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Textbooks and teaching materials are still the core of the Latin market, but American-style how-to titles are gaining fast
Textbook publishers form the foundation of the book business in almost every Latin American country. The biggest and most powerful operators in the industry, these companies have the best distribution systems and the deepest pockets. Some are linked to and some compete with their U.S. counterparts--like McGraw-Hill, a powerful force in the region for several decades.
Many of these publishers are now looking beyond their traditionally defined markets for new opportunities. Home educational products are growing in importance, as are practical educational titles for adults, sold in street corner kiosks and door-to-door.
The peso crisis in Mexico at the end of 1994 got everybody's attention, and forced textbook publishers to rethink their strategies. Fred Perkins, who has been in charge of the Ibero-American operations at McGraw-Hill for many years, told PW that "in 1994, we forgot Latin America is Latin America. The collapse in Mexico was a tremendous blow to us all. So we are seeing now a typical Latin American scenario, with a long, slow recovery."
While he admits that overall progress has been made in Mexico-- and in Venezuela, the other problem economy in the region--he worries that recent guerrilla developments in Mexico and Colombia could hurt that recovery. "In general, though" he continues, "Latin American governments are more responsive to people's needs and to the value of private enterprise than they were."
For McGraw-Hill, original publishing is the fastest-growing sector and now constitutes a significant percentage of total sales. "We are very proud of this," says Perkins. "We want to be part of the Latin American community of authors, a real Spanish-world publisher, not just a translation agency."
While McGraw-Hill remains among the top three secondary school book suppliers, all the textbook publishers in Mexico complain about the monopoly the government has held on primary school publishing since the 1950s. The damage is evident. "More than 50 million Mexicans never read a book," Jose Angel Quintanilla, director general of Longman de Mexico says glumly. "That's why we publishers …