E-books expand options for Spanish readers — and writers

Some years ago I lived for a time in Abu Dhabi, a beautiful, sophisticated city, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.  The living accommodations were extraordinary, the food was exquisite, the Emirati people were welcoming.  So what was missing?   BOOKS!  There was no public library, one bookstore stocked with English language titles, and a lively book exchange among English-reading colleagues.  When I heard there was a book fair coming to the city I was ecstatic – soon deflated to learn that the aisles of books were (understandably) in Arabic and the English language books were of the how-to-succeed genre.

Having experienced literary deprivation I was thrilled for Spanish-speaking readers in this community when I learned that the surging popularity of e-book readers is offering reasonably priced Spanish language books to U.S. readers.  The trend is growing throughout the nation.

There are now over 50 million Spanish-speakers living in the U.S.  A rapidly increasing number are equipped with Kindles, Nooks, and tablets — and an appetite to read good books in their native language.  As usually happens, demand creates supply so publishers of Spanish-language content are now marketing e-books to U.S. residents eager to light up the reader to catch a good story or to delve into an historic tome.

A recent article in the LA Times offers some statistics.

In the last two years, the number of Spanish-language titles available in the U.S. has tripled at some online booksellers.  Imported hardcovers such as Colombian author Alvaro Mutis’ “Maqroll” trilogy that once retailed for more than $100 can now be had online for less than $15.  And entire genres of Latin American literature – think contemporary Ecuadorean poetry – that were all but impossible to acquire at any price are now a few mouse clicks away.

Even as the sale of English-language e-books has waned a bit, Spanish-speaking bibliophiles are reading books written in their native language as well as Spanish language translations of books originally published in English.  According to a the most recent study by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project the number of Hispanics owning e-readers or tablets has grown from 1 in 20 in 2011 to 1 in 5 in 2012. 

The Pew study may have persuaded publishers that there is an untapped market.  Today, for example,  Barnes & Noble en Espanol offers 65,000 Nook books in Spanish while Amazon’s Spanish-language page, eBooks Kindle en Espanol, now stocks more than 70,000 titles.

The increased popularity of affordable e-books has been an inspiration – and a boon – to print publishers that had long ignored the Spanish-speaking market in the U.S. Given the 50 million people of Hispanic origin now living in the U.S. publishers from other countries have taken note, opening offices in the U.S. and initiating Spanish language web pages while American publishers have launched domestic imprints in Spanish.

Haste makes waste, even in the book world, it seems.  The LA Times reports that problems include too few Spanish speaking booksellers, sloppy translations, selections ill-suited to readers’ tastes – and the slow pace at which good news travels through the nation’s reading circles.

Glitches notwithstanding, the crest of the next wave is likely to be ridden by authors who publish their works at the same time in English and Spanish.  For the first time in his career, Nicholas Sparks is simultaneously publishing his latest, The Longest Ride, in both Spanish and in English. Meanwhile, Random House will release Isabel Allende’s new novel, El Juego de Ripper, simultaneously in the U.S, Spain and Latin America.

Bilingual readers rejoice that the book is no longer print on paper and bilingual now means the written as well as the spoken word.


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