“The challenges we’re facing are big,” says Jairo Carbajal of Distribuidora Ariel. “Every day we are looking to God for His help and wisdom to be more efficient and to reach the market more effectively.”
Distribuidora Ariel, based in Mexico City, has been distributing Christian products in Mexico since 1984 with the primary mission to be collaborators in building up, strengthening, and encouraging the church.
Mexico has around 300 Christian bookstores, the majority of which have less than 300 square feet of selling space. Only 75 bookstores buy more than $1,000 per month from Ariel. Making up nearly 50 percent of its sales, Librería Maranatha has eight stores.
Over the years, the market for Christian products has changed greatly. Whereas Christian music and books used to be bestsellers, now the majority of sales are Bibles (43 percent), books (33 percent), and gifts (16 percent). Music has dropped to 5 percent and videos to 3 percent.
A majority of product is imported into the country, mainly from the U.S., including all Bibles and most books. Most of the books are written by American authors and then translated. However, a growing number of authors writing in Spanish with great success are gaining popularity, such as Lucas Leys, Dante Gebel, Guillermo Maldonado, Cash Luna, and Claudio Freidzon.
Carbajal names the economy, acquisition power, and changes in the reading culture as his biggest challenges.
“Since 70 percent of products we distribute come from abroad, the devaluation of the Mexican peso hits us heavily,” he says, noting that in 2015 the Mexican peso suffered a devaluation of over 17 percent against the American dollar. “We need to be able to obtain books at better prices.”
In addition, 200 pesos ($11.50) is the average cost of a book in Mexico, but that’s an average daily wage for a Mexican worker.
“Taking into account that an average hardcover study Bible is 600 Mexican pesos, this makes book acquisition difficult for many,” he explains.
Another challenge is the fact that the culture of reading is waning. The most recent UNESCO survey on reading showed that Mexico came in at 107 out of 108 nations in terms of average number of books read per year per person. Mexicans read less than three books per year.
Even given these obstacles, Ariel continues its mission. “We love the Bible and we love Christian books and music and we believe that these resources can help Christians become better Christians and can help non-Christians come to salvation,” says Carbajal.
Among Carbajal’s greatest needs are marketing resources, “so that the Christians throughout the country can be aware of the wonderful resources we have and what is available to them.”
In some of their upcoming initiatives, Distribuidora Ariel is partnering with publishers to better reach the Mexican market.
“In some sectors, there exists competition and lack of common vision in serving God and His church in the Christian book market,” he says. “We believe God is first, and business needs to fall in line with this objective.”
In addition, Carbajal believes “the best strategy is for publishers, distributors, and bookstores to work together to better serve the end customer and obtain better results.” Ultimately, he says, “our goal in the face of extreme adversity is to continue serving the bookstores and churches making available the best assortment of quality Christian products to help them reach their goals and further the Gospel.”