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Barnes & Noble Gets Better Read on Spanish Market

The retailer is adding thousands of books in translation. The sector is one of few in publishing to show growth.

September 15, 2003|Hillel Italie | Associated Press

The market for books in Spanish, already among the most promising in the publishing industry, is about to get a lot bigger. Barnes & Noble Inc. is adding thousands of books to its Spanish language sections.

The chain is expected to announce the expansion and other initiatives today.

"I'm thrilled," said Rene Alegria, editorial director of Rayo, the Spanish language imprint of HarperCollins. "There's already a great spirit of optimism in the Hispanic market, and what Barnes & Noble is doing is a significant step."

Books in all categories will be added, from self-help to literary fiction. And Barnes & has started Libros en Espanol, an online service that includes author interviews, a bestseller list -- topped by the Spanish edition of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's memoirs -- and a guide to Barnes & Noble stores that sell works in Spanish.

"We've had double-digit increases in sales for the past four years in Spanish language books," said Mike Ferrari, director of merchandising for Barnes & Noble.

"It's one of the few areas where you're fighting to keep up with customer demand."

Although much of the industry has struggled in recent years, interest in Spanish language books has been rapidly increasing. Many credit the 2000 census, which reported 35.3 million Latinos in the U.S., a 58% jump over the previous census.

Then, in June, the Census Bureau declared Latinos to be the nation's largest minority group, with 38.8 million, beating out non-Hispanic blacks by 500,000 in just two years. In California, Latinos have long been the largest ethnic minority. According to the Census Bureau, in 1990 they made up 25.4% of the state's population.

"The [2000] census really made a lot of people notice that market," said Karin N. Kiser, executive director of Kiser & Associates, a San Diego-based consultant group for Spanish book publishing.

"For a long time, people who were interested in Spanish language books had nowhere to buy them."

Over the last few years, Barnes & Noble formed a national program for Spanish titles and Inc. started a Spanish language section. Borders Group Inc. has been steadily increasing offerings, and this year opened a store in Pico Rivera that features bilingual signs and a special area for Spanish language children's books.

"We're definitely growing by double digits in Spanish language books," said Anne Kubek, Border's vice president of marketing for books.

Several publishers now have imprints. Simon & Schuster Inc. recently launched one for Spanish language children's books, and Scholastic Inc. just announced its own expansion of such titles. Scholastic will release an edition of Madonna's children's book, "The English Roses," which comes out today, with a 25,000 first-printing in Spanish translation.

"There are more and more Latinos who are very proud of speaking Spanish and want their children to learn Spanish," said Macarena Salas, Scholastic's director of Spanish book publishing.

Numerous works have attracted strong interest in Spanish translation. The first four Harry Potter books have about 350,000 Spanish editions in print and the Spanish version of the fifth book, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," comes out next spring. Gabriel Garcia Marquez's memoirs, published last year, have sold more than 75,000 copies in Spanish, a high number for a hardcover even in English.

"It's funny," Alegria said. "There was so much hype when it came to e-books and how technology was where publishing was going. And I would watch from the sidelines and get excited, but I always thought, 'Here we are. Hispanics are ready to buy. Why aren't we being catered to?' There was an immediate demand for good old-fashioned books and they couldn't ignore that."

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