Gisela Gasparia, Elaine Ramos and Florencia Ferrari, the three founders of Ubu – picture by Bob Wolfenson
The current Brazilian recession doesn’t stop niche publishing houses from springing to life.
In line with the sluggish economy, recent figures released by the National Book Editors Association (SNEL, in Portuguese) show alarming numbers: the book market shrank 12.6% last year, and in 2016 sales are down in every month except February.
Nonetheless, the gloomy scenario doesn’t appear to be an obstacle for new publishing houses. Ubu, a company based in São Paulo, is putting their titles on arts, literature and design on the bookstore’s shelves this week. In the beginning of October, Âyiné, an Italo-Brazilian start-up targeting Brazilian readers, will try to reach the customers with a catalog based on philosophy and essays.
Both companies share a daring non-commercial approach regarding their titles, aiming at a niche market of readers eager for dense topics such as anthropology, politics, architecture and human sciences. They are also taking the risk in trying to establish themselves amidst the worst Brazilian economic crisis in eighty years.
Making ends meet
“I have to do the math of how many books we need to sell in order for me to have a salary after our first year. Up to this point, I’m only paying the costs”, says Florencia Ferrari, one of the three owners of Ubu. “Our headquarter is in a coworking space because the rent is low, and we’re not hiring contract workers – even our editors are freelancers”, she explains.
The wise use of money is also a concern for Âyiné. “The Brazilian cost is very high. We are printing our books in Italy because it’s 20% cheaper. It’s still worth it despite having to ship them to Brazil”, says Pedro Fonseca, the founder. He also considers the sentimental value of printing in Europe: “as a concept, the modern book was created in Italy”.
Fonseca jokes that the publishing house is “going to fail because we don’t think about the economic side of the business”. “No one gets paid, we are not worried about making money at the moment. We expect to make a profit after two years.” Âyiné’s small team consists of five people spread between Italy and Brazil.
Future starts slow
There’s no easy road ahead for these companies, as statistics are not favourable. In a country where the reading average per year is no more than 1.7 books per person and over a quarter of the population of 200 million is illiterate, book prices to the final consumer fell by almost half over the last decade.
According to Marcos da Veiga Pereira, president of the National Book Editors Association, this trend is here to stay: “one of the aspects that worries the publishing industry the most is the loss of profit margins”.