The main problems with Spanish, French, Italian etc. publishers and the continental European book market are deep rooted and start with the fact that price fixing, as used to be the case in the UK with the Net Book Agreement, makes books expensive and inaccessible to the majority of the public, creates a nice cosy monopoly between publishers and retailers and limits sales, regardless of the format. It really does go back to the elite restricting the masses from having access to books which may enhance their knowledge.
In fact, Book publishers and retailers in most of continental Europe (with Germany, Holland and Scandinavia being exceptions) and are so far behind the curve its incredible that they survive, their distribution channels/supply chain systems are generally non-existent versus their UK and USA counterparts while their operating and commercial practices are all about protecting their position and not about expanding the market or competing.
Spanish publishers were dragged kicking and screaming into the digital world – trust me I know – perhaps the only positive thing Zapetero has done in 8 years of government but not one he will be remembered for. They did not see it as an opportunity but as a threat, Libranda, by general consensus has been a disaster and the only thing in Spain’s favour is the overall size of the Spanish speaking market – but then it took Patricia Arancibia, an Argentinian, based in New York, to develop a Spanish language ebook retail platform for the US market for Barnes & Noble.
Of course, this “protective position” is natural for products for which there is limited demand/restricted market size – English language books command by far the biggest market share around the world, but, given the size of the Spanish language market, Spanish publishers do (or perhaps did?) have an opportunity to develop a dynamic publishing and retailing model Unfortunately, so far they haven’t taken it and I hope, sincerely that it is too late for them as Amazon, Apple, Google and Barnes & Noble hover in the background with their skills and experience in book retailing and the impact they can have on publishing. The ultimate winner will be the consumer and also society as a whole as more people read books which are easily accessible and sensibly priced – which is still not the case in Spain, France or Italy even today.