With an increasing number of college students and the lowest illiteracy rates ever, book sales should be on the rise in Brazil. In reality, they’re not. Instead, book publishers have lost revenue over the last four years, according to a paper published this week by Brazil’s Economic Research Foundation (Fipe).

Book sales peaked in 2013, with nearly 480 million copies sold both to individual readers and the government (the bulk of the latter being schoolbooks). In 2018, only 352 million books were sold, just 20 million copies more than in 2009 and a 25-percent drop from the peak.

</span></p> <hr /> <p><img class="alignnone size-full wp-image-16613" src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-Idjqn.png" alt="brazil book sales" width="1200" height="800" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-Idjqn.png 1200w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-Idjqn-300x200.png 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-Idjqn-768x512.png 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-Idjqn-1024x683.png 1024w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-Idjqn-610x407.png 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1200px) 100vw, 1200px" /></p> <hr /> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Brazil’s book-buying curve is bimodal—in other words, it has two peaks. The first crest comes in the mid-1990s, when the creation of the Brazilian Real ended hyperinflation and made it easier for families to plan ahead and bring home items that were considered as luxury goods—including poultry, yogurt&#8230; and books. Publishing houses, both for <a href="https://brazilian.report/guide-to-brazil/2019/04/23/14-must-reads-brazilian-literature/">literature</a> and <a href="https://brazilian.report/money/2017/11/01/brazils-media-freedom-speech/">journalism</a>, took hefty loans to buy new printing equipment. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Book sales were never as profitable as they were back in the 1990s. And since 2009, revenues are on a downward spiral—with 2018 being the worst year in the last three decades.</span></p> <hr /> <p><img class="alignnone size-full wp-image-16611" src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-0S3dK.png" alt="brazil book sales" width="1200" height="800" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-0S3dK.png 1200w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-0S3dK-300x200.png 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-0S3dK-768x512.png 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-0S3dK-1024x683.png 1024w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-0S3dK-610x407.png 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1200px) 100vw, 1200px" /></p> <hr /> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">New publishers rose to prominence during the bonanza years of the mid-1990s, including coffee-table publisher Cosac &amp; Naify (1995), left-wing publisher Boitempo (1995), comics and activism-focused Conrad (1993), and Sextante (1998). The latter hit the jackpot by publishing American author Dan Brown in Brazil—whose body of work includes best-selling novels </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Da Vinci Code </span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">and </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">Angels &amp; Demons</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In 1997, a then-record 54,460 different titles were released or reprinted in Brazil. There was a small boom of pocketbooks, led by L&amp;PM Editores and followed by other publishers.</span></p> <hr /> <p><img class="alignnone size-full wp-image-16618" src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-ly6an.png" alt="book sales genre brazil" width="1200" height="800" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-ly6an.png 1200w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-ly6an-300x200.png 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-ly6an-768x512.png 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-ly6an-1024x683.png 1024w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-ly6an-610x407.png 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1200px) 100vw, 1200px" /></p> <hr /> <p><img class="alignnone size-full wp-image-16617" src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-Q7fgN.png" alt="book sales genre brazil" width="1200" height="800" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-Q7fgN.png 1200w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-Q7fgN-300x200.png 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-Q7fgN-768x512.png 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-Q7fgN-1024x683.png 1024w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-Q7fgN-610x407.png 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1200px) 100vw, 1200px" /></p> <hr /> <h2>When things went south</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In 1998, when Fernando Henrique Cardoso was reelected for his second term amid a crisis in developing countries, Brazil sold 410 million books. In January of 1999, days after he took office for his second four-year term, the government stopped pegging its currency to the U.S. Dollar, devaluing the Brazilian Real, and the music stopped. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Book sales in the following 12 months took a 30-percent plunge in absolute number of copies. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">It was after 2009, when the world hit a new crisis and Brazil took countercyclical (and populist) economic policies to stimulate consumption, that book sales rose again. The peak came in 2013, a year marked by street protests against corruption and the sitting government. People from all sides of the spectrum looked for political knowledge on bookshelves.</span></p> <h2>Book sales driven by churches and schools</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The driving force of book sales in Brazil are churches and educational institutions. The sale of religious books, especially in churches, grew from 50.7 million in 2010 to 87 million in 2018. Other kinds of books didn&#8217;t fare so well.</span></p> <hr /> <p><img class="alignnone size-full wp-image-16615" src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-Nxa6F.png" alt="religious books" width="1200" height="800" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-Nxa6F.png 1200w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-Nxa6F-300x200.png 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-Nxa6F-768x512.png 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-Nxa6F-1024x683.png 1024w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-Nxa6F-610x407.png 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1200px) 100vw, 1200px" /></p> <hr /> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Since 2015, university-level schoolbook sales have fallen every year. Especially among those focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), which had been growing steadily until 2014. Engineering jobs were erased by the tens of thousands as a result of the crisis that hit Petrobras and Brazil&#8217;s leading construction companies.</span></p> <hr /> <p><img class="alignnone size-full wp-image-16612" src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-H7fkV.png" alt="books sold in brazil" width="1200" height="800" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-H7fkV.png 1200w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-H7fkV-300x200.png 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-H7fkV-768x512.png 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-H7fkV-1024x683.png 1024w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-H7fkV-610x407.png 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1200px) 100vw, 1200px" /></p> <hr /> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">New publishers and genres—and some fads—captured the taste of Brazilians. The government began buying graphic novels for school libraries, and publishers such as DarkSide, Nemo, and Veneta became more profitable. Meanwhile, foreign groups, such as Planeta and Penguin, reinforced their presence in Brazil. </span></p> <h2>Giants going down</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">To icing on the cake came in 2018, when the two main bookstore chains in Brazil reached the brink of bankruptcy. Livraria Cultura, a traditional publishing house, has debts amounting to BRL 285 million. Saraiva, the largest bookstore chain and present in most capitals and shopping malls in Brazil, owes creditors BRL 675 million. Both are under court-supervised reorganization. As a result, bookstores fell to their lowest participation in book sales ever: only half the revenue on sales comes from bookstores.</span></p> <hr /> <p><img class="alignnone size-full wp-image-16616" src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-o8LwY.png" alt="bookstore debts" width="1200" height="894" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-o8LwY.png 1200w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-o8LwY-300x224.png 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-o8LwY-768x572.png 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-o8LwY-1024x763.png 1024w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-o8LwY-610x454.png 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1200px) 100vw, 1200px" /></p> <hr /> <p><img class="alignnone size-full wp-image-16614" src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-MnKWp.png" alt="bookstore debts" width="1200" height="800" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-MnKWp.png 1200w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-MnKWp-300x200.png 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-MnKWp-768x512.png 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-MnKWp-1024x683.png 1024w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/export-MnKWp-610x407.png 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1200px) 100vw, 1200px" /></p> <hr /> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">With the credit bonanza at the beginning of this decade, and the hunger of consumers for electronics, Saraiva devoted vast spaces in its stores to sell smartphones, tablets, and laptops. The problem is that suppliers in this category demanded immediate payment. Book publishers gave them longer terms to pay. So, in practice, Saraiva sold books to pay for smartphones.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">As a result, all book publishers have been facing huge debt from their main two customers, especially the big ones.

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BY Marcelo Soares

Marcelo Soares is a Brazilian journalist specializing in data journalism and reader engagement.