November 15, 2011

Problems With Publishing in Latin America


Last week, Pablo Dittborn (the Editor-in-Chief of Random House Chile) discussed issues with transcontinental publishing with Andres Hax in Publishing Perspectives. Their conversation was thought provoking and surprising, since we personally didn’t know that there was so much variation in, say, the content of a bookstore in Argentina versus one in its neighbor, Chile. However, we were more than a little disappointed to learn that Dittborn sees e-books as the only solution. Isn’t there another way, readers?

SWBN: For starters, do you agree there is a problem of book circulation between our countries? And if so, why is that?

Yes, this is a problem that clearly exists and needs to be solved. Why exactly this happens, we have not been able to clearly establish. As editors, we are continually receiving complaints from various authors who ask ‘Why is it that with a publishing house like Random House or Planeta or Alfaguara — transnational publishing houses — that my books aren’t in the other countries where you also have franchises?’

In general, the response has been: ‘Look, what you write about is of local interest.’ Or sometimes, ‘It does not work the other way around either.’ If I am accused of not publishing one of my authors in, for example, Ecuador — on the other hand, I have to point out there is no Ecuadorian literature in Chile either.

So, yes, there is a real barrier, although there is no reason for it to exist. We Latin Americans should be able to read one another without having to pass through Spain. One of our problems is this cultural dependency on the major cultural centers, which is to say, we read American, European and Asian writers in translation, before reading each other — even wen there is no language barrier between us!

But is there a barrier from the business side: tariffs, import restrictions and the like?

No, no. There are not these restrictions. Books are not subject to taxes when being shipped from one country to another. Throughout Latin America and Europe, books are not subject to customs duties. It is true that in Chile there is a high sales tax on books, but when they are exported, the taxes are not a factor.

Yet Chilean books would be expensive in Argentina…

It is true, nevertheless, that Chilean books would be expensive in Argentina because they are more expensive here, due to the fact that we have small print runs. Economies of scale determine if a book is more or less expensive.

Would e-books be a solution? And how far are we from having a robust e-book market in Latin America?

We are very close. I will give you a number: eighteen months.

Read more of the interview here.