What were the most read books in Guatemala in 2020 and how bookstores coped with the pandemic

Image with 7 of the most consumed books in Guatemala during 2020.

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In 2020, most readers turned their attention to books with a national theme. (Free Press Photo: Juan Diego González)

The quarantine caused by Covid-19 taught us to live with silence, a little more free time and with ourselves. It was a break from the world and from our lives.

A month after the first positive case for coronavirus in Guatemala, the psychologist Juan Carlos Zetina told Prensa Libre that confinement could become « an opportunity » for people to become aware of everything that, under normal circumstances, had not been seen due to multiple daily activities.

Zetina mentioned that the quarantine consisted of returning to essential things and getting out of the comfort zone; even from home, alone or accompanied.

After the passage of several weeks, confined in uncertainty, another certainty reinforced what Zetina exposed: The quarantine time became a time to reinforce several areas and return to personal debts, among them, reading.

Interest in Guatemala

Philippe Hunziker, president of the Asociación Gremial de Editores de Guatemala (AGEG) and general manager of Sophos, exemplifies that many of the titles sold in the bookstore during 2020 were raised on topics that alluded to characters and events in the country.

The story of the Mayan businessman Q’anjob’al Marcos Antil was the best example of what Hunziker commented. In the book Migrante, Antil recounts his journey from Huehuetenango to the United States in search of better economic opportunities.

As well as in Sophos, the publication stood out in the main shopping positions in other national bookstores such as De Museo and Artemis Libros.

Philippe Hunziker highlights that the interest in Guatemalan issues was maintained both in editions made by national publishers and authors, as well as in other countries.

Novels, biographies and research about Guatemala were highly consumed by Guatemalans in 2020. (Free Press Photo: Juan Diego González)

A sample of the statement is based on the sale of the book published by the Spanish publisher Alfaguara, Tiempos recios, del Peruano and Nobel Prize in Literature 2010, Mario Vargas Llosa. The novel, whose story revolves around political conspiracies set in Guatemala during the Cold War, was the most consumed book in Sophos and De Museo stores.

According to information provided by the AGEG, in which the 10 best-selling publications during 2020 were released in the country’s main bookstores —Sophos, Artemis, Fondo de Cultura Económica (FCE), Piedrasanta and De Museo—, it was seen that readers were inclined towards texts written by foreign researchers that put Guatemala as the central axis in their pages.

Some of these books were Guatemala the silenced history (by the Argentine sociologist Carlos Sabino), Los Mayas (published by the French anthropologist Jacques Soustelle) or Guatemala: general essay on political violence in Latin America (by the Uruguayan journalist, Eduardo Galeano).

Other publications that stood out in the closing lists with the same theme were literary pieces written today such as True Story of the Burning of the Spanish Embassy, ​​Heridas se la noche or El viaje de la mujer fragmentada; all three published in 2020.

The seven books that are repeated the most in the AGEG registry are:

Migrant – Marcos Antil
Hard times – Mario Vargas Llosa
Man’s Search for Meaning – Victor Frankl
The homeland of the Creole – Severo Martínez Peláez
Unyielding – Daniel Habif
True story of the burning of the Spanish embassy – Gustavo Adolfo Molina Sierra
Wounds has the night – Francisco Pérez de Anton

New Worlds

The data collection that presents a total of 50 best-selling books in different bookstores in the country, also revealed the interest of clients of Sophos, Artemis, De Museo, Piedrasanta and the FCE, by specific authors.

Such is the case of Eduardo Galeano, Francisco Pérez de Antón and Monica Zak; who are repeated with more than one title in the final list provided by the Publishers Guild Association.

A distinction in the compendium was the taste that many of the consumers gave to books published by so-called influencers or public figures who generate content on social networks.

The stories of Mexican instagramers Luisito Comunica, Juan de Dios Pantoja and Kimberly Loaiza stood out.

The book Unquenchable narrates the biography of the Mexican speaker and youtuber Daniel Habif. (Free Press Photo: Internet)

Of the 50 titles most consumed by Guatemalans, only 10 are characterized by having been written by women both individually and collaboratively.

In the list of books, where only 20 percent correspond to works written by women, the names of the Chilean writer Isabel Allende appear; the former first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama; the German journalist Monica Zak; and Guatemalan attorney Carol Zardetto.

Distance and Reinvention

Giovanni Passarelli, director of the De Museo stores, points out that the free time during the quarantine allowed new people to come to read. But at the same time, it caused bookstores like the one it represents to have to « reinvent » the approach with customers.

Passarelli refers to the fact that the closure of physical stores led to the speeding up of the digital channels in which many people dared to buy for the first time.

2020 publications

Other titles that appeared as favorites of Guatemalans during the past year:

The corruption of an unblemished president – Francisco Pérez de Anton
Three promises – Lesslie Polynesia
Brief contemporary history of Guatemala – Jorge Luján Muñoz
The journey of the fragmented woman – Carol Zardetto
Alex dogboy – Monica Zak
The snow girl – Javier Castillo
The darkness and the dawn – Ken Follet

The director shares that it was possible to see a rebound in the consumption of books purchased from the De Museo stores website.

Gabriela Pérez, marketing manager for Artemis bookstores, says that the company duplicated efforts on social networks. « We saw that they were a window of opportunity to find out what readers wanted, » he explains.

Conversations, book presentations, workshops, and other cultural events also bridged the distance between bookstores and their clientele from social networks.

According to Gabriela Pérez and Giovanni Passarelli, the events will modify the dynamics of bookstores at the national level, which may be an opportunity to generate more followers from the Internet.

Distributors and their challenges

One of the challenges faced during 2020 for book lovers had to do with specific orders and their consequent distribution in bookstores that were prevented.

Passarelli says that many orders for new titles are still in a queue to reach the country since, due to the closure of borders, several international publishers were unable to send copies.

Those who also saw this repercussion were the publishers. In addition to assuming the challenge with closed stores, Philippe Hunziker points out that from the union a fear persisted about sales, as well as bad cash flows caused by issues such as poor distribution.

To this fact, Raúl Figueroa —director of F&G Editores and former president of the AGEG — adds the challenge that in Guatemala there is no institutionalized mail service; a situation that during the pandemic has forced publishers to “create a direct distribution channel”, both with bookstores and with customers.

In addition to this situation, Figueroa alludes that the publishing ecosystem in Guatemala has limitations such as the fact that several publishing houses do not have a web page where they can display and sell their products.

The quarantine led to more reading time but also affected distribution due to the closure of borders. (Free Press Photo: Juan Diego González)

“This aspect is not something of the pandemic. Actually in Guatemala there are no spaces for the dissemination of new works if there are no reviews or the media do not follow up on publishers ”, he adds.

Faced with it? The action. Figueroa says that it is necessary and urgent for publishers to become more creative in virtual spaces (as social networks have been) and to professionalize their work.

An example of this was the action that F&G Editores took during the quarantine, by uploading texts in PDF format written by the publisher’s authors and released for free download.

Philippe Hunziker points out that 2020 served as an opportunity for publishers to learn to get closer to their readers. « They were encouraged to propose directly, which is beneficial for getting to know their audience better, » adds the president of the AGEG.

The nineteenth book by the Peruvian Vargas Llosa, was one of the most read by Guatemalans. in 2020. (Free Press Photo: Internet)

Raúl Figueroa points out that another challenge for publishers continues to be the answer to how to sell books in a “semi-literate” country. This must be considered now with the delays of the 2020 quarantine that raised other challenges.

« We have to solve how we make our books reach more people and promote reading within the population as a means of developing the country, » says Figueroa.

Even with the challenges posed by the distributors consulted, in Guatemala it was not stopped publishing during the 2020 complex. According to AGEG data, until December 13, 2020, 1 thousand 45 titles were registered and 1 million 327 thousand 143 copies were printed. .

The data decreased compared to 2019, with 1,421 titles registered and 2,419,075 books printed.

“We have developed a resilience to be prepared and to be able to adapt to what happens,” says Philippe Hunziker, referring to the way in which the country’s publishers have been and will continue to face the mission of distributing books.