Publishing Perspectives has an overview of the Argentine e-book market which even if you don’t care much about e-books explains why Latin America can tire of Spain’s imprint in its culture. You would think it would be easy to get Spanish language books from any Spanish speaking author in Latin America, but it is far from the reality. This exists some what between the US and the UK, but no where near this level. It is over stating the issue to say the Spanish Empire still exists, but for some it can feel that way.
In spite of this sorry situation, publishers have started to realize, mainly because of the news coming from the U.S. and Europe, that e-books will eventually rule their business. That is one of the reasons why in late 2009 the Argentinean Book Chamber commissioned a piece of research with the goal of putting forward solutions for the digitization challenge. Although the final report was very inspiring, to date there has been no further collective initiatives, and the publishing sector has remained pretty much in the same spot where it was last year.
Truth be told, we could say that publishers in Argentina seem to envisage the digital age more with panic than with eagerness, which explains why no traditional company has made any real effort to take advantage of this new era. As a matter of fact, this attitude is not imprudent at all, since, in my view, migration from analog to digital in the Argentinean book market will be far from simple. Let’s first think of the typical family business, run by a senior publisher who is helped by his sons and even by his grandsons. Who will be able to talk the old man into getting rid of the warehouse, hiring programmers, buying software licenses and so on? And who, once again, will persuade him of the importance of digitizing, converting to EPUB and distributing the whole backlist online, when there are other more pressing matters, such as paying the rent, salaries and other expenses?
Apart from small and medium sized companies managed like family businesses, we also find resistance among big publishing houses. So far, their refusal to fully embrace the digital age stems from their fear against piracy: how would they protect their titles if PDFs start to wander around the web with no control whatsoever? On the other hand, big Argentinean publishing companies generally are the local branch of a much bigger corporation whose headquarters are located in the U.S. or in Europe, mainly in Spain. And because of their particular structure, major publishing houses in Argentina willing to experiment with new technologies are forced to wait until the head office abroad allows them to do so, a process that can be slow and thus discouraging. Recently, the main Spanish publishing companies decided to launch their own site together with their branches all over Latin America, a move that has fueled fierce debates and which, in my view, is not going to be successful.