Publishing in the Languages of Spain: Present and Future Trends

By Alain Couartou, Iberbook International, S.A.

Romance Discussion Group, ALA Midwinter Meeting, January 12, 1998

WESS Newsletter

Spring 1998, Vol. 21, no. 2

Association of College & Research Libraries
©American Library Association

What I want to do today is to look at the current situation and future trends in publishing in the autonomous regions - the Comunidades Autonomas - of Spain and in the different languages of Spain. There are three sections to my talk:

Firstly, I would like to give you an overview of the publishing sector in general. This will allow us to make comparisons and to recognize similarities and differences.

Secondly, we shall look at specific facts and figures on publishing in Catalan, Basque, Galician and - of lesser importance - Valencian, Asturian and Aranes.

And finally, I should like to offer you some considerations of a historical-political-cultural nature with a view to forecasting the possible future of publishing in the above languages.

I. An Overview of the Publishing Sector

a) The general TRENDS of the publishing sector in Spain are well defined and have been evident for several years. They are similar to those in other Western European countries:

- an increasing concentration;
- an integration of publishing work within the activities of the large communication groups; - a steady decline in the average number of copies printed;
- and a growth in electronic publishing.

b) The Publishing Houses

- There are about 3,300 active publishing houses in Spain. 80% are commercial publishers or non-profit making institutions. 20% are within the various public administration bodies.
- Of these 3,300 publishing houses only about 700 publish more than 10 books a year.
- Approximately 10,000 people work directly in publishing.

c) The Number of Books Published

- About 50,000 books with ISBN numbers are published each year in Spain. 80% are first editions
- an interesting fact given that in France, Italy, Germany and the United kingdom only 50% or 70% are first editions. Or, to put it another way, Spain reprints and re-edits less.

- Now if we exclude from these 40,000 first editions all translated works (25% of the total) - or rather, to be more exact, all translations from languages not native to Spain - and if we also exclude children's books, textbooks, books on sport, cookery, vanity, etc., then we are left with about 5,000 titles which are of particular interest to university libraries. And these are approximately:

2,000 on Literature and Linguistics
1,400 on History
1,300 on Social Sciences
300 on Art

- It is worth noting that between 1995 and 1996 there was a 10% drop in the publication of critical and historical works on Spanish and Latin American literature and narrative. On the other hand, 20% more books on the theater were published and poetry publications remained at the same level.

- In the same period of 1995-1996 the number of books catalogued under Social Sciences also fell by some 8%.

d) Average Print Runs

Since 1985 the trend has been one of a slow but steady decline in the number of copies (not titles) published annually. There are books with editions of more than 30,000 copies, but for many titles fewer than 1,000 copies are published (average: 5,000 for Literature, 2,000 for Social Sciences).

As would be expected, the fewest copies printed are those of books on Social Sciences. And the reduction in the print run is usually matched by a rise in the average price of a book.

e) Price Movements

Let me just confirm the good news that you are already aware of. I should emphasize that since 1991 there has been a clear price stability or just a minimal rise in the average price of books in Spain. And if we add to this the 30% fall in the value of the peseta in relation to the dollar, the current low inflation rate in Spain, and if we refer to the average book price of about 2,300 Pts., - then a book which cost $23 in 1992 now costs more or less the same.

To conclude this overview of the publishing sector, let me underline the fact that the large companies and publishing groups today produce three-quarters of the books published and only 34% of sales are made through book shops.

I should also mention the current publication of about 1,000 multimedia books (that is, book plus CD plus video plus floppy disk or cassette), 2,000 microfiches/titles and 1,000 CD-ROMs (electronic publishing).

II. Publishing in the Automomous Regions of Spain and in Languages other Than Spanish

Keeping the previous overview in mind, I would now like to move on to the topic of publishing in the autonomous regions of the Spain - The Comunidades Autónomas - and in languages other than Spanish.

In Spain publishing has traditionally been centered on Madrid and Barcelona. Madrid maintains its prime position (despite some decrease in its dominance) with 38% of the titles published, followed by Barcelona with 33%.

1. The autonomous regions which have increased their production most are Cantabria, Aragon, Navarre and the Balearic Islands. Figures for 1996 give the following ranking (Spanish + Languages other than Spanish):

1. Madrid 18,800
2. Catalonia 16,600
3. Valencia 2,900
4. Andalusia 2,600
5. The Basque Country 2,300
6. Castile and Leon 1,600
7. Galicia 1,500
8. Navarre 800

Publishing for the more global market - essentially that done in Madrid and Catalonia - differs from publishing for the local market not only in the number of titles produced but also, of course, in larger editions.

One very interesting development which is worth drawing your attention to is the increase in translations from and into the various languages of Spain (some 2,200 books). Spanish is in fact not the language which is most translated into Catalán, Galician and Basque. And Catalan is in third place after English and French for languages translated into Spanish.

The languages translated most are, in order:


The recent trend has been one of a gradual reduction in translations from foreign languages (English, French, German, Italian) and a steady increase in translations between the various languages of Spain.

It is also worth noting the growth in material in English, French and German published in Spain by Spanish publishers and, above all, the increase in books in Portuguese published in Spain (more than 700 titles - almost as high as the number of books in English).

Let us now have a look at the figures for books published in the different languages of Spain (ISBN statistics for 1996):

Spanish 39,000 77%
Catalan 5,500 12%
Galician 1,100 2.5%
Basque 1,100 2.5%
Valencia 500 1.5%
Asturian 40
Aragonese 10
Aranes 3

2. Publishing in Catalan

Every year some 500 publishers produce between 5,500 and 6,000 books in Catalan. And in 1996 the number of books published in Catalan increased by 4.5%.

The greatest number of books translated into Catalan are those in English closely followed by those in Spanish.

Not all the books in Catalan are published in Catalonia - 11% are produced in Valencia and 9% in Madrid.

85% of the books in Catalan are published by the private sector with 5% of the commercial publishers producing 55% of the total. Public sector publishing is following a downward trend while private sector publishing is increasing.

Textbooks and children's books account for 50% of the production, with literature standing at 16%, linguistics at 2.5% and history at 6%.

Between 1982 and 1996 there was a significant increase in total production - 2,000 books in Catalan were published in 1982, 6,000 in 1997.

3. Publishing in Basque

Some 100 publishers produce around 1,100 titles every year. In 1996 the number of books published in Basque increased by 13%.

Books in Spanish followed by books in English are those most translated into Basque.

Vizcaya, Guipuzcoa and Madrid (7%) are the centers of significant publishing activity.

90% of the books in Basque are published by private companies with 7% of the commercial publishers accounting for 62% of the total. As in the case of Catalan, public sector publishing is tending to decrease and private sector publishing is increasing.

Textbooks and children's books account for 70% of production, literature and linguistics 17%.

In 1982, 340 titles in Basque were published; fifteen years later the figure was more than 1,100.

4. Publishing in Galician

There are also about 100 publishers producing 1,100 books in Galician.

In contrast to Catalan and Basque, Galician appears to be reflecting the minimal decline recorded recently for publishing overall in Spain.

The production of titles translated from Spanish or English into Galician is low (14%).

Most books in Galician are published in La Corunya, Pontevedra and Madrid ( 17%).

80% of the books published in Galician are produced by private companies. 10% of the publishers produce 70% of the books. Once again public sector publishing is tending to decrease.

Textbooks and children's books account for 50% of the production and literary works 18%.

218 titles in Galician were published in 1982 and 1,130 in 1996.

To sum up, in all three areas: Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia we should note:

The decrease in public sector or institutional publishing and the dominance of the commercial publishers, who produce 85% of the books. In contrast, public sector publishing is much more evident in, for example, Andalusia or Extremadura.

A considerable increase between 1982 and 1992/1993 in books published in Catalan, Basque and Galician and some instability since 1992/1993.

III. The Historical-Political-Cultural Background to Publishing in the Languages of Spain other than Spanish

There is no need for any hard-headed realists among you to become alarmed. I didn't examine the entrails of a chicken before coming here. Neither did I consult the Delphic oracle with a view to entering into what we now call futurology. And I am not going to commit myself to more than a few reflections of a historical-political nature. These might seem to be far removed from the concerns of the publishing sector, but there are in fact key socio-political factors which will significantly influence this sector in the future. The oppression of the peripheral cultures in Spain during the almost forty years of the Franco regime is often referred to. For some, this provides the key to or principal explanation for today's regionalist, federalist, independence and/or separatist movements. Others emphasize the huge differences between and cultural wealth of the regions and peoples of Spain. They also maintain that such regional differences and cultural identities are more pronounced in Spain than in the provinces and regions of other countries in Europe. But, of course, such people usually travel rapidly from country to country by plane and were certainly not born in Scotland or Wales or Alsace or Brittany or Corsica or Sicily - to name but a few examples.

Many others offer a deterministic interpretation or cite economic conditions. Catalonia and the Basque Country are, of course, highly developed regions of Spain. But any comparative study will reveal a weakness in this argument. Take Corsica and Brittany, for example. Are they not two regions of France with both low levels of development and strong nationalist movements?

Looked at from a historical point of view, the trends in Spain towards autonomy and separatism (and there was even a cantonal movement during the First Spanish Republic in 1868) intensified with the vanishing of the colonial empire. The liberal Ortega y Gasset and many other writers, including the British anarchist sympathizer Gerald Brenan, saw the birth or strengthening of these trends as a result of the country's failures and disasters in international affairs. For the political-economic-cultural elite the war against the United States in particular brought with it fragmentation and a brutal confrontation with reality. 1898 is a key date.

It is perhaps also worth noting the anti-centralist ideology that existed during the Carlist wars of the 19th century. Carlism was particularly alive in Catalonia, Navarre and the Basque Country. And these wars were not only dynastic or religious. They were also a manifestation both of the rejection of the centralism of the liberal monarchy and of the struggle of the small farmers and ordinary clergy against the large landed estates (latifundismo) and centralized capitalism of the high aristocracy and bourgeoisie, and of the struggle to defend local freedoms: the traditional rights (Fueros). Nor should one forget the bonds and agreements that existed in the Basque Country during the Second Republic between the Monarchist Carlists, defenders of the Fueros, and the Nationalist Republicans, defenders of the Statute of Autonomy. Only in 1936 did they then find themselves on opposite sides. During the whole of the Second Republic the activities of the nationalist- regionalist parties were marginal to and only to a small extent opposed to the large parties of the right and left. And let us not forget that a liberal-radical "jacobin" like Azaña or a socialist moderate like Prieto both expressed the same distrust of these regional nationalisms as the conservative monarchist Calvo Sotelo.

Sixty years later, with the long interruption of the Franco dictatorship now consigned to history, the situation is quite different. Today the nationalist political parties, which exist above all in three of the seventeen autonomous regions, wish to recover not only their languages but also all aspects of their cultures. They claim an ever greater role and increasing political power. Today the Basques and the Catalans have their own police forces and television channels, they control their education systems, and they keep an increasing percentage of the national budget to finance their own regions in the manner they choose. Furthermore, they have considerable room for maneuver given that the minority Catalans and Basques have entered into coalitions with the central government of the Spanish State and have the power to bring it down. Today, to a certain extent they control the balance of the central power.

The roots of this nationalism-regionalism are much deeper and older than is customarily accepted. Europe as a whole has always been subject to tensions - at some times strong, at others less so, depending on period and place - between universalist and particularist tendencies. Throughout Europe the unification of the Nation State, today in crisis, took place most significantly after the French Revolution. And from these roots grew nationalism. The origins of nationalism lay clearly on the left. It was inseparable from liberal-radicalism. It was egalitarian, democratic, expansionist, militaristic, humanistic, universalist, secularist and centralist. During the whole of the 19th century centralized liberalism crushed all regionalist or federalist stirrings. One should not forget that to the liberal-radicals, and later the socialists, the supporters of local freedoms and regional identities - the Federalists - were reactionary and obscurantist.

Only at the end of the 19th century did things begin to change. Centralizing liberal-radicalism, dominant throughout continental Europe, had to compete with a more conservative liberalism of Anglo-Saxon origin. Liberalism moved to the right and the right in turn became nationalistic. On the left only the anarchist-socialists had shown a certain sympathy towards federalism and regionalism. The Marxist Bolshevik socialists or social democrats were decidedly internationalist. Then a second change occurs after the 2nd World War. While Spain lives in isolation with its nationalist-regionalist movements persecuted and suppressed, in the rest of Europe the totalitarian and authoritarian tendencies of the Marxist and radical left are subject to harsh criticism, both internal and external.

The movements for autonomy then make a turn to the left. They begin to accommodate heterogeneous tendencies: Libertarian, Marxist, Maoist, Trotskyist. The ideology of ETA will clearly be Nationalist-Bolshevik. In parallel, the large majority of nationalist-regionalists maintain their defense of conservative values. In the Europe of today both right and left are split between supporters of the conventional or reorganized Nation State and defenders, moderate or radical, of local and regional freedoms and identities. The age-old debate between individualism, communitarianism, universalism and particularism surfaces with more force than ever before. The decline of the Nation State brings with it two contrasting consequences: the steady development and creation of a United Europe and, simultaneously, the strengthening of regional nationalism.

The key questions today are: Are we building a future based on communities that defend their cultural, linguistic, religious and historical roots and show mutual respect for these roots? Is this the basis of a new world order? Or does the future of Europe lie in the existing Nation States or in new supranational-regional entities that may emerge from the union of peoples or homelands currently existing within the Nation States? A series of other questions are yet to be answered: Should the right to be different be an individual right or a shared right of both the individual and the community? Can we embrace equality and the world brotherhood of Man without compromising diversity, without destroying particular identities? How can we spread the universalist message without running the risk of causing conflicts with those who reject or do not wish to hear this message?

Let us now return to our specific concern. What will the future hold for publishing in Spain in languages other than Spanish?

The Spanish State has always been multilingual and made up of various peoples. Throughout history the languages, cultures and traditions of these peoples have suffered from inequalities. Today they are recovering, manifesting themselves and, at the same time, the autonomous political processes are developing. Cause or effect? Whatever may be the case, publishing is a manifestation of the vigor of the culture and language of a people and of a linguistic community. For this reason its future seems to be assured.


- Panoramica de la edicion espanola de libros, 1996. Madrid, Ministerio de Educacion y Cultura, 1997.
- Comercio exterior del libro. Madrid, Federacion Espanola de Camaras del Libro, 1997.
- Comercio interior del libro en Espana. Madrid, Federacion de Gremios de Editores de Espana, 1997.

Mr. Alain Couartou of Iberbook International, S. A. (Madrid)

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