Brazil’s biggest book fair: Bienal do Livro São Paulo 2022
by Veronica Ferrari
I’m working on my summer semester module Culture of Publishing on the MA Publishing via distance learning, but I couldn’t miss the chance to spend a day at the São Paulo Bienal do Livro, Brazil’s largest book fair, which took place from 02 to 10 July. The fair usually happens every two years, but because of the pandemic there hadn’t been one since 2018 (before I moved here) so I was really keen to go and have a look.
The numbers of the fair
The fair is first of all a big selling opportunity for publishing houses as it aims to attract the general reading public and not just people from the publishing industry.
The 2022 fair was a huge success with over 606,000 visitors - 10% more than the 2018 event - 3 million books available at the stands, 182 publishing houses and businesses represented, and an average of 7 books bought per person. Which means I behaved extremely well with only 3 purchases, mainly because my TBR pile has already taken over my desk! Every year the organisers pick a country as their guest of honour, this year it was Portugal.
Who are the Brazilian readers?
I don’t have official numbers on this, but one thing was clear as soon as you set foot at the venue and looked at the crowd: the present and future of the Brazilian reading public is female. Teenage girls and young women were the vast majority everywhere, with a few young boys tagging along here and there. All the book signings with young women writers had queues that reached over 1 hour of waiting time. This was clearly fuelled by …you know what I’m going to say… BookTok and social media.
BookTok shelves and the impact of social media
Every publishing house had its own stand, set up like mini bookshops with extra space to host writers and greet the public. Shelves were organised by genres, but every single editor had a BookTok shelf promoting their bestselling titles on the platform. These were a real hit with young readers, and sellers had to come and refill the stocks frequently. The press reported that during the weekend, the stands of YA- and fiction-book publishers had reached maximum capacity and had waiting queues within 5 minutes of the fair opening.
There were various events dedicated to professionals in the industry. In one of the panels I attended on social media and BookTok, various content creators discussed the platforms they use the most and how they work with publishers. This gave an interesting picture, below are my top takeaways:
- From a creators’ perspective, YouTube and Instagram are the most profitable platforms to collaborate with publishing houses, with marketing teams recognising the creators’ work and offering good fees.
- TikTok has boomed in the last couple of years and the BookTook community in Brazil is clearly a bookselling machine, as it was obvious from the BookTok shelves in the stands, but as yet almost no creator had been paid by publishers for their BookTok content. The main feedback was that publishers are worried about investing in case the campaign didn’t work.
- A platform that I have been reading about recently and was included in the panel was BookTwitch. Previously, the streaming platform was mainly the realm of gamers, but it is now seeing the increased presence of other hobbies, including bookish creators who host book clubs, reading sprints and offer live content for up to 10 hours a day! Subscribers pay creators a monthly fee which makes up their salary. Twitch itself has been really supportive and sponsors some of these BookTwitchers, as well as offering training on how to make the most of the platform. However, publishers have yet to seize this opportunity and work with creators, something BookTwitchers hope will change soon.
What do Brazilians read?
An aspect of publishing in Brazil which I have noticed since I moved here, is the dominance of translated books over national home-grown titles. Brazilian publishers translate mainly English-language fiction from the UK or US. The few Brazilian authors that seem to sell are very traditional ones and not much space is given to new local authors. This is a real shame in my opinion, but it does mean there are good opportunities for foreign publishers to sell translation rights to Brazilian publishers particularly when it comes to YA, romance, thriller, crime, business, and self-development.
Box sets are also popular. Collections from authors such as Colleen Hover, Alice Osman and Taylor Jenkins Reid were the absolute winners among young readers, everyone was carrying around piles of these sets and their titles dominated the BookTok shelves.
At the beginning of the year, certain classics were released from copyright into the public domain and there has been a rush to print the available back-catalogues of these authors with new flashy fluorescent covers and big fonts. In particular, Agatha Christie and George Orwell got the glossy treatment from literally every publisher!
Finally, the amount of religious and spiritual titles, and specialist publishers, is impressive. It’s not something I have seen so prominently in other countries.
Bookshops’ initiative to fight against Amazon
There was a wonderful initiative from a group of 22 independent bookshops from across the country who got together to pay for a large stand at the fair that was named “It all starts in the bookshop”. Each bookseller gave a percentage of titles for the stand and the books were all sold together with the profits split accordingly. The idea was to create a connection with readers and invite them to visit these independent shops in their cities rather than buying online. I thought it was a great initiative, but I have to say that despite the great discounts available at all the stands I heard endless times people saying, “this is so expensive, it’s much cheaper on Amazon!”
Speaking to the press, one of the bookshop owners said that when it comes to fighting for survival against online retailers, bookshops have much better success by uniting and collaborating.
I hope this was interesting and has given everyone a bit of an idea of the book market in Brazil. I had a wonderful time and loved to spot all the authors I know with their translated covers, as well as trying to find new Brazilian ones to discover.
About the author of this article
Veronica Ferrari is studying an MA in Publishing via distance learning at Oxford Brookes as well as working as Head of Insight at InsightX, providing intelligence reports to cultural and sport organisations. She has a passion for travels and browsing bookshops around the world and aspires to work on freelance marketing projects in publishing. You can follow her on Twitter @_vero_ferrari and LinkedIn
Last edited: 15 07 2022