November 16, 2011

Spanish language publishing tragedy: Norma discontinues adult fiction and non-fiction lines


We wrote yesterday about problems with publishing in Latin America. Tragically, those problems were massively exacerbated a few weeks ago when the multinational Spanish-language publisher Norma decided to discontinue four of its lines: adult fiction, non-fiction, self-help and pocket editions. The group is based in Colombia but has interests in Spain, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Panama, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Brazil. The company forms part of the Grupo Carvajal Internacional S.A., founded in 1904 and also based in Colombia, which will henceforth be dedicating itself solely to educational publishing.

This decision is a huge blow to literature in Spanish, particularly as writers in Latin America already frequently complain of the domination of the market by enormous multinational houses based in Spain, and the disadvantage at which that places them in seeking publishing deals. Norma has an eye-watering list, publishing a huge number of great books, giving young writers breaks and also filling in large sections of the canon, and it’s hard not to wonder at and resent this decision to bow out. As you might expect, there’s been a vociferous reaction to it in publishing circles in Colombia. Angel Unfried, the editor of the Colombian magazine El Mal Pensante, says that Norma has taken ‘the easiest path’ and that ‘while other groups develop alternative products for the challenges posed by ebooks, Norma has taken a decision that doesn’t only close doors to young authors, but which could be copied by other companies.’

In another interview, in the Colombian magazine Libros y Letras, Philippe Vergnaud, the director general of comic book and graphic novel publisher Ediciones B observed:

I’m a member of the directors’ committee of the Colombian Book Association, and this is without doubt an important message for the Association. Norma was, in the adult sector, one of the most important publishing points of reference, since they still have big-selling authors, but they were also a good bet for unknown Colombian authors, and for this beast to say, from one moment to the next, ‘Bye, I’m going to sleep!’, is worrying, because it seems to suggests that there isn’t any profitability, that there’s no market, that there are too many of us and why continue investing? From the point of view of Ediciones B, without doubt it’s an opportunity to go out and fish for authors, we’ll gain certain spaces that, in inverted commas, ‘were theirs’ in certain bookshops. You could say that the range of options has narrowed, but in any case it continues to be huge.

Of course canny smaller publishers will make some gains in the wake of this decision, but that aside there’s a very real worry that nobody else can fill this gap; that it will permanently alter the industry. And that’s to say nothing of the horrifying message sent by such wholesale abandonment by such an established force, and besides that the knock-on effect that this will have on diversity in translations into English and other languages. It’s distressing news on so many fronts. We can only hope that other publishers can remember what an important job it is that they do.


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