The Latino Market: Tongue Twister
Cinco Puntos' location—right on the border with Mexico—makes a big difference. When Byrd's parents, Bobby and Lee, started the press 27 years ago, they did so to raise awareness of border issues. Things have changed since then, Byrd says—soon we'll "all" be living on the border: "In some ways, you could say that we're living in the future here in El Paso. The big demographic shifts that are predicted in the coming decades are old hat here on the border. We're already living them."
And that includes language. "El Paso is a bilingual town. If you walk down the street, you're just as likely to hear people speaking English as Spanish. You might even hear both in the same conversation. Making books that reflect that seems natural."
And it's not just in El Paso. That kind of mixed conversation—what linguists call code-switching and everyone else calls Spanglish—manifests in many ways. "It's interesting, the reading trends within the Latino market," Whisler says. "They'd prefer to read that novel, or spiritual book, in the language they grew up speaking. But if it's a how-to book, they'll gravitate toward that in English."
Such subtleties aside, Spanish-language readership is up. The most recent National Hispanic Readership Study—which measures book-buying habits of Hispanic newspaper-readers—shows a 66 percent increase in book purchases between 2000 and 2010, and an 88 percent increase for books in Spanish.
Random House's Vintage Español has been quite successful publishing solely in Spanish. Seven of Amazon's top 10 bestselling books in its "Foreign Language & Literature" section are Vintage Español, and chain bookstore shelves are heavy with the imprint. Vintage Español Director Jaime DePablos says that when it comes to Latinos, they consider their target audience to be native Spanish speakers—which is a small market. "Out of the estimated 40 to 50 million Hispanics," DePablos says via email, "we estimate (emphasis on 'estimate') that there are no more than 7 to 8 million potential native Spanish readers. If you then factor in economics, education, etc., you get the difference between an English bestseller, which can easily sell a few million copies, to a Spanish bestseller, which will very rarely surpass 100,000 copies."