A U.S. mar­ket for bilin­gual books? Si.

Small com­pa­nies step in to fill void in of­fer­ings to chil­dren

Orlando Sentinel - - WALL STREET REPORT - By Alexan­dra Ol­son

NEW YORK — You might have heard of the three blind mice or the itsy-bitsy spi­der who went up the wa­ter spout. But have you ever heard of the lit­tle cold and hun­gry chicks?

If you grew up speak­ing Span­ish, the an­swer is prob­a­bly yes. But Susie Jaramillo wants ev­ery­one to know “Los Pol­li­tos,” a bed­time song about a hen tak­ing care of her hatch­lings that’s as fa­mil­iar in the Span­ish­s­peak­ing world as “Twin­kle, Twin­kle, Lit­tle Star” is to English speak­ers.

The song is the heart of Can­ti­cos, a se­ries of bilin­gual books, com­pan­ion apps and sin­ga­long videos that the Venezue­lan-Amer­i­can mother of two dreamed up af­ter she couldn’t find enough Span­ish-lan­guage books to read to her chil­dren. The brand, which de­buted in 2016, had its big­gest break­through this year when Nick­elodeon adapted it to de­velop a se­ries for tod­dlers on its dig­i­tal plat­forms.

Can­ti­cos cap­i­tal­ized on a grow­ing mar­ket for Span­ish books in the United States, which the tra­di­tional pub­lish­ing in­dus­try has ad­dressed in fits and starts. Small com­pa­nies are step­ping in to fill the void, lever­ag­ing so­cial me­dia and strate­gic re­tail part­ner­ships to tar­get key cus­tomer bases, of­ten ones they them­selves be­long to.

“When I had my first child, I went on­line and thought, ‘Where are all the board books of these songs that I grew up with,’ ” said Jaramillo, a for­mer co­founder of a Latino-fo­cused New York advertising agency.

Jaramillo teamed up with fel­low mother Nuria San­ta­maria Wolfe, a for­mer head of mul­ti­cul­tural strat­egy at Twit­ter, to launch En­can­tos Me­dia Stu­dios, an en­ter­tain­ment com­pany that re­leased Can­ti­cos as the first of its planned bilin­gual brands.

Two other moth­ers, Patty Ro­driguez and Ari­ana Stein, founded their own pub­lish­ing com­pany in 2014 when Ro­driguez couldn’t sell main­stream pub­lish­ers on her con­cept of a bilin­gual board book se­ries fea­tur­ing Latino icons and tra­di­tions. The com­pany, Lil’ Li­bros, landed a part­ner­ship with Tar­get just five months af­ter pub­lish­ing its first book, “Count­ing with Frida,” now the best-seller on Ama­zon among chil­dren’s count­ing books.

The books are now sold at 1,300 stores na­tion­wide.

“We didn’t ex­pect this re­ac­tion. We were do­ing it for love. If 100 kids picked up our books, we would have been happy,” said Ro­driguez, a se­nior pro­ducer for the ra­dio show “On Air With Ryan Seacrest.”

Friends Chiara Ar­royo and Ce­lene Navarette were on the book fair com­mit­tee of their chil­dren’s bilin­gual school in Los An­ge­les when they no­ticed the spotty Span­ish-lan­guage se­lec­tion. They per­suaded Mex­i­can pub­lish­ers to send some ti­tles, set up two ta­bles and quickly sold out. They founded their busi­ness five years ago, sell­ing books at other school fairs and then on­line.

By 2015, they had opened La Li­bre­ria, a store in cen­tral Los An­ge­les and na­tion­wide dis­trib­u­tor of books from Latin Amer­ica and Spain.

U.S. sales of chil­dren’s Span­ish-lan­guage books rose 6 per­cent over the past year to 1.5 mil­lion units, ac­cord­ing to NDP BookS­can. Over­all Span­ish­language books jumped 15 per­cent.

But that still rep­re­sents less than 1 per­cent of the over­all book mar­ket in a coun­try with more than 41 mil­lion Span­ish speak­ers.

Ma­jor pub­lish­ers and dis­trib­u­tors have pur­sued the Span­ish-lan­guage mar­ket for years with mixed re­sults. Some closed or down­sized Span­ish-lan­guage im­prints af­ter sales fell short of ex­pec­ta­tions dur­ing the Great Re­ces­sion, and as the in­dus­try strug­gled to ad­just to the Ama­zon era that squeezed tra­di­tional book­sell­ers.

In an in­ter­net-driven age of frac­tured con­sumer mar­kets, Jaramillo and San­ta­maria Wolf said strate­gic part­ner­ships have been key, par­tic­u­larly with brands and re­tail­ers like Tar­get, which con­sid­ers His­panic moth­ers a key cus­tomer base.

Pam Kauf­man, pres­i­dent of global con­sumer prod­ucts at Vi­a­com/Nick­elodeon, said the com­pany had been look­ing for a baby brand when she was in­tro­duced to Can­ti­cos at an in­dus­try con­fer­ence. When she showed the videos to her His­panic col­leagues, some teared up.

“I thought, ‘OK, we have some­thing here,’ ” Kauf­man said.

Nick­elodeon, which also added a Span­ish-lan­guage hub to its video sub­scrip­tion ser­vice in the spring, is plan­ning a line of Can­ti­cos toys, cloth­ing and decor for next year.

With sales pick­ing up, ma­jor play­ers in the tra­di­tional book in­dus­try are ex­pand­ing their Span­ish­language busi­ness. HarperCollins launched a new Span­ish-lan­guage divi­sion in 2015. Chicago-based dis­trib­u­tor IPG, al­ready a key dis­trib­u­tor of Span­ish-lan­guage books, added two pub­lish­ers from Spain and one from Mex­ico in Novem­ber.

Ar­royo and Navarette, owners of La Li­bre­ria, said the rise of dual-lan­guage pro­grams in schools is driv­ing in­ter­est in chil­dren’s books orig­i­nally writ­ten in Span­ish.

The trou­ble is keep­ing up with de­mand. Latin Amer­i­can and Span­ish pub­lish­ers tend to have print­ing cy­cles that are too slow and small for the U.S. con­sumer mar­ket.

In the United States, a grow­ing num­ber of His­panic authors are push­ing for Span­ish trans­la­tions of their books or weav­ing the lan­guage into sto­ries with bilin­gual themes.

Juana Martinez-Leal wrote both the Span­ish and English ver­sions of her award-win­ning “Alma and How She Got Her Name” and in­sisted on a pub­lisher that would re­lease them si­mul­ta­ne­ously, said her agent, Ste­fanie Sanchez Von Bors­tel.

Von Bors­tel said sales of the Span­ish edi­tion have been a lit­tle slower, partly be­cause bilin­gual and Span­ish-lan­guage books face a tough bat­tle for shelf space.

Ro­driguez and Stein un­der­stand that prob­lem well.

Once, they were stunned to find Lil’ Li­bros — an Amer­i­can se­ries — up­stairs in the “for­eign sec­tion” of an Ore­gon book­store.

Stein scooped them all up and marched them down­stairs to the chil­dren’s sec­tion her­self.

MARY ALTAFFER/AP

MARY ALTAFFER/AP

Susie Jaramillo co-founded the me­dia com­pany be­hind the Can­ti­cos se­ries, above.

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