The Latino population in the United States is at an all-time high. The U.S. Census Bureau reports the Hispanic population of the United States hit 55 million in 2014, making people of Hispanic origin the nation’s largest ethnic or racial minority. In addition, the Pew Research Center says Hispanics are the youngest major racial or ethnic group in the United States. It’s no surprise then that the Hispanic church is one the country’s fastest growing.

How to meet this group’s needs with Christian resources poses many challenges and opportunities.

Original or Translation?

According to Ellen Hsu, senior rights and contracts manager for InterVarsity Press, “there are two primary ways publishers reach the Spanish-speaking community. Some publishers have a Spanish imprint that publishes Spanish language books, but most publishers grant permission for existing Spanish language publishers to translate their books into the Spanish language. Both ways of reaching Spanish-speaking communities have benefits and drawbacks.”

She notes that IVP currently uses sublicensing as the primary way to reach Spanish-speaking communities. “However,” she adds, “this is an area that we continue to watch and discuss to see if there might be other ways of reaching this important community.”

Lluvia Agustin, senior sales director of Spanish sales, U.S. & LatAm,
at HarperCollins Christian Publishing, reports the answer to whether this demographic prefers original or translated works isn’t cut and dried—they want both.

“At retail, we still see more translations than original Spanish content, but this has more to do with availability than preference. When we have an original Spanish author, the dynamics and opportunities are completely different,” she says. “It’s difficult to get a Max Lucado or Chip and Joanna Gaines on Spanish radio or television, but when the author speaks Spanish, this significantly increases audience engagement. When the author is available for Spanish media, book signings at retail, etc., and he or she is promoting his or her book on social media, the results are exponentially better.”

“Because we’re interested in expanding the diversity of our authors, we recently hosted a publishing consultation with current and prospective authors of Latino descent, including professors, pastors, and community activists,” says IVP Associate Publisher, Editorial, Cindy Bunch. “These consultants were very clear with us that there’s a strong need for books in Spanish written by authors of Latino descent who understand the cultural context of the readers. The group consensus was that too much of what’s on the market is authored by Anglos who don’t bring in the voice of the culture.”

While LifeWay Global Spanish Publishing Team Leader Cristopher Garrido doesn’t see the need for translations going away, he does agree that “ [readers] will always need to hear voices that are the reality of where they live. Those of us in a Westernized background think everyone thinks like us. They want to hear from their peers who know their colloquialisms. One challenge is nuances and cultural references that can’t be translated.”

Adding another dynamic to the content debate is younger vs. older readers. Reaching Millennials in this demographic isn’t simple. Daniel Rodriguez, author of A Future for the Latino Church, says, “A growing number of U.S.-born Latinos are not only English-dominant, but they do not speak Spanish at all. Furthermore, they often do not maintain the same level of allegiance to their ancestral homelands or to the cultural and religious commitments their parents or grandparents brought with them from their countries of origin. Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of U.S.-born English-dominant Latinos are still Latinos at heart.”

And the market differs between readers in the United States and those abroad.

“The trend in the U.S. is books translated from English, but abroad is a mixed preference,” says Alfonso Guevara, sales director of Editorial CLC. “Mostly they prefer already known and popular English-speaking authors. This trend is because most publishers from many decades ago would translate works from English because there were few or non-original authors. Nowadays, there’s a healthy trend to develop and publish authors from Latin America, Spain, and here in the U.S.”

Content Is King.

Selling Spanish product successfully “begins with great cross-cultural content. Mere translations of good-selling English titles don’t always ensure a success in Spanish. The book has to be relevant to Spanish readers, with universal principles that connect with the Spanish-speaking reader,” says Agustin. “Publishers are working on more original Spanish content by well-known Hispanic leaders like Cash Luna and Dante Gebel. Their speaking engagements fill up entire stadiums in Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, and the U.S., and have proven to draw a lot of fans to retail stores as well.”

She reports Luna’s En honor al Espiritu Santo has sold more than 400,000 units since its release in 2010. Gebel’s El amor en los tiempos del Facebook, which launches September 12, is poised to be a high performer as well for HarperCollins Español. In June, more than 100,000 people joined a Facebook Live conversation about the book with the author.

In 2016, trends in Spanish publishing are varied. Agustin has seen “a much broader selection in Bibles, and more demand of Spanish content at retail.” Guevara notes a growing emphasis on leadership, pastoral care, how to reach Millennials, and family and marriage. “Children’s books are coming back and the buzzword ‘supernatural’ is trendy in many circles and publications,” he says.

Good Service Pays Off.

How can retailers provide better service to this audience? In a word, consistency, says Agustin. “Whether a small or large section, consumers should clearly know where the Spanish titles are located; stock it regularly. Assign a champion for the category. Reach out to publishers and request lists of their top 100 titles, carry new releases, take some risks on original Spanish authors, have a good Bible selection, and bilingual personnel is a plus.”

As a whole, Christian retailers are underequipped with Spanish resources, so storeowners need to reassess their shelf space. “I feel if we want to be successful, we need to grow,” says LifeWay’s Garrido. “In terms of the resources available, Latinos tend to be very Bible-centric. Although books aren’t in high demand, Spanish Bibles are. The Bible is the primary resource and the Latino church tends to be more traditional. You’ll find everyone brings a Bible to church.”

Guevara sees this audience as wanting what all customers want: a wide variety of titles and topics. To build a strong customer base, he recommends retailers “gracefully [but] aggressively engage the local church and pastor, who is really the retail customer, by in-store events or offering to visit their church [and] bringing books and displaying them on a table as an after-the-Sunday-service opportunity,” he says.

Guevara also feels stores need to create a sense of community through workshops and “partnerships with local resources (psychologists, counselors, financial advisors, chaplains). Bookstores no longer are the only source of books. [They] need to become the primary source of solutions to the spiritual and relational needs.”

The Fields Are Ripe.

Guevara reports “in the last 15 years in the U.S., we’ve seen scores of Hispanic bookstores close due to factors that affected the local church, which is the primary customer. The few that remain have a hard time to attract clientele to the stores,” he says. “With that in mind, publishers are forced to be more creative in finding distribution channels and being more aggressive in sales. Publishers that think outside the box are using online sales more and more, but it still represents a fraction of what’s really needed for the supply and demand.”

“I think the market is transforming as you have generations getting older. Younger people tend to be more educated, deeper in their thought and study, which leads them to look to books and classics. There’s a hunger and a demand for deeper content,” says Garrido, noting that theological works are more in demand. “More conservative works are being translated. As the church matures, the resources need to have more depth.”

Guevara believes the Spanish-speaking market represents a huge opportunity for retailers “because new people come to faith and go to church; also non-churchgoers seek good, faith-based publications for their needs. The new generation of Christians everywhere need Bibles, study Bible materials, good books to grow and expand their faith.”

The key, he says, is knowing where these customers are, how to reach them, and how to make them aware of the resources available.

The good news, according to Agustin, is there’s still time for Christian retail stores to become a resource for this growing audience. “The Spanish-speaking population continues to grow and gain influence across the country. Put a plan together, talk to your reps, ask them for Spanish titles where you have key backlist, key new releases and original Spanish books, as well as a good selection of Bibles and reference. Assign a champion that maintains the category, and grow from there.”

-Lora Schrock