The Latino/Hispanic Book Market
‘Latino/Hispanic Book Market’ is meant herein to include books in English or bilingual (English/Spanish) and/or Spanish about Latinos or written by Latino authors.
What motivates Latino/Hispanic publishers to endeavor day and day out releasing new titles? This question cannot be answered unless we explore the Latino/Hispanic publishing effort in the U.S.
Hispanic publishing in the United States is best described as a multitude of small niches. Although this is also true of traditional publishing, Cooking, Gardening, Psychology, Fiction, and many other subjects, Latino publishing niches are rather small, and sometimes unprofitable. What makes Latino/Hispanic publishing so unique, and distinct from traditional publishing?
First, there is language divide among Spanish, English language, and bilingual readers. There are two distinct markets in the U.S. between Spanish and Latino/English readers.
The Spanish market is small. It is mostly dominated by large, traditional Spanish and Mexican publishers who export their books to the United States. Their investment and publishing efforts do not occur with the U.S. market in mind, but rather as an extension of their national and local demands. Sadly to say, the growing Spanish speaking population in the United States, caused mostly by immigration from Mexico and Central American countries, comes with very low educational backgrounds and are not frequent readers.
Now, the Latino English and bilingual book market is also a small market. English reading Latinos read mostly English books, not necessarily Latino books. Thus, Latino publishing houses serve Latino authors who are mostly new and unknown—most of them are new writers—and there is no given demand for them, as for well-known Latino writers. The latter ones prefer to publish with traditional houses, rather than small Latino presses. The big challenge for Latino presses is to cross over to traditional markets.
The Latino/Hispanic market will continue to challenge small publishers who provide opportunities to new writers for years to come. Latino publishers often dream of that one title, which will provide the rewards for all the efforts made.
Size and Scale of the Market
Second, the size and scales of the markets are the heart of the problem. The Spanish and Latino markets are relatively miniscule compared to the traditional book market. What constitute a bestseller in the Spanish market and what is the print run of a regular book (non-bestseller)? In the Spanish market, mostly served by imports from Spain and Mexico, a bestseller generally is at best about 30,000 copies. A normal print run is not more than 5,000 copies. Of course, there a few titles which defy these conditions, but not generally. The Spanish market has one bright spot, the children’s book market. Spanish and English speaking readers are interested in buying early-readers Spanish books. However, the juvenile book market is very small, almost non-existent and it is dominated by imports. Spanish adult fiction and non-fiction are mostly an import market. Few presses have attempted to do it and have been unsuccessful. Another bright spot in the Spanish market is the school and college driven curriculum for Spanish and Latin American literature. This market is mostly served by imports.
Once more as for the Spanish market, Latino Children’s books in English, like the character Dora, is a great success of traditional publishing with the help of mass marketing and heavy investment, not available to small Latino publishers. A bright spot in the English language Latino market, again, is the college driven market to meet mostly Latino literature courses. The size of the English Latino market is very small print-runs often do not exceed 5,000 copies.
Thirdly, the answer to the original question, why we do it, is not simple. Publishing has always been effort where there is commitment and love for the culture and trade. I remember my granddaughter asking a fisherman on his fishing boat in Half Moon Bay, California, why do you do it? The fisherman looked briefly at the sky, reflecting for a few seconds, and said “It’s not for the money. It is a way of life . . .” Latino publishers, if I could generalize, have a greater commitment to the preservation of the Latino/Hispanic culture than to profit. Thus, our slogan: "Por nuestra cultura hablarán nuestros libros.
Our books shall speak for our culture."