• 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

The history of digital publishing in Latin America

The first experiments in digital publishing in Latin America date back to the late 1990s; that is to say, to the time of the first Internet bubble. Dozens of digital libraries sprang up throughout the region during that period. In 1999, in the framework of the Crecer Project, the Argentine rural libraries association founded the Universal Virtual Library, with the aim of digitizing texts by classic authors, particularly Latin American and Spanish ones. That same year, the portal Tiflolibros, the first Spanish-speaking digital repository for the blind, was also founded in Buenos Aires. Not long after that, in 2001, the Puerto Rican writer Luis López Nieves created the Ciudad Seva Digital Library, for the purpose of familiarizing readers with the universally classic short story. Around the same time the webpage Cholonautas (a project developed by the Institute of Peruvian Studies) was inaugurated in Peru, followed by its virtual library specializing in social sciences.

Around the same time, the first sales platforms for electronic books were inaugurated – some of which are still active –, such as Elaleph or Librosenred, both from Argentina.[1] The file formats most commonly used were EXE,[2] PDF and LIT.[3]

For various reasons, those pioneering platforms did not manage to become immediate commercial successes. No doubt the main ones were the fact that Latin American consumers were unaccustomed to reading from a screen and the limited number of online payment options.[4] This last reason also explains why the very first online stores selling paper books achieved a lower level of growth than expected.[5]

Similarly, one fundamental element contributed to the poor development of electronic books: in the early 2000s, in almost every Latin American country, traditional publishing showed signs of great dynamism, [6] which is why publishers viewed the digital option with less interest.[7] Moreover, the image of music stores closing down or traditional record companies in decline due to the unauthorized reproduction of CDs and MP3 files led most publishers to postpone any experiment with electronic formats.

However, since the mid-noughties, the appearance of certain actors, trends and digital tools has brought about a profound change in the publishing landscape.

  1. At that time the Argentine peso was overvalued, which encouraged the importation of technology and the creation of Internet start-ups.
  2. That is to say, books that could be executed as small desktop applications.
  3. The Microsoft Reader LIT extension constitutes a variant of the Microsoft Compiled HTML Help format, adapted to include DRM.
  4. According to data from the consultancy firm Tendencias Digitales, specializing in studies on the Latin American digital market, in 2007 – that is, quite some time after the first dot com bubble – 70% of Internet users in the region claimed never to have made a purchase through the web. The main reasons given were the low penetration of credit cards (32.6%) – greater in Peru, Costa Rica and Ecuador – and mistrust in the means of payment (31.6%). With higher rates in Costa Rica, Argentina and Mexico, in addition to other factors such as lack of trust in the delivery of the item (25.5%), the habit of choosing the product in the store (24.5%), the lack of personalized attention (15.4%) and the shipping costs (9.3%); cf. “70% de los usuarios latinos aseguran no haber comprado por Internet”, Internet-Latinoamérica, 19th November, 2007. The situation has changed in the last few years: in a 2010 study, the same consultancy firm shows that 49% of Latin Americans have already made an online purchase. The leading countries in this modality were Argentina, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Uruguay; cf. “Casi la mitad de los usuarios latinoamericanos ha comprado por Internet”, Internet-Latinoamérica, 4th June, 2010.
  5. According to data from CERLALC, in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil, sales of physical books through Internet channels between 1998 and 2004 did not exceed 0.2% of the total. Cf. Uribe, Richard: La distribución del libro en América Latina, CERLALC, September 2006, p. 7.
  6. With the exception of Argentina, a country that suffered a profound economic crisis in the early 2000s.
  7. The study Percepción sobre el clima empresarial editorial – 2004 by CERLALC indicates that 79% of the professionals surveyed had witnessed an increase in the level of sales in relation to the previous year.

Leave a Reply