MEXICO CITY—Cristina Woolrich looks across the crowded cafe to the small bookshop she runs, and sighs. “We have the best poetry section in town and we’re going to get rid of it,” she says. “We’re going to have to eliminate almost everything if we want to survive.”
For the past decade, The Pegaso bookstore, a cozy shrine to the printed word, has offered browsers free coffee, overstuffed leather sofas, and a wide-ranging literary selection. But now it’s scaling back, ditching poetry and history, and keeping the few things that still sell—some novels and glossy art books. Pegaso, like many other Mexican bookstores, is on the verge of succumbing to a complicated crisis that threatens Mexico’s book industry—one Ms. Woolrich says boils down to this: “Mexicans aren’t reading.”
Competitive pressures in a country where 3,000 copies sold makes a bestseller have pushed 4 out of every 10 bookstores in Mexico out of business over the past 10 years, according to the Mexican Booksellers Association.
Despite having three times the population of Argentina, Mexico produces about 2,000 fewer titles each year. There are roughly 500 bookstores in Mexico, which translates into one for every 200,000 Mexicans, compared to a ratio of one to 35,000 in the US and one to 12,000 in Spain, according to the Mexican Booksellers Association. A recent UNESCO study revealed that Mexicans read on average just over two books per year, while Swedes finish that many every month.
But, some argue, the European countries already had a public predisposed to reading. “For the majority of Mexicans, bookstores are a completely alien place,” says Jesus Anaya, editorial director at publishing house Grupo Planeta. Although more titles and lower prices would certainly appeal to current readers, he doubts they’ll create new ones. “I’m not sure that waving a magic wand of fixed prices can bring this cadaver to life.”