Market Focus: Inside the Hispanic Book Market
While the Hispanic population in the United States is expected to expand to nearly 50 million by 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, current purchasing patterns indicate that this 16 percent of the nation may not buy books at the same rate as the remaining 84 percent.
Book publishers have different theories as to why this growing market hasn't yet met expectations in terms of sales, as well as some ideas on how to better serve this segment. From embracing Hispanic celebrity influencers to tailoring content to reflect the nuances of this particular culture, publishers may have to adapt and mature before the market segment can reach its full potential.
Strength in Numbers
If the U.S. Census Bureau projection holds true for 2010, the Hispanic population in the United States will have more than doubled since the 1990 figure of 22 million.
"The market for books in Spanish is not proportional to the population, and that has proved to be a disappointment to many publishers," says Larry Bennett, vice president of digital print media and world language materials at Charlotte, N.C.-based book distributor Baker & Taylor. "Many publishers looked at the more-than-50-percent growth of the Hispanic population between the 1990 census and the 2000 census, and said, 'Oh my goodness, there's a huge opportunity here.' And [publishers] were consequently surprised that the sales were not as robust as they thought. But having said that, there's still a robust market.
"There are about 40 million Hispanics in the United States. But, of them, about 15 million are bilingual …, [and] they tend to want to read in the native language of the author," he adds. "… Then, there's some 10 to 15 million who are Spanish-speaking only, and they obviously favor Spanish-language books. And then, there are another 10 or 15 million who are English-speaking only. They might be third, fourth, fifth generation, have a Hispanic name, but only speak a few words of Spanish and certainly not enough to read a book in Spanish."
Since 2000, when the U.S. Hispanic population recorded noticeable growth, many publishers have been learning to cater to this segment's divergent needs.
Illustrating that point, Jamie Carter, operations manager for Publisher Alley—a division of Baker & Taylor that tracks book sales—says that, overall, Spanish-language book sales are increasing, thanks mostly to significant growth in the children's category. Children's hardcover and paperback sales increased 28.1 percent and 40.6 percent, respectively, from 2008 to 2009. While adult paperback sales have increased 2.5 percent during the same time period, hardcover sales decreased 5.4 percent.
A Big Market for Libraries
For Spanish-language titles, Bennett says, public libraries play a huge role in the market's growth.
"I expect the general market for books in Spanish to continue to grow, based on the population growth, and public libraries will continue to have [a] 30- to 40-percent share," Bennett predicts.
Parents interested in teaching their children about their language and their culture find that an early introduction is better, as their children steadily lose interest in the Spanish language while attending English-speaking schools.
Meanwhile, schools are beginning to buy Spanish-language fiction and nonfiction titles as teaching tools, he says.
Nicolás Kanellos, Ph.D., director of University of Houston-based Arte Público Press, says that educators have realized the need for Hispanic-centric materials like children's literature, language-arts books and books in bilingual formats. "This trend will last a long time because of Hispanics having the youngest median age of any part of the U.S. population," he predicts.
What's Hot in Adult Trade Books?
Spanish-language books that are popular among Hispanic adults usually match those popular among the general population, although titles in the self-help genre reflect cultural variances—especially concerning citizenship—Bennett says.
"Nonfiction books on topics that will help newly arrived families begin their life in the United States" are popular for Rayo, the Spanish-language imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, says spokeswoman Erin Crum. These consumers are particularly interested in self-help books with a personal finance focus, she says.
Generally, the human experience translates into any language. For instance, "The Secret" by Rhonda Byrne was the top Spanish-language hardcover title sold through Baker & Taylor in 2008 and so far in 2009.
The book, which debuted in 2006, is an example of Hillsboro, Ore.-based Beyond Words Publishing's new approach to this market segment, says Richard Cohn, the company's founder and publisher.
"Beyond Words is acutely aware of the increasing market share for Spanish-language titles in the United States," he says. "In the past, we would license the Spanish-language rights to our titles to publishers in Spain, Mexico or Latin America. Now, we endeavor to publish new titles both in Spanish and English for North America and license Spanish-language editions abroad.
"'The Secret' is a perfect example," Cohn continues. "Together with our partner, Atria Books of Simon & Schuster, we published the book in English and then brought out the Spanish-language edition, 'El Secreto.' We also created a four-CD audio version, as well as [companion book 'The Secret Gratitude Book'], in both languages."
Know Your Audience
"The challenge is finding the right message and medium to promote titles for each segment," says John Reza, owner of Librería Martinez bookstore in Lynwood, Calif. "Additionally, [the challenge is] knowing which region of Mexico or Latin America that the [reader] is from. Spanish speakers from Miami, most likely, have different backgrounds and needs than Spanish speakers from Los Angeles or Chicago. Selecting the right material to publish, creating the right message and providing the appropriate sales and marketing support is critical."
Kanellos says publishers who are reacting with the most gusto to the Hispanic market "are the large, commercial publishers of textbooks for the lower and middle grades. But, unfortunately, quite often they produce books that are straight translations of their material in English that do not relate to the culture of Hispanic children."
At the same time, Arte Público's imprint for children and young adults, Piñata Books, is seeing increased interest. Kanellos says sales of bilingual children's picture books and middle readers have grown because the publisher "is basing all of these books on the language actually spoken here by Latinos, and on cultural background and situations as lived by Latinos in the United States."
Retail: Supporting the Growth
There's more work to be done to realize the true potential of this market segment, and the recession, shrinking distribution channels and increasing amount of free, online content haven't helped, says Michael Norris, lead trade book publishing analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based research firm Simba Information.
Another hindrance to the market's growth is a shortage of Hispanic-focused retail support, says Kanellos. "Due to the lack of Hispanic bookstores and distributors in Latino communities, much of this potential market is not addressed," he says. "If Spanish-language newspapers are any indication, the market could be very large. Hispanic newspapers are booming, even while English-language dailies are losing their readers, cutting back and/or going under."
"[As a retailer], you also need to go to where they are and not wait for them to come to the usual suspects," Reza says, such as mass-market bookstores.
While Kanellos agrees that publishers could benefit from a larger presence of Hispanic bookstores and distributors in Latino communities, Norris points out that independent bookstores are struggling in all segments, as big-box stores continue to push out smaller booksellers.
He also suggests that "the thing that's really working in favor [of the Hispanic book publishing segment] is that the retailers like Barnes & Noble and Borders, and even independent stores … are expanding their shelves to make room for these titles; they're boasting about their selections; and there are basically more retailers now than, say, four or five years ago [that are] even carrying these books and serving this group," he says.
For HarperCollins' Rayo imprint, this has become an opportunity. "Wal-Mart has supported Spanish-language publishers consistently," Crum says. "In that market, price point is very important because delivering value to the customer is a top priority. Authors who are brand names or celebrities in the Spanish-speaking community, like Isabel Allende, Paulo Coelho, Jorge Ramos and Maria Antonieta Collins, perform very well."
Additionally, author profiles and media coverage on Spanish-language TV stations Univision and Telemundo have been tied closely to traditional bookstore sales in areas with large Hispanic populations, such as Southern California and Texas, and urban markets including Miami and New York, Crum adds.
The Celebrity Advantage
Hispanic celebrities have the same advantages as mainstream personalities—a built-in audience and platform, "except they have the added benefit of also resonating with the largest growing minority in the country," says Raymond Garcia, publisher of the Celebra imprint of the New American Library division of Penguin Group USA, which concentrates on books by Hispanic celebrities, including Soledad O'Brien and Geraldo Rivera.
"An appearance by Oscar de la Hoya at the Pico Rivera Borders store east of Los Angeles drew a major crowd, and more than 500 copies of [his] book ["American Son: My Story"] were sold," notes Crum.
The number of Hispanic celebrities far exceeds those seen on Univision and Telemundo, Garcia says. And Celebra's very existence shows that the mainstream market is embracing Hispanic personalities, just as the Hispanic market embraces mainstream celebrities. (Hispanics are just as likely to embrace Jennifer Lopez as they are Madonna, he says.)
"As the Hispanic market grows, buying power and cultural influence increases," says Garcia. "Hispanics will only become more of a target consumer for any company. … The book publishing industry is no exception."