Lessons From Creating the World’s Largest Spanish Ebook Catalogue

By Adrián Puentes  & Joana Costa Knufinke

Ed Note: the repercussions of global ebook publishing will be one of the major areas of investigation at our annual Digital Book World Conference on January 23-25, 2012 in New York. To hear more from Patricia, and others like her at major retailers and global publishers, and to save $400 on registration, you must sign up before October 1, 2011. Register here.

Patricia Arancibia arrived in the United States from Argentina shortly after the data from the 2000 U.S. Census was released.  Thanks to the Census, the publishing industry realized that, with 35.3 million Hispanics, the country had a new body of readers to attend to. Ten years have passed since then, years that have witnessed, among other events, the worst crisis in the American publishing industry, as well as the advent and consolidation of ebooks in the territory.

After completing the Masters in Publishing at NYU, Patricia began work at Barnes & Noble, where she has had a key role in the implementation of its Spanish catalogue, in both print and digital. Currently, as International Content Manager, Patricia is constantly travelling and connecting with editors all around the world. She also “evangelizes,” as she puts it, about the importance of languages other than English in the American publishing market. Barnes & Noble has more than 40 thousand ebooks for sale in Spanish, and has expanded its catalogue to titles in Italian, German and Russian, among other languages.

The latest U.S. Census has confirmed that there are now more than 50.5 million Hispanics in the United States (more than the entire population of Spain). In this context, Patricia shares her opinions and tells us about her experience with B&N.

What has it been like to create the largest Spanish ebook catalogue in the world?

Part of the process has been similar to the print book. However, in digital, authors can directly publish in certain platforms, with us or with others. Also, if you are a small or mid-size publisher in Colombia, Chile, Argentina or Madrid, entering the digital world implies digitalizing the catalogue. Part of this process is ensuring that the digitalization of the catalogue is done correctly. This is different from when digital publication was new. Back then, a lot of people would send a PDF file, just like that.

I have asked editors to please secure the electronic rights to works, because this is something that has to be done quickly, and negotiating with authors and agents is a long process. At the same time, they know at the outset that despite the investment of time and money, they will not see any benefits from it for the next 5 years. This is difficult.  In my case, I have tried to focus on lists and titles that have good potential for this market.

Do you think that, generally, what sells in print Spanish also sells as ebooks?

For the time being, yes. The problem is that, in Spain, not everyone has entered the digital world. Moreover, we never had a huge variety of titles: if you have only 20 titles in one category, it is difficult to determine what the tendency is. I cannot tell an international editor, “This kind of book sells a lot here,” if that kind of book has never existed in the United States. Therefore, it is necessary to test. Also, it is important to take into account that the ebook provides immediacy. A good example of this was when the story of the Chilean miners took place: three books were immediately published in Spanish.

In any case, it is not true that everything is international. In Argentina, for example, political books sell very well, but here, they are not interesting even to scholars who study the history of Argentina. However, the good thing is that then you can say, “It is interesting that I care about something, and there are people on the other side of the Andes or in the Caribbean doing the same thing.” I think digital brings a great possibility for exchange: there are 25 countries that share the same language, and there are hardly any restrictions on distribution.  Now, thanks to the ebook, small editors can think globally, even in a specific niche.

It makes the long tail model possible in Spanish: you can reach other niches even if they are found in another country…

Yes, I think that is very important. However, we need to take into account that ecommerce has never fully existed in Spanish-speaking countries as it has existed here in the United States. In Spanish-speaking countries it is possible to make purchases online to companies located in other countries. However, this is one thing. Another one is how it is done here in the United States, that people search online at the same time they are also watching T.V.

What marketing strategies do you use to reach the audiences that read in languages other than English in digital format?

The promotion of a book is a question for the publisher. But there are things we can do at Barnes & Noble. For example, if you return to our website and you have already bought a book in Spanish, there is something we call “affinities,” that depend on what you bought before. Therefore, when I open my Nook, it shows me history and economy books, and books in Spanish, because this is what I bought before.

However, in general, the promotion of books in Spanish outside Spanish- speaking countries is nearly nil.

What publishers do you think that are doing a good job of promoting their books digitally at the international level?

I think that Random House Mondadori manages their online marketing well. In fact, this is something well-known in the industry. Even if they do it from Spain, they do it for the whole Latin America and the United States. But there are things that can be done for free. For example, the information associated with books has to be search-friendly. I always say that here, from the very beginning, editors and distributors of print books in Spanish asked for all the book descriptions to be written in English, because they were meant for people who did not read Spanish. And I used to say: but I aim at the final consumer, the English description does not have any use to me!

Adrián Puentes was born in Santiago, Chile. Before coming to New York he worked as editor, first in an academic magazine and then in a newspaper for undergraduate students in Santiago. He also was instructor in a Copy-Editing Workshop for journalism students at the Catholic University of Chile. He is currently finishing the Masters in Publishing at NYU, and has worked as an intern at McGraw Hill Higher Education and, currently, in the Foreign and Subsidiary Rights Department of Abrams Books.

Joana Costa Knufinke was born in Barcelona, Spain. Before coming to the United States, she pursued a publishing career first as an intern at a film and literary agency, later in a rights department of RBA Libros, and afterwards as an editor of children’s and young adult books at the same publishing house. She is currently a Fulbright Scholar at the Masters in Publishing Program at NYU and also is a PhD candidate at The Literature Program of the University of Barcelona.


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