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B&N tries new strategy, en Espanol

Book retailer Barnes & Noble is planning a major expansion of its Spanish-language offerings, adding thousands of new books to its shelves.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The market for books in Spanish, already among of the most promising in the publishing industry, is about to get a lot bigger. Barnes & Noble, Inc., is adding thousands of new books to its Spanish-language sections.

The superstore chain planned to officially announce the expansion and other initiatives on Monday but spoke last week with The Associated Press.

“I’m thrilled,” says Rene Algeria, editorial director of Rayo, the Spanish-language imprint of HarperCollins. “There’s already a great spirit of optimism in the Hispanic market, and what Barnes & Noble is doing is a significant step.”

Books in all categories will be added, from self-help to literary fiction. And Barnes & has started Libros en Espanol, an online service that includes author interviews, a best-seller list — topped by the Spanish edition of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s memoirs — and a guide to Barnes & Noble stores that sell works in Spanish.

“We’ve had double digit increases in sales for the past four years in Spanish language books,” says Mike Ferrari, director of merchandising for Barnes & Noble. “It’s one of the few areas where you’re fighting to keep up with customer demand.”

While much of the industry has struggled in recent years, interest in Spanish-language books has been rapidly increasing. Many credit the 2000 census, which showed the number of Hispanics increased by 58 percent over the previous decade to 35.3 million, drawing nearly even with non-Hispanic blacks as the largest minority group in the United States.

“The census really made a lot of people notice that market,” says Karin N. Kiser, executive director of Kiser & Associates, a San Diego-based consultant group for Spanish book publishing. “For a long time, people who were interested in Spanish-language books had nowhere to buy them.”

Over the past few years, Barnes & Noble formed a national program for Spanish titles and started a Spanish language section. Borders has been steadily increasing offerings and earlier this year opened a store in Pico Rivera, Calif., that features bilingual signs and a special area for Spanish language children’s books.

“We’re definitely growing by double digits in Spanish-language books,” says Anne Kubek, Border’s vice president of marketing for books.

Several publishers now have imprints. Simon & Schuster recently launched an imprint for Spanish children’s books and Scholastic Inc. just announced its own expansion of such titles. Scholastic will release an edition of Madonna’s children’s book, “The English Rose,” which comes out Monday with a 25,000 first printing in Spanish translation.

“There are more and more Latinos who are very proud of speaking Spanish and want their children to learn Spanish,” says Macarena Salas, Scholastic’s director of Spanish book publishing.

Numerous works have attracted strong interest in Spanish translation. The first four Harry Potter books have about 350,000 Spanish editions in print and the Spanish version of the fifth book, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” comes out next spring. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s memoirs, published last year, have sold more than 75,000 copies in Spanish, a high number for a hardcover even in English. More than 1 million copies of the “Clifford” children’s series are in print.

“It’s funny,” Alegria says. “There was so much hype when it came to e-books and how technology was where publishing was going.

“And I would watch from the sidelines and get excited, but I always thought, ‘Here we are. Hispanics are ready to buy. Why aren’t we being catered to?’ There was an immediate demand for good old-fashioned books and they couldn’t ignore that.”