Challenges and opportunities in Argentina

Pablo Rossello
Opinion - Publishing Wednesday, 20th October 2010

Pablo Rossello of the British Council introduces three Young Publishing Entrepreneurs from Argentina, give their insights on the publishing scene there From its enormous pool of international literary talent Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cort zar, Manuel Puig to its influential publishing houses, Argentina's contribution to literature and publishing has been immense. It was a Buenos Aires-based house, Editorial Sudamericana, that published Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude back in 1967, starting a Latin American literary boom that overtook international literature during the 1960s and 1970s. Despite the recent challenges that it has faced, largely due to economic hardship and the arrival of international players, the industry remains a powerhouse in Latin American publishing. The British Council/London Book Fair's International Young Publishing Entrepreneur (IYPE) award has had a successful and rich relationship with Argentina. The country has taken part in the award every year since its inception in 2004, sending finalists with expertise in various areas, from children's and educational publishing to academic and digital publishing. For this reason, we chose Argentina to be the Market Focus for our second UK Young Publishing Entrepreneur (UKYPE) award in 2008, when a group of young British publishing entrepreneurs took part in an industry tour to find out more about the exciting publishing scenes of Buenos Aires and Rosario.


Below, three Young Publishing Entrepreneurs from Argentina offer invaluable insights into the Argentine publishing industry. Each works in a different area of publishing: Augusto Di Marco is the accomplished publishing director of Grupo Santillana-Argentina, one of the biggest publishing groups in the Spanish-speaking world. Mariana Vera is an experienced children's publisher from the legendary Editorial Sudamericana, now owned by the Random House-Mondadori group. Octavio Kulesz is an expert in digital publishing, and currently runs Teseo, a digital and academic publishing house based in Buenos Aires. He was Chair of the IYPE network from 2007-2008.
Pablo Rossello is Project Manager of the Creative Economy Unit of the Arts Department at the British Council.
The IYPE award celebrates entrepreneurial ability within publishing, and strengthens creative leadership and networking in the international publishing industry. IYPE is a British Council award, co-sponsored by The London Book Fair, and supported by the Publishers Association and BookBrunch. For more information, contact Pablo Rossello at 'Pablo dot Rossello at britishcouncil dot org'.

Photo (Pablo Rossello): Ele Fountain, Bloomsbury, on the UKYPE study tour in Buenos Aires 2008.
Octavio Kulesz
The current Argentine book market has little to do with what it was in the 1950s and 1960s, the golden age of Borges, Cort zar and many others. Argentina has undergone extremely challenging times in the last decade, and its publishing sector has echoed this: recession, devaluation, boom and an inscrutable future.
In the late 1990s, the economy was suffering from a severe recession. The entire economic structure rested on an extremely cheap dollar (1 peso to 1 US$), which crippled local industry and opened the way to a flood of imports, mainly from Mexico and Spain.
At the end of 2001, a general uprising overthrew the government, and Argentina lived through a period of acute instability, during which five different presidents held office in the course of two weeks. At the same time market pressure sent the first nominal devaluation of 40% soaring to 250%; the US dollar went from costing 1 peso to 3.5 pesos in a few months. Of course, prices soared too, with GDP falling more than 10% in 2002. As for the publishing industry, every link in the chain printing, publishing and bookselling was severely affected. A decrease of 23% in the number of titles printed in 2002 compared to 2000 is an indication of the scope of the collapse.
By 2003, the social climate was much calmer. The foreign exchange rate had been stabilised at 3 pesos to 1 dollar, thus decreasing imports and stimulating exports. This made the resurrection of domestic industry possible. Many new publishing houses were founded between 2003 and 2009, and the traditional ones started functioning normally again. That six-year period was probably one of the greatest publishing booms ever in Argentina. In that time, full of initiative and creativity, the public sector and the private publishers worked together in order to transform Argentina into a major player in the Spanish-speaking book market.
However, the Argentine publishing industry still faces a number of challenges. Inflation is one. The cost of paper, for instance, is five times higher today than it was in 2001, but the price of books could not rise as much as that. In 2009, the total number of copies produced by the publishing industry went down from 82.5 million to 75 million, while the number of titles published remained stagnant. So average print runs shrank, presumably as a consequence of increased operating costs.
There is also a growing technological gap. So although the current economic framework, which is based on an undervalued local currency, stimulates exports, it is also expanding the technological gap between Argentina and other parts of the world. And the global crisis has led to a dramatic decrease in exports. For instance, Mexico, a key market for Argentine books, especially since 2003, is currently living through a very difficult period.
Nevertheless, opportunities do exist. The global crisis has also led to difficulties for Argentina's traditional competitors, such as Spain. Therefore paradoxically the global crisis may represent a chance for Argentina to reconquer old markets.
Finally, it has been during critical times that the true strength of our country has come to the fore. Today, when the digital revolution and the global crisis are reshaping the world, Argentina, with its abundant reserves of creativity, may be able to find innovative ways to expand its publishing industry.
Mariana Vera
I have been a children's book editor in Argentina for more than 10 years, and it is a sector of publishing that has shown remarkable growth in the last decade. Traditional publishers have experienced renewed vitality, increasing the quantity of titles or, in some other cases, opening new children's book divisions; meanwhile, a considerable number of small publishers have sprung up, many of them specialising in children's books: Peque o Editor, Calibroscopio, Unaluna, La Brujita de Papel, just to mention a few.
This growth has been a result of the sterling efforts of authors, illustrators and bookstores, among others. We have a solid group of acknowledged children's book writers, who have won national and international awards, and who have been published abroad. These include Ema Wolf, Graciela Montes, Laura Devetach, Gustavo Rold n, Silvia Schujer and Ana Mar a Shua. And, at the same time, there are also new names just beginning to gain recognition. Among them are Mario M ndez, Sandra Siemens, Cecilia Pisos and Ruth Kaufman.
It is also thanks to the initiative and hard work of children's book illustrators. They have organised themselves into a forum (www.forodeilustradores.com), which has given them greater opportunities to illustrate for foreign publishers. Their efforts saw Argentina chosen as Guest of Honour at Bologna Children's Book Fair 2008.
Finally, I do not want to forget the important role played by bookstores, which have given increased display space to children's books, nor the constant demand from schools.
So what is being published? Argentina has a long tradition of writers and readers of short stories, and therefore this is the primary published genre. The literary novel is another of the main genres but, contrary to what is happening worldwide, most of the novels are stand-alone titles. Oddly enough, there are few sagas written by Argentine authors, the main one being Los'd as del Venado by Liliana Bodoc.
The commercial young adult novel has also gained an important place, but most of the titles sold are translations. Picture books are thriving, mainly due to the work of small and new publishers that have found a niche in the market and are publishing high quality illustrated books, from short stories to poetry.
In the non-fiction arena, I would like to point to the work of Iamiqu , the only publisher of books on science for children. Given the current situation and the ongoing demand, I believe this is an area that will grow in the next few years.
Mariana Vera can be contacted at 'mvera at rhm dot com dot ar'.
Augusto Di Marco
During the first half of the 20th century, Argentina was the first Spanish speaking country to translate, publish and export books by such authors as Sigmund Freud, Edgar Allan Poe, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf, Andr Malraux, Vladimir Nabokov, Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Marcel Proust.
As a result of the Spanish Civil War, and with the total collapse of the Spanish publishing industry, Argentine publishing began to dominate the markets of Spain and Latin America. Though there were some fluctuations, the growth was steady, and in those years almost half of the local production of books was exported.
But then, in the second half of the century, the national industry started a slow decline that reached its nadir with the national economic and political crisis in 2001 and 2002.
After some very difficult years, Argentina's publishing industry recovered, with a strong increase in production and sales, a growth in exports, the return to local printing, and the birth of many new publishing houses.
Since then, a considerable cultural and artistic boom, a new reading generation, the consistency of old and new writers, and a growing professionalism based on the local publishing tradition in the sector, have made a healthy publishing industry possible again. We have our battles to win, fighting against piracy, inflation and rising costs, but we are looking ahead to digital publishing. And, with the help of a considerable national level of readership, local publishers (independent or part of international conglomerates) are ready for a turning point: to move on from being good quality publishers to be as good and efficient as content producers and dealers, no matter whether it is in paper books or ebooks.
The number of healthy sectors, such as children's books (with many of the most influential writers and collections of the American continent), quality fiction and non-fiction (extremely popular in Argentina), and the great variety of genres lead us to believe that this transformation process is possible without losing commercial strength and profits. The challenge awaits us.
This article first appeared in BookBrunch and Publishers Weekly's FRANKFURT FAIR DEALER.