• Table of contents

    • [+]Preliminaries (3)
    • [+]Introduction (4)
    • [—]Latin America (13)
    • [+]Sub-Saharan Africa (9)
    • [+]Arab World (11)
    • [+]Russia (11)
    • [+]India (11)
    • [+]China (9)
    • [+]Conclusions (6)
    • [+]Appendix (1)

Latin America

Traditional publishing and its response to the digital world. Between danger and opportunity

The previous point may help to explain the attitude of many Latin American publishers and booksellers towards the digital age. Piracy is probably the major concern, since no one wants to suffer the same fate as record companies. However, paper publishing has its limitations and sooner or later publishers will have to experiment with new formats.

Leandro Donozo, the director of the prestigious independent publishing house Gourmet Musical (Argentina), explains how piracy weighed on his decision not to venture into selling electronic books:

The main reason why I don’t publish electronic books is piracy. I am reluctant to release a copy, to release my master copy: when I release a normal PDF, that is my master copy; there is no difference between the file I send to the printer’s and the file I release. And I don’t want to release that because I know that as soon as I do, at least 100 people who might buy the book won’t buy it, because they would rather download it; they wouldn’t even buy it if it was cheaper. And I can’t find anyone who can give me a technical basis as to why what didn’t work with the MP3 is supposed to work with the electronic book. An equation needs to be found, and for me that is the main obstacle. I don’t have the commercial solution, and I don’t know whether anyone does.[1]

For a considerable number of Latin American publishers, the electronic age – and the possibility that texts may end up being copied ad infinitum – constitutes a threat to the book business itself. And there is a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy in operation here, which could escalate in the coming years: since publishers are scared away by the digital option, there is very little content available in electronic format, thereby increasing the chances of texts being digitized on a massive scale without authorization.

Nevertheless, we must remember that piracy is not a challenge that is restricted to digital formats: the latest survey by CERLALC reveals that illegal reprography – for example, photocopies – and piracy on paper are still two of the biggest obstacles faced by local publishing, and these systems of unauthorized copying have been around in the industry for many years. Moreover, it is interesting to observe that the two challenges that top the list of the professionals surveyed by CERLALC – above piracy – are not only not a consequence of the electronic age, but they might even be mitigated by incorporating new technologies into the book chain. We are referring to:

  1. changes in macroeconomic variables;
  2. low demand.[2]

Without going into details, in relation to the first point, we might suppose that a publishing system that were less dependent on paper supplies would enable publishers to cope better in a context of inflation, devaluation or economic instability in general. With regard to the second aspect, the growing thirst for digital content shown by Latin American readers is a sign that the demand for books is not decreasing, it has just been transformed and now calls for other formats and new mediums. If the publishing industry were to find a way to take advantage of these changes, the benefits would be considerable, as Donozo adds:

In my case, I publish very specific books, books on music, where the electronic book offers me better possibilities than the paper book. For example, sometimes I have to produce books with more pages than I can print, because they would cost me a fortune. In addition, there are times when it is necessary to include materials that are not text - illustrations, musical examples, musical scores, sound, video, references, hyperlinks, bibliographies, internal hyperlinks, indexes of names with internal references – and here the electronic book may be much more efficient. At the same time, I want to publish more titles than I can print. So if I could make more interesting books that were cheaper to produce but were able to produce more titles, selling fewer copies and in a market like music where sound gives the book a new and extremely important dimension, that for me would be a great improvement.

In this context, it is interesting to observe that in a devastated country like Haiti, where paper publishing faces enormous restrictions, local publishers do not hesitate in identifying the huge opportunities that might emerge from new technologies. Rodney Saint-Eloi, the director of the publishing house Mémoire d’encrier, has this to say:

There is a great literary tradition in Haiti; the problem is the segregation of classes. Literature remains linked to the concept of social class. To people who eat, who go to school, who wear clothes, who travel… It is a social distinction. (…) paper exists but it isn’t popularized, democratized. Digital formats will make it possible to widen the sphere of citizenship.[3]

  1. Personal interview, February 2011.
  2. Cf. CERLALC, op. cit., October 2010, p. 7 onwards.
  3. Personal interviews, December 2010.


  1. Según mi experiencia con libros académicos, las ediciones digitales (me refiero al formato PDF pues el e-book aún no entra al mercado peruano) no restan compradores al libro impreso pues se dirigen a públicos diferentes. Sin embargo, aún no tengo estadísticas que respalden esa percepción.

  2. thierry quinqueton

     /  27/08/2011

    Intéressante la réflexion de Rodney sur la place de la littérature en Haiti. La fonction objective de ségrégation sociale de l’édition traditionnelle et les perspectives d’émancipation que pourrait représenter l’édition numérique dans un marché comme Haiti.
    Je conprends qu’on n’accepte pas la généralisation à tous les contextes d’une telle réflexion, mais on ne peut pas ne pas écouter avec attention ce qu’il nous dit là de la société qui est la sienne.

  3. Complétement d’accord avec Thierry, en même temps, quelle solution possède une société si ce n’est d’évoluer ? J’aime assez les systèmes d’édition actuels.

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