The Latino Market: Tongue Twister
The Rayo venture is just one example of publishers that were eager to capitalize on the Latin boom. But having a crack editorial team and an impressive list isn't enough. Along with all the challenges faced by English-language publishing, book publishers wanting to capture the Hispanic market face the most elemental question of all: Which language do we choose?
Se Habla Español?
"It's really a bilingual market," says Kirk Whisler, president of Western Publication Research (WPR), which publishes the National Hispanic Readership Study. "Sixteen percent speak Spanish-only, 16 percent speak English-only, but everyone else is bilingual. Looking at [the market] in terms of one language or another is not showing it the respect it deserves."
John Byrd, of Cinco Puntos Press, is inclined to agree. Though it's tiny, El Paso-based Cinco Puntos (named for the founders' Five Points neighborhood) has a list of accomplishments that would make any publisher courting the Hispanic market green with envy: It's been inducted into the Latino Literary Hall of Fame, whose mission is to promote literacy and literary excellence in Latino communities. It's received grants from el Fideicomiso para la Cultura de México-Estado Unidos, an initiative founded in 1991 between the Mexican National Foundation of Arts and Culture and the Rockefeller Foundation to foster cultural collaboration between Mexico and the U.S. It was given a special Southwest Book Award for outstanding achievement in bringing national recognition to regional literature, and it even made waves in national news when the NEA canceled its grant to publish a book by Chiapas revolutionary Subcomandante Marcos.
Despite all these Latino book-world bona fides, Cinco Puntos Press doesn't publish Spanish-language books. "We've experimented a little with Spanish-only publishing," says John Byrd, CEO, via email, "but it wasn't very successful for us. Our market really seems to prefer the bilingual format." Byrd says he doesn't have any statistical information to back that up, but he does know that teachers keep thanking him for publishing bilingual books. "It makes them feel like they're getting twice what they paid for."