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Mexican independent publishers and booksellers gain momentum

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At this year’s Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL), which took place from November 27 to December 5, two newly founded Mexican publishing associations worked to further establish their credibility within the international publishing community. La Liga de Editores Independientes (LEI), or the League of Independent Publishers, and the Red de Librerías Independientes (RELI), or the network of independent bookstores, were created in 2019 in response to increasing pressure from major publishers and chains bookstores, and both have found themselves essential to serving their communities through the challenges of the pandemic.

Like independent publishers elsewhere in the world, small Mexican presses shape their identities by publishing rigorous selections of books, often engaging with little-known or emerging authors. But this job has never been easy, especially in the shadow of the publishing conglomerates.

In 2019, Mexico City’s Ministry of Culture canceled El Gran Remate de Libros (The Big Book Sale), one of the most important mainstream book fairs, prompting a group of independent publishers to discuss the organization of an alternative fair and led to the creation of LEI. At FIL this year, the group, which includes 13 publishers, including Canta Mares, Palindrome and Nitro Press, presented itself for the first time as a collective by choosing to exhibit together.

Alejandro Zenker, publisher of Ediciones del Ermitaño and founding member of LEI, stresses that one of the main priorities of the organization and of independent publishers in general is to foster “bibliodiversity”. The goal, he says, is to maintain a vibrant ecosystem that makes available the widest variety of writing on the widest variety of subjects, not just books that have the potential for commercial success.

Zenker acknowledges that the pandemic has brought about changes. “Going virtual has brought a series of collateral benefits,” he says, “such as the new ability to regularly communicate with and sell books throughout Mexico. On the other hand, there was the partial or total closure of bookstores, which had an impact on the result. However, facing a situation as difficult as the one we live in today was more bearable in company than in solitude.

Zenker is optimistic that the market will embrace more books from independent publishers, despite the fact that a small number of large publishers produce the majority of titles and promote the most.

Also established in 2019, RELI currently has 40 members who have come together to establish best practices for small bookstores. The organization was founded to represent “the real booksellers, those who know and smell their books,” says Claudia Bautista, president of RELI and CEO of Hyperión Librería, a store in Xalapa, Veracruz.

The Mexican bookstore scene is dominated by a handful of major chains, including Librerías Ghandi, Librerías Gonville, Librerías el Sótano, and Librerías Fondo de Cultura Economica, while Amazon is the clear leader online. At the start of the pandemic, many independent bookstores found themselves particularly vulnerable as most lacked an online presence. “We were at a great disadvantage,” says Bautista.

With the support of Librerías el Sótano, RELI was able to launch the libreriasindependientes.com.mx website, which serves as a collective online retailer allowing consumers to purchase books and have them delivered to stores of their choice. “It was important for us to contribute to the health and vitality of our entire community of booksellers,” says Fernando Pascual, Managing Director of Librerías el Sótano, explaining why the retailer has partnered with the association.

Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial, one of Mexico’s largest publishers, also offered assistance to bookstores, giving them more time to complete their payments. And he’s working on a plan to connect many stores with Metabooks, the metadata and database service, and eventually to offer drop-shipping services to independent bookstores that support e-commerce.

“We are still working on these ideas and hope to implement more of them over the next year,” said Roberto Banchik, CEO of PRHGE México, adding that the company’s overall sales had not returned to the levels of. before the pandemic until July.

Book sales in Mexico fell 25% in 2020, from $ 525 million in 2019 to $ 396 million, according to the National Chamber of the Mexican Book Industry (CANIEM), which released the statistics during the thread. One of the notable changes was the spike in e-book sales last year, which reached $ 17 million, representing 4% of total book revenue, up from 1.6% in 2019. CANIEM estimates that sales for 2021 will reach $ 560 million, a jump of 41.7. % from 2020 and 6.8% from 2019.

That said, many publishers believe CANIEM’s numbers are skewed. The belief is that some sales, including those made through Amazon, which now represent up to 50% of some publishers’ revenues, are not taken into account by CANIEM’s reporting methodology.

Demand is increasing in the United States

The English-language content market is growing in Mexico, and more than 12.5 million English-language books were sold there in 2020, according to CANIEM. Likewise, in the United States, the Spanish-language book market continues to grow, according to Alex Correa, president and CEO of Lectorum Publications, a New Jersey-based publisher and distributor specializing in Spanish books. “I’ve said it over and over again, but this boom in demand for Spanish material is happening all over the United States, in large part thanks to the creation of bilingual schools,” says Correa, who worked at FIL. “I predict that if the Biden administration were to implement universal pre-K funding, this market would grow even further.”

Of course, Lectorum is not immune to the effects of bottlenecks and supply chain issues. “We have seen our sales drop by up to 50% in the second quarter of 2020 compared to 2019 and 30% overall for 2020,” Correa said. “But since February of this year, they’ve made a full recovery and so far 2021 has been the best selling year we’ve ever had.”

América Gutiérrez Espinosa is the Information Director of PW en Español in Mexico.

A version of this article appeared in the 6/12/2021 issue of Editors Weekly under the title: the rise of the Mexican Indies