B&N Says Foreign-Language E-Books Selling ‘Outrageously’ Well in U.S.

Selling foreign-language print books in the United States has always been tough due to high prices, hurdles at customs and the difficulties of transporting physical stock. Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS) expected that selling foreign-language e-books in the U.S. would work much better–but have been surprised at the demand for them, B&N Manager of International Digital Content Patricia Arancibia said at a Publishers Launch Conferences panel moderated by Michael Cader. The retailer’s sales of foreign-language e-books are now growing faster than sales of English e-books, she said.

“The month to month increase in sales is over 100 percent every month,” Arancibia reported. “It’s one area where we completely win over any competitor.” Barnes & Noble’s Nook Books en Español store, which launched in November 2010, now has over 50,000 Spanish titles, as well as thousands of titles in German, Russian, and other languages. Arancibia said e-bookstores in Spain generally carry about 3,000 titles.

Carmen Ospina, Digital Manager of Random House Mondadori (headquartered in Barcelona), says Barnes & Noble is now selling more e-books for Mondadori than its largest client is selling in Spain. Publishers in Spain have been slow to digitize their books, she said, and “while Spain catches up, the U.S. will be our main market, probably for a year.”

Marketing presents a challenge. Right now, RH Mondadori is looking to Barnes & Noble to be its primary marketing driver to Spanish speakers in the U.S. “We are going to have to rewrite sales materials with the Hispanic market in mind,” Ospina said.

Pricing can also be problematic. Books in Europe are much more expensive than books in the U.S. “European publishers ask me if we can have a global price [for e-books] and just convert it to different currencies,” Arancibia said. “I say you can do whatever price you want, but the question is, do you want to sell it? Pricing has to be local.”

Ronald Schild, CEO of MVB’s German e-book platform Libreka!, said he had low expectations for selling German-language e-books into the U.S. and was “really surprised” when the company got its first sales figures from Barnes & Noble. “Barnes & Noble is now one of our most important distribution channels,” Schild said. “We’re selling more German e-books in the states than many of our German language retailers.”

Some issues remain the same no matter what country you’re in. Schild noted that Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) just launched the Kindle Store in Germany, which may affect Libreka’s sales: “They know half the Germans [already] by e-mail address and purchasing habits.”

And when a member of the audience asked Arancibia whether Nook has plans to launch stores and devices abroad, her answer came as no surprise: “You have to talk to our communications department.”

Publishers Launch Conferences is a series launched by Michael Cader and Mike Shatzkin. The events are co-located with major industry events like BEA and the Frankfurt and London Book Fairs, but programming and ticketing are separate.