We want to serve our markets

Nicholas Clee
Opinion - Publishing Monday, 18th October 2010

Ana Maria Cabanellas, a publisher and lawyer from Argentina, explains why Latin American publishers are increasingly trying to buy world Spanish rights Just as UK publishers once expected to buy world English or UK/Commonwealth rights in books, until their colleagues in Australia, Canada, Ireland etc declared their independence, so publishers in Barcelona and Madrid bought world Spanish rights to do with as they saw fit in Latin America. But we in Latin America also want to be in charge of our own destinies. This is particularly true of Argentina. Our turbulent recent history, and especially the cultural flowering that has gone hand-in-hand with the flowering of a new democracy, means that we have many readers full of expectation and 1,590 booksellers to sell them books. The Spanish-language publishing market is one of the largest in the world. There are some 500 million people who speak Spanish, but the majority of these people are in America only 48 million are in Spain and 1.5 million in Africa and it is only natural that local publishers want to serve these markets themselves. Expansion is already bigger and faster in Latin American than in many other markets. And curiously, the Spanish market is one where more titles are translated; about a fifth of the books published every year are translations. It makes it a very interesting market.

Competing with the big Spanish groups is difficult, and local publishers try to publish niche books that Spanish publishers are not so interested in. But in the last 20 years, publishers in Argentina have grown and are exporting to other Latin American countries, to the United States and to Spain, and some have established subsidiaries in other countries. This growth makes them more confident, and they defy the Spanish publishers when they buy rights. Their aim is to buy world Spanish rights in almost every book, especially children's and young adult books.
One of the reasons for this is that when we buy rights for Latin America only, the Spanish edition also seems to find its way to Latin America, either as a remainder or as confusion . This creates chaos, as booksellers end up with the same book with different prices and different metadata. Worse still, the books have different translations Latin American publishers try to use a more neutral Spanish in order to be able to export to other Spanish markets.
This is part of the explanation we have to give to the literary agents when we buy rights. We have to demonstrate that we will be able to sell in Spain. We have to wait for a very long time to get an answer. Agents always approach a Spanish publisher first, even if a Latin American company has shown an interest, and only after this process will they sell rights to a Latin American publisher. There are exceptions, but this is the usual process.
Last year I discussed the rights for a romantic police series with an agent, but after we had arrived at a price for the first two books in the series, the last one published was included in the New York Times bestsellers list. The owner of the rights decided that they did not wish to sell to an Argentine publisher even though we have a company in Spain and publish books with two ISBNs hoping to get a better result with a Spanish publisher. What is galling is that to date the books have not been published in Spanish anywhere.
So this is not only a problem created by Spanish publishers: literary agents also think that selling rights to Spain is the best result they can obtain for their clients. We sometimes get better results when we buy directly from a publisher or when authors are asked what they want many are proud to know that their books will be sold, not only in Spain, but in Latin America too.
This article first appeared in BookBrunch and Publishers Weekly's FRANKFURT FAIR DEALER.