Books in Latin America are too expensive. Could electronic books help drive down prices? When will electronic books come to Latin America?
Anyone who lives in the United States knows that electronic books are rapidly changing the market for publishers, retailers, and readers alike. In the USA when the Internet giant Google announced seven years ago it was planning to scan and make available online the libraries of Harvard and other universities it caused a massive fight with publishers from around the world that is still not settled. Fans of the once mighty Borders book store chain had to go elsewhere when the retailer declared bankruptcy last year due to aggressive cost cutting by Target and Walmart and of course electronic books themselves. Barnes and Nobles, the one remaining national chain, narrowly escaped the same fate and to counter the electronic book evolution launched its own electronic book store and device, the Nook. But this revolution in publishing and the move to electronic books has been slow to spread to other countries. In particular in this article we are concerned with what lies ahead for readers of Spanish language books in Spain, Latin America, and of course Chile. In this article we talk to two experts in the field and finally publish a survey by way of an example of what is currently available for readers of electronic books in Latin America.
Amazon.com in December of this year opened up their Kindle Store at Amazon.es in Spain several months after opening up the sales of paper books there. Strictly speaking their offering is not available in Chile due to licensing and book contract issues. But this is easily overcome. Their own technical support and sales people tell you that you can simply change your mailing address to an address in Spain or the USA–and the clever person will realize that this can be any address–and suddenly you can access thousands of electronic titles which are not yet released into other countries.
Beyond Amazon.com and Amazon.es their are other alternatives. In the USA Barnes and Nobles has the largest selection of books in Spanish but their target market is the many Hispanics living in the USA since their device, the Nook, does not yet work overseas.
Google has an electronic book store but by their own admission it too does not work outside the USA either. They write, “The Google eBooks service is available for users in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. We are working hard to expand the countries in which Google eBooks are available and offer this new product to readers around the world.”
Apple iTunes recently launched in Latin America but their focus is on music and videos and not books. While iTunes has a book section its offering is small when you are located in Chile. Their public relations people contacted in California say , “We don’t have any information about books in Latin America. Right now we are excited to have launched iTunes in the region with a huge catalog of more than 20 million songs and 1000 movies.”
Here in Chile there is already one retailer of electronic books, Buscalibros.cl. Moreover they accept payment in Chilean pesos which Amazon.es does not at least yet.
One Expert’s Perspective
Edward Nawotka is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives magazine. Asked about the spread of electronic books into Latin America he says, “Thats going to happen very soon. Latin America is far behind the USA and Europe in digitization of books and ebook adoption.”
Asked whether electronic books might help drive down the prices of books here he does not embrace that idea entirely but says, “The perception is that ebooks are cheaper. But you also have that issue where you still need a device to read it on. The devices are relatively expensive in Latin America. That is going to change very quickly.” He says that one reason paper books in Chile are so expensive is, “You are talking about relatively small print runs. So its just economies of scale.”
He adds that, “Amazon is not the only device on the market.” Edward points out that Google eBooks can be read on the Android and the their epub format can be used on generic book readers like BeBook or Kobo and the Apple iPad. “There are a half a dozen apps for your phone that will read epub format.”
Of Google he says, “They are clearly focused on the market. I think their launch in Latin America is imminent if not soon. They are going to be launching in Brasil next year.” Beyond Google he adds, “The Barnes and Nobles Nook already has the largest selection of Spanish language titles certainly by a large shot outside of Spain.”
Ed points out that it took Amazon.com 10 years since the launch of the Amazon Kindle for the idea to catch on and the market to take hold. He says, “It’s a matter of technology and cost. It’s a chicken and the egg situation. Electric cars are a good example. If you buy one where are you going to charge it?”
He explains that to convert a book to electronic format is not simply a matter of putting it in a machine and scanning it. He says “,You basically have to republish it. There are the legal issues with converting books to electronic format. “Do you have the right to do that from the author? How is the author going to be compensated?” He says that is an issue particularly with older books. In the past 7 years he said book contracts have generally including a provision for conversion to electronic format.
Ed’s magazine interviewed Pablo Dittborn, the Editor-in-chief of Random House Chile in November, who said about the market for electronic books in Chile:
“We are very close. I will give you a number: eighteen months. And it’s not arbitrary. Three days ago we had a video conference with the director of Amazon Kindle for Latin America, Pedro Huerta, the former director of Random House in México. And he said, ‘In eighteen months you will have an executive director for Amazon Kindle in Santiago who get in touch with the publishing houses to ask them to digitize all of their content to Amazon’s platform so that we can sell it globally. And visa versa, to open up our content commercially to you so that it can be purchased with a Chilean credit card and in Chilean pesos without any bureaucratic barriers.’ In each country that Amazon has entered, it has acted as a huge accelerator for digitizing books.”
The Problem of Piracy
Books in Chile are sold as luxury goods. Because they are so expensive many Chileans prefer to buy pirated editions of bestsellers right off the street. (For example, a pirated edition Dan Brown’s “The Lost Symbol” is sold on the streets here for $8 while it costs $28 USD in the bookstores in paperback edition.) In an insightful statement Ed says, “Some people like to say that piracy is unmet demand.” He adds that, “The perception is that digital makes it even easier to pirate books” while pointing out that digital books include sophisticated electronic encryption which makes that difficult if not impossible. The Amazon Kindle format for example does not let you copy their books from one machine to another as the user is basically tethered to Amazon.com where a key of sorts is required to open a book. The ePub format used by the Nook has similar technology.
Ed suggests that certain printers are complicit in this ilicit trade. While not naming any particular country he says certain printers will print, say, 100,000 copies ordered by the author and publisher but, “Then the printer does not stop printing them. These (pirated copies) are printed are using the same exact (digital) files.” In the case of the pirated edition, “They are going to use cheaper paper stock.” For this reason you can see, for example, Dan Brown’s best sellers sold on the streets in a format which looks remarkably like the original. Other pirated books here are more cheaply made—some even photocopied.
Boris Kraizel is general manager of BuscoLibros.cl an online retailer of both paper and electronic books in Chile. Asked about book piracy in Chile she says, “Piracy is known as the number one enemy of publishers and is an attack on intellectual property. In the last few years the figures have been alarming and there has been much damage to our economy. For example in 2010 Chile lost $1 million USD per day due to the piracy of illegal copies of software and a few years before that it is estimated that more than 4 million copies (of software) were made each year that were sold in the streets.”
Asked about the related topic of the adoption of electronic books my Chileans Boris says, “Like all new technologies, over time their prices begin to drop and become more accessible to the budget of most people. Regarding e-readers we believe that their adoption is a matter of time. We’ve seen this year how the digital book sales have increased, thanks in part to the availability of many Spanish titles. I do believe that people still do not know much and are not familiar with the topic of e-books, although since we formed an alliance with Libranda, during 2011 the sale of the books in this format increased by 140 percent.”
What is Available Today
Now we take a look at the what is actually available here and now in Chile, Spain, and the United States for book readers. We take as a selection 4 writers from Peru, Chile, and Argentina who were cited as the best young novelists in the Spanish language by the British literary magazine “Granta” in their edition “The Best of the Young Spanish Novelists“. For cost and availability comparison we look at Amazon.com, Amazon.es, Barnes and Nobles, as well as BuscaLibros.cl. We include the price of printed books from BuscaLibros to illustrate just how expensive are printed books in Chile. As we said earlier Amazon.com is not yet open in Chile. So to make this price comparison we took an Amazon Kindle and changed the address on the device from the USA to Spain. When we changed the address to Chile it basically said for each book “this selection is not yet available in your country”.
|Title||Author||Amazon.es Kindle (Spain)||http://www.buscalibros.cl/ paper||http://www.buscalibros.cl/ electronic||Amazon.com Kindle (US)||Barnes and Nobles|
|El Niño Pez||Lucía Puenzo||$10.95||$55.73 (imported from Spain)||$12.42||n/a||$9.99|
|Bonsái||Alejandro Zambra||$4.50||$65.50 (imported from Spain)||$10.26||n/a||n/a|
|Agosto, Octubre||Andrés Barba||$13.45||$59.46 (imported from Mexico)||$15.04||n/a||$11.99|
|Abril Rojo||Santiago Roncaglio||$7.33||$40.52||$8.21||$8.79||$9.12|