Brazilian market in the view of an independent (good-humoured) publisher
Brazil is not a country for beginners, used to say Maestro Antonio Carlos Jobim. Nor for its music, nor for its food, nor for its people, nor for its politics… Perhaps for its book market? Mariana Warth, publisher of Pallas and of Pallas Míni, share more about the Brazilian book market, from the perspective of an independent publisher.
The pungent market during the period of Workers Party in power (2003 – 2016), being government the largest buyer of books to schools and libraries, brought to Brazil different international players. This story starts in the late 1990s and beginning of 2000s, when the so called globalization arrived its ship in this tropical field with no policy protection to the national companies, attracted by government programs for textbooks (programs for schools exists before Workers Party in power). We have watched from our cabins companies like Planeta, Santillana and Macmillan rob the scene of textbooks and started their phagocytises also in traditional trading companies. Back to the period of 2003-2016, when the programs for acquiring literature books for schools were democratic in terms of opportunity for independent publishing houses, although the welfare state position of the government in this period meant a lot for people, we missed regulation for the foreigners which were beginning its domination in a rising and prosperous new market to explore.
After this invasion, more or less at the same moment, the market was contaminated by a “bad bacteria” practice called consignment. It means that books are not anymore sold by the publishing company. We lend the book to the shops and if it is sold, we get paid. If not, they are returned. No promises, no compromise. It is worse. No stock, never a bet. It is a total “disengagement.” Like a person out of tune, our maestro would say, disengagement with the notes… It is true that consignment already existed before the international companies arrived here. What differs the BC (Before Companies) and AC (After Companies) is the level of the practice and the speed the practice was disseminated. I can still call it bacteria because I believe that something can cure us from this bad practice so, for a bacteria, we should have an antibiotic. Besides, the practice of dumping at internet channels and the lack of a fixed price law oblige the editor to give indecent discounts to distributors and book shops. The medium discount is over 50% of the cover price and most of the time the editor should pay transportation. In a continental country, few can survive with this indecent practice. Big international players with online stores (whose names cannot be said) are not allowed to act like this in France or Germany and still have profit. But in Brazil they can star “The predator”! How exciting!
Some numbers are important to illustrate this fantastic narrative. We are a population of 2,077 million people. We have 3,100 book shops, which means 1 for almost 65k inhabitants; 716 Publishing houses, 76% literate population, 104,7 million declared readers, what means 56% of the total population over 5 years old. So, we are a market with a potential to grow, a population with potential to become reader and consumer. We were said in the past “the country of the future” and we wonder, when is this future coming to the present?
The segment range of Brazilian book market seems to be broad and compatible with most of the countries worldwide. It includes Fiction, Non-fiction, Children, YA, cooking, Self-help, Academics, Technical, Professional, Religious etc. We are in the market professionally and included in all subjects. What is a phenomenon lately in Brazil are two segments: the YA and religious, linked to evangelism. Although Brazil is officially a laic country, the evangelics are growing strong and taking part in people’s daily life not only throughout books but also politics. The book market reflects this movement. According to the Bestsellers list by the Brazilian website specialized in book market, PublishNews (www.publishnews.com.br, ref. 16 July to 22 July), YA books by Brazilian Youtubers such as Felipe Neto and Luccas Neto are tied together with International Self-help titles by Mark Manson (The subtle art of not giving a F*ck) and religious titles such as Spiritual combat (my free translation of the title) by Father Reginaldo Manzotti. Sad to say, independent publishing houses seldom appear on those lists. The last one who reached an important post was Boitempo with a book about former President Lula. In a country where we barely talk about politics rationally, it was a great achievement indeed.
The independent publishers’ views…
From the point of view of the Independent publishers, we have been facing a change of behaviour in the international market. Known as good buyers, the Brazilian publishers are investing in becoming good sellers of rights. Our content, our authors and artists are becoming known worldwide and the Independent publishers are taking part of the process by attending to international book fairs and getting into business like grown. There is an initiative called “Brazilian publishers” which is a group by Independent and big publishers, all National, that aim to internationalize the Brazilian content by selling rights. The group is supported by organism linked to the government called Apex. This organism objective is to develop internationally areas of the economy by supporting business actions. So, the book was also included. In the last 9 years of existence of the BP, the dynamic of the international book fairs changed sensitively to the Brazilian professionals in this area.
Last but not least, apart from this incentive for internationalizing the Brazilian content; the government does not have many programs to encourage reading from very early age. Important to draw the attention on it. Those initiatives come from engaged people who organize their time to create project of reading to children around our big country. So far it works but they are punctual and it is never enough for a continental country. Robust programs by the government are welcome and, since this is an election year, we expect something will be said and done in the near future about it. Investment in education is fundamental for the development of Brazil.
The struggle for survival
It seems that the Brazilian independent publishers are struggling to survive and make their best into creativity and different ideas to show up to the readers as an option of good books. The lack of rules for equity in the Brazilian market was responsible for the closure of many independent book shops and, recently, in the last two years, the closure of important small independent publishers responsible for releasing new authors, new illustrators, new talents in general.
With so many promised deaths in the market, why do we keep on publishing with the knife on our necks? Did you learn to do something else? Did you fall in love with another profession? Do you think the work of an editor goes beyond a book and has a social value? How far can we go besides a blockbuster?
Let’s change people through books
There is this one thing: The independent market believes they can change people through books. It may sound idealistic to most people, but we should follow the Maestro and face the music Brazil produces. It is this strong sound, preferably in unison, that will be capable to stand for better conditions for the Brazilian market. We should increase the number of readers by investing in education, the number of consumers by investing in working positions, the amount of sales throughout a policy for the book chain including independent bookshops in small cities, increase, increase, increase. Only like this we’ll be able to face the predators and protect our market, our independent publishers, the freedom of publishing in Brazil and finally, bibliodiversity.
Mariana Warth is the publisher of Pallas and of Pallas Míni since 2002. She graduated in Journalism and is Master in Book Production through the University of the Arts London. Mariana works in the publishing house together with her mother Cristina Fernandes Warth, always looking on innovation and quality of the books. The focus of Pallas is valuing the Brazilian culture for children and adults, above all the rescue of the African heritage in the Brazilian culture and affirmative actions to which Pallas has dedicated almost 45 years. Mariana has taught in some postgraduate courses and is currently the director of international relations at Libre, the Association of Independent Publishers in Brazil, and also is the coordinator of the Portuguese language network of the International Alliance of the Independent Publishers, based in Paris.