “Among the predominantly English-speaking churches, many have their own store in which books are sold, but this is not as common to see among the Spanish-dominant churches.”

Distributors such as BookMasters have decided to go beyond Catholic churches and archdioceses with their Spanish-language titles and are reaching out to evangelical and Baptist bookstores. USAMadrid Books, founded in 2007 by Pilar Pardo, distributes books from about 30 different publishers mostly from Spain and a few from Mexico. Most of their clients are Catholic bookstores, independent bookstores, and stores associated with specific parishes. Online sales, both from their site and Amazon, make up about 20% of their sales, but Pardo says that figure is increasing. When asked about her sale of e-books, Pardo responds, “Many of the books are not yet available in an e-book format, and I am not too worried as the demand is not as great as it is in English, at least not yet.”

Most of the publishers PW spoke with indicated that their new releases are being published in an e-book format at the same time as the printed book. Having their backlist available in an e-book format is a much slower process, and some are opting to do this only for their bestsellers.

Just as in the secular market, Spanish-language e-books are not having as much of an impact on the market at this time, but publishers all sense it is just around the corner. Having seen what has happened on the English-language side, they are all preparing to deal with the changes. Publishers such as Whitaker Corporation have already seen how the sale of e-books online is hurting bookstores. Other publishers such as Portavoz don’t believe e-books in Spanish will have as strong an impact on the market as e-books in English have had. And yet distributors such as BookMasters are pleased to see a growing demand by churches that are using e-books as a tool to teach Sunday school.

There are also a growing number of online retailers pursuing the Spanish-language e-book market. As Larry Downs of Grupo Nelson notes, “The growth in sales of e-books has been more than 100%, and we know sales will continue to increase as e-tailers continue to promote e-books in Spanish, such as the newly launched” There is also Google Play and newly launched, which are also seeking a share of the market.

There are several national and regional conferences where faith-based books can be found. Similar to the International Christian Retailer Show is Expolit, which takes place every May and has been going on for over 20 years and is owned by the same company that owns Editorial Unilit. Expolit covers the world of Spanish Christian publishing, and it is both a trade and consumer event. There is also the summit of the Spanish Evangelical Publishers Association (SEPA) to be held in Nashville, November 18–22, and hosted by B&H Publishing Group and HarperCollins Christian Publishing. All the major Spanish Christian publishers are part of this, but the show is not open to the public. Additional conferences that include some books in Spanish are the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the University of Dallas Ministry Conference, and the Catholic Marketing Network.