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Ebooks in South America

by Piet van Oostrum

My wife and I are staying in Bolivia for a year, in the city of Cochabamba. In order not to have to drag along suitcases full of books we both have an ereader. But for the rest the theme of ‘ebooks’ is something that isn’t alive here in Bolivia. On the Mobileread forum I have seen someone from Bolivia and a couple of people from Argentina but that’s about it. But last Saturday I was surprised to read an article about ebooks in one of the local newspapers.

The article was about the Book Fair (Feria Internacional del Libro) in Bogotá, Colombia. Although Bolivia and Colombia are rather far away from each other, many people confuse the two. Maybe because they are both involved in coca? But I had never heard about this book fair. In my country (Holland) the Frankfurt Book Fair (Frankfurter Buchmesse) is of course well known, and so is  BEA (Book Expo America) in New York. But this fair in Bogotá is the most important book fair in Latin America. Is is held from August 11-23. This year the themes of the fair are the 200th anniversary of Colombia’s independence and the digital book.

The paper describes an interview with Patricia Arancibia, manager of international content for the Digital Group of Barnes & Noble. I suppose she is South American herself as she graduated from the University of Buenos Aires, but now she is living and working in New York. She considers it a challenge to provide Latin American customers with digital content. In the first place she is talking then about the Hispanics in the USA (18% of the population) who cannot get many ebooks in Spanish. She calls upon the American publishers to serve the Hispanic market with the new technology. Moreover she said that ebooks are simpler to sell because they don’t have to pass customs. Apparently she doesn’t take geographic restrictions into account or maybe there aren’t any for Spanish books. If that is so, then please keep it that way. But I think that Spanish publishers will not be happy when American publishers will infiltrate in their market. They just have started a platform for ebooks. And furthermore she mentions that ebooks are cheaper than paper books. But this is not always the case. There are several discussions on various forums, for example Mobileread and Teleread about the high prices of ebooks.

Regarding prices I think it will be tough to find a good level for South America. The standard of living here is much lower than in the western world. Books are often sold in a local edition that is much cheaper. And expensive books like text books are often just copied. A few days ago I was in a copy shop near the university and they had some text books just on the shelf. En in the streets they sell copies of CDs and DVDs. With regard to ebooks this will become tough I think.

She also refers to the fear of publishers for the new medium, but she says that during the 3 days she visited the fair, she noticed that publishers are receptive. The article also says that 15% of the main Latin American publishers had ebooks in their collection in 2009.

And we haven’t mentioned prices of ereaders yet; those also will have to go down to make them attractive. They are not yet sold here and importing them for example when you buy from Amazon can be quite expensive.


Two weeks ago I read a post by Octavio Kulesz, CEO of a young digital publishing company, about the status of ebooks and ereaders in Argentina. This country is  more prosperous than Bolivia but they are recovering from a deep economic crisis. For the publishers it is a booming market. He also writes about the difficulties to get digital content and ereaders, about the problems for older publishers to change. But the Argentinean Book Chamber (a government institution) did a research program for digital publishing last year. But he complains that nevertheless nothing is happening in the publishing world.

He notices that, contrary to the publishers, authors and customers are adopting the digital age, for example young authors and poets are offering work online. he expects that the old publishers will not be able to bring along the necessary changes but that the young publishers will have to do it. His own publishing company works with POD and cheap digital issues, although they are mainly text books. But this looks suspiciously similar to the situation in the Netherlands.

The article about the Bogotá Book Fair can be found on the site of Opinión. The English translation by Google Translate is remarkably good but the following corrections will have to be made:
guests dress ? gala guest; iPac ? iPad (error in the original); he ? she.
have to go through customs ? do not have to go through customs.
leading publishers of electronic books in Latin America had their catalogs ? leading publishers in Latin America had electronic books in their catalogs.

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