HispanicVista Columnists

Reading here or there

By Erika Robles

Average reading levels in Mexico are much lower than those in countries such as Argentina, Spain and Italy. In average, Mexicans read one or two books per year, compared to 10 to 12
books read in Spain, Italy and Argentina.

Many bookstores in Mexico are on the verge of closing down, and many others have already done so. Meanwhile, from 2001 to 2004, around 10 percent of all publishers have shut down. According to the Mexican Booksellers Association, "despite having three times the population of Argentina, Mexico produces 2,000 fewer titles each year. There are roughly 500 bookstores in
Mexico, serving a population of 100 million, which equates into one for every 200,000 Mexicans, compared to a ratio of one to 35,000 in the US and one to 12,000 in Spain.

Two decades ago, in Mexico there was an illiteracy rate of 20 percent; nowadays, that rate has gone down to 8 percent. However that has had little success in encouraging people to read for pleasure. A library-studies researcher at the National
Autonomous University in Mexico (UNAM) says that" Mexico simply has never had a culture favorable to reading."

Consumer books in 2002 decreased in volume by 0.5 percent, compared to 1998 despite the important 6 percent growth from 2001 to 2002. However, institutional books showed that sales went up by 11 percent over the same period. This clearly shows that books, in general, are seen as having an instructional use and nothing else. Therefore, books meant to be for pleasurable reading are not seen as an enjoyable experience.

The fact that on average Mexicans do not read has tremendous impact on the educational level
Mexico is currently found in. Few people associate the lack of reading with low school scores; the see reading as a chore, something they have to do in order to pass the school grade. Reading for pleasure has almost vanished and that's something that ought to change.

In the United States, the story is not very different from the one found in Mexico among Hispanics. A recent survey, conducted by Kiser & Associates titled "The Elusive Consumer: Who are the readers of books in Spanish in the United States?," identifies the reading habits of U.S. Hispanics. "The appealing 38 million strong Hispanic market does not mean that there are 38 million readers of Spanish-only books and magazines," indicated Karin N. Kiser, executive director of Kiser & Associates.

The study found that 40 million Hispanics represent approximately 11 million Hispanic households. Of those household who responded, 86 percent purchased at least one book a year, while 29 percent bough 10 or more adult books in Spanish a year, and half of those respondents read a magazine at least once per week.

For the last 5 years, the Spanish-language book industry in the U.S has come a long way. The American Association of Publisher declared 2003 as the "Year of Publishing for Latinos". All of these events suggest that there is a large and growing market for the publishing industry publishing in Spanish for the Spanish-speaking population. However, the publishing industry has also experienced difficulty supporting such initiative.


Kensington Publishing, for instance, discontinued its Spanish-language and bilingual editions. Plough Publishing began translating some of its key titles in 2001, only to
terminate them a couple of years later. Random House a major publishing company- reorganized to focus more on importing and distributing and less on publishing adult Spanish-language titles.

One of the reasons of Spanish-language books have not been as successful as some thought, is that a lot of Hispanics are second or third generations, who prefer to read in English or who are not bilingual. There is also the fact that no matter where you decide to live, if reading has never been part of your culture and there has never been any encouragement to read in your family, the chances of taking reading up are low.


I have always said that learning begins at home. What kids see their parents do, they will imitate and later adopt it. If nobody in the family reads, the chances of the kid approaching a book and reading it for pleasure are almost extinct.

In my next article, I will further discuss the fact that many second, third and forth generations of Hispanics do not speak Spanish and the benefits and struggles of being bilingual.
Erika Robles, a contributing columnist to HispanicVista.com (www.hispanicvista.com), is a writer and translator now living in Eugene
, Oregon. She was educated in Mexico City; London, England; and Melbourne, Australia. Contact at: erobleswords@yahoo.com. Web page: http://www.geocities.com/oakspublishing