For publishers looking to export their books south of the border, the Latin American market provides numerous opportunities and possibilities. A region spanning close to 20 countries with two major official languages and over 640 million inhabitants, Latin America possesses a diversity that can seem daunting. Nevertheless, with a growing, although vulnerable, middle class and high literacy rates, finding new ways to export books to Latin America has never been easier. In our series on Latin American book markets, we share some tips and information on the audiobook market, existing copyright frameworks, alternative publishing, and book fairs. In today’s post, we explore Latin America’s growing audiobook market.
The audiobook boom in English-speaking and Western European book markets has been well documented. Emerging markets such as Latin America, however, are not as well known, and growth in this sector is bringing greater attention to the relatively new Spanish-language market in particular. The surge in audiobook production and consumption in Latin America has been spurred by multiple forces, notably the growth and popularity of ebooks, market penetration by multinational digital platforms, greater ubiquity and familiarity with streaming platforms and services, ease of digital distribution, and the relative affordability of subscription services versus the cost of purchasing traditional print books. In his workshop on the audiobook in Latin America at the 2018 Guadalajara International Book Fair, Javier Celaya of Dosdoce suggested that 50% of digital book sales over the next five to seven years will be audiobooks.
The major Spanish-language book markets in Latin America—Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, and to a lesser extent, Chile—have experienced mixed successes with print and ebook sales, reflecting the experience of some of the more established English-language markets insofar as strong digital book sales have created a stabilizing effect by buoying slower print book sales. A significant difference between established book markets, such as the UK and those in Latin American countries, however, is the continued popularity of ebooks and the continued growth of ebook sales. This strong popularity of digital formats and platforms has significantly facilitated the introduction of audiobooks in the major Latin American markets. The use of new platforms has grown exponentially, with the introduction of such providers as Findaway, Audioteka, Audible, BookBeat, Google Play, and Bookwire throughout the region’s largest book buying markets (with Storytel joining the Mexican market in 2018 and possibly expanding to Brazil in 2019). Many of the new audiobook sales in these countries are achieved through subscription platforms and library sales, and new listeners are often first exposed to audiobooks through non-traditional channels such as music streaming services. The average book buyer/listener in these emerging markets may find the flat-rate, audiobook subscription models particularly appealing, given that books have often been viewed (and priced) as luxury items in Latin America. With the average price of a downloaded audiobook at $15 USD, many listeners prefer the flat-rate subscription models that cost closer to $7.99 and $12.99 USD per month over buying titles outright.
Like more established audiobook markets, audiobook consumers in Latin America tend to be younger readers/listeners. According to Celaya, 35% of subscribers are under 30 years old and represent a new reading public, 50% of whom had not read a book in the previous 12 months. Storytel’s research provides a similar picture: Spanish-language audiobook consumers are predominantly female (52%), aged 35 to 54 years (50%) and favour genres such as crime, historical fiction, self-help, and romance (77% fiction and 23% nonfiction). Like time-strapped consumers in other parts of the world, many Latin American audiobook listeners consume audiobooks while commuting, working out, doing household chores or before going to sleep. With audiobooks having an average duration of 7 to 10 hours, the ability to consume them while multitasking is a significant advantage in terms of sales since, according to Celaya’s research, more than 60% of readers in the previous year reported reading less because of time constraints. As many as 92% of these listeners used a mobile device for consuming audiobooks (62% used Android operating systems).
As books compete for audience attention with ever-growing forms of online entertainment, publishers in Latin America as elsewhere must help readers find new ways of accessing their books. Some of the challenges of popularizing audiobooks in this market are similar to those faced with the introduction of ebooks: changing workflows and production practices and costs (the average cost of producing an audiobook based on a 350-page novel can be anywhere from $4,000 to $5,000 US), negative perceptions of formats other than print, as well as difficulty in tracking sales and, therefore, growth. However, one of the biggest challenges facing this market is content creation. In 2018, there were approximately only 6,000 audio titles available in Spanish (2,000 of which have been created in the last two years). Of these titles, 60% were recorded in Castilian Spanish (Europe) and 40% were recorded in Latin American Spanish. The diversity of the Latin American market and the differences in Spanish across the region (including the Spanish-language market in North America), pose a significant challenge to this market (think, for example, of the controversy about Netflix using Castilian Spanish subtitles in the recent Mexican, Oscar-winning film, Roma). Nevertheless, audio subscription services and publishers are finding solutions to these challenges by focussing on publishing in various formats simultaneously, using a “neutral” Spanish accent that can be understood across national cultures, and creating original audio series in popular genres such as crime fiction and highlighting local content and authors.
Publishers Associations (in Spanish)