November 21, 2012

Requiem for Norma


There’s been no shortage of publishing news sensations in the past year. While the anglophones among us reel from the news of the Penguin/Random merger, book types in Latin America are still coming to terms with the discontinuation of pan-continental Editorial Norma’s fiction and non-fiction lines, announced late last year.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

To give you an idea of how big this news was: this is Gabriel García Márquez’s publisher in his home of Colombia, with branches in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Panama, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Brazil, and also Spain (on which more later).

Argentine newspaper Página/12 has just published a requiem for Norma, which reads more like a post-mortem told from an Argentina perspective. It makes for fascinating if heartbreaking reading. Leonora Djament, who headed Norma in Argentina between 1999 and 2007, before leaving to take charge of the totally awesome Eterna Cadencia, blames its downfall in part on lack of consolidation and brand consistency across the continent. For example, while Norma published García Márquez in Colombia, in Argentina he’s published by Sudamericana, putting the Argentine branch continually a few steps behind its Colombian sister.

There was also the question of determination to break the Spanish market, so often a preoccupation if not a full-blown mania for Latin American companies. Carlos Castillo, who headed editorial operations in the Bogotá branch between 2003 and 2009, says that this ended up being the company’s big mistake. Norma bought two Spanish publishers, Belaqua and Granica. Belaqua turned out to be a terrible investment, its accounts a mess, and when the Spanish crisis started to hit in 2007, the bottom really fell out of the plan to expand. At the end of that year Norma had losses of $9m, $7m of them from Spain.

One of the most interesting pieces of the article, at least from the perspective of readers trying to fathom the metamorphosis of the big six into the big five, is an almost throwaway comment from Djament. She says that in the Norma group there were only ever a comparative few people interested in expanding the fiction catalogue — and sure enough when the announcement was made about no more fiction publishing, the group said it would be concentrating from then onwards on more lucrative educational publishing only.

Ring any bells, Pearson?



Ellie Robins is an editor at Melville House. Previously, she was managing editor of Hesperus Press.